Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Yelling - can it be right?
Is yelling at your kids really so wrong?
The message out there in the larger culture seems to be yelling = bad. We can't abide yelling when teachers and principals do it to kids, unless they're in the inner city doing a tough love-style modern version of Stand and Deliver (see the excellent book "Work Hard Be Nice" about the KIPP schools.) But it seems to be something that primarily happens in the privacy of our own homes, when it is a parent disciplining their own child.
The reason for this post is I'd like to clarify my own thinking about yelling. Does it depend on what we mean exactly by "yelling"? DH and I certainly yell at our kids sometimes, and I'm not so sure our brand of yelling is always the big awful kid-harming problem society makes it out to be. But is that just my own self-serving bias talking because I don't want to have to change the way I parent?
The first time I ever met somebody who had never been yelled at as a child by their parents I was like "Who are these mythical Zen parents?" I wondered. Honestly, how does one spend 18 years raising a child without ever raising their voice or losing their shit even once? For real? I'm in awe.
I so often read about (mothers, always mothers) on the internets feeling guilty for even occasionally speaking harshly towards their kids. There are even webinars you can take to supposedly teach you how to stop yelling at your kids. I recall something in the NYT about yelling being the new spanking. (Um, nice try, but no.) Some folks say they feel guilty for having to do even basic, garden-variety discipline. I guess despite my own Catholic upbringing, guilt is an emotion I hardly ever feel. I yell at my kids, and I never feel guilty about it. The times I felt my own yelling went too far (2 occasions), I've immediately apologized to my kids and we've talked about my triggers (when the kids fight physically, break things, and won't stop whining), and how we can all make better choices next time. Perhaps that helped me avoid feelings of guilt.
Whenever I think of yelly parents, I'm reminded of when Alec Baldwin got called a Bad Dad for getting caught on tape yelling at his then 12-ish-year-old daughter who IIRC did something I would have possibly yelled at my kid about, something like not showing up somewhere and not calling. My first thought was how as a kid, I was treated to a lot worse by my folks for doing a lot less. Certain name calling on the other hand, I'm sure that can be quite damaging. (Just to be clear, for me yelling and name calling are two entirely separate behaviors that might sometimes intersect.)
I was raised by two loving (slightly-fucked up but still by all measures wildly successful) parents who are yellers. My mom would yell maybe twice a month, but only ever at my dad and/or me, never, ever, ever at anyone else on the planet. The Dr. Phil term "rageaholic" just might describe her perfectly - she would let things boil up inside her, then throw everything but the kitchen sink at us (the exact opposite of what communication in healthy relationships is supposed to be like.) By negative example, she taught me the importance of proactively naming and speaking the truth of my emotions. A well-placed "I'm really starting to feel irritated about this..." before the shit hits the fan, whether at work or at home, is my lifeline.
As an adult, my personality is much more like my dad's. He would yell maybe twice a year, usually in response to being yelled at for too long by my mother and always over something he thought was a ridiculously petty to argue about like housework, for which he definitely pulled his own weight -- and this, by the way, THIS is why DH and I see the outsourcing of our housework as an essential, nonnegotiable expense for which we'd gladly go into debt to preserve and we'd never drink another $4 latte to maintain. Seriously.
Here's the thing, I feel I had a very happy childhood. And I've actually analyzed my childhood probably more than is necessary, so we're not talking Drama of the Gifted Child here. I felt extremely loved and cherished. I'd even say my parents are really, really good ones in most respects, but my mom has some real personality issues that mostly now just affect her. They are absolute superstar grandparents who have perfect boundaries. Ever since I entered my 30's and they their 60's we've gotten along so well, I even catch myself daydreaming about having them live in a cottage on our property someday, if they ever both retire.
The childhood yelling baggage I'm carrying seems to tell me there are some kinds of yelling that should be avoided (the kids will have bad memories if they see mom and dad fighting but never making up, I think NurtureShock confirms that), but it is not always this awful end all, be all thing. Sometimes yelling is simply the truest reflection of one's authentic voice at a particular moment. What I appreciate only in hindsight about the yelling in my family-of-origin was that they always kept it real - I was given the freedom to truly express my emotions. It was only later, when I experienced other families secondhand where no one was ever allowed to be angry, anger was not tolerated, anger was not seen as "ladylike" (a friend's mom had a padded "angry room" in a crawl space she would hide herself in whenever she got mad, where so no one in her family could see her...wow) and I saw the result of that was a whole lot of passive-aggressive crap I wouldn't wish on anyone. We've got to be able to express anger. We don't need to yell to express anger, but sometimes yelling is what we choose. I think it's ok to honor that.
Talk to me about your yelling, your lack thereof, your childhood yelling baggage, etc. I'm all ears.