One morning, I completely lost it with my 15-month-old. He had decided to play my least favorite game — he pointed at every piece of food in the kitchen, trying to tell me what he wanted to eat. Then he refused nearly everything. I offered him 57 different things before he finally agreed upon Cheerios. I put them in a bowl, walked away for five seconds, and he promptly dumped the entire bowl on the floor.
I screamed at him, “NOOOOOO! Why did you do that?! NOOOOOO!” I put my child in time out (or as much of a time out as you can give a 15-month-old) and cleaned up Cheerios with tears streaming down my face.
I can’t even tell you why I freaked out so much. In the grand scheme of things, they’re just Cheerios. But something snapped. Perhaps I was done with having every single thing I feed my child end up on the floor. Maybe it was that I could only take so many toddler tantrums. Or it could have been the two hours of sleep I had gotten the night before that gave me a very short fuse.
Whatever it was, this episode was only one of a handful in which I’ve raised my voice at my children. A few days before this, I had yelled at my 4-year-old after asking him five times to put his shoes on. He either ignored me or became distracted by something else. I like to think I yelled because I wanted to get his attention. But truth be told, I simply lost my patience, and yelling was my way to vent my frustrations.
I didn’t used to yell — I have always had a long fuse. It was rare that I would lose my temper. My husband and I have never screamed at each other when we fight, and I don’t raise my voice when talking with friends or colleagues. However, now, on a weekly basis, I lose my cool and yell at the two people I want to nurture and protect the most.
I recently went out to dinner with a group of girlfriends, and several of us told stories of when we yelled at our children. What was so astounding was that each of us said of the other, “I just can’t imagine you yelling.” I couldn’t believe how we all shared this common thread. For the most part, we are rational, well-spoken, and calm women. And yet our children turn us into fire-breathing dragons.
No one ever said motherhood was easy. I’m not proud of the fact that yelling has become a part of my life, but I’m practicing certain things on a daily basis in order to curb this impulse:
Listening to “Daniel Tiger”
Daniel Tiger teaches us, “When you feel so mad that you wanna roar, take a deep breath… and count to four.” I don’t always follow this advice, and that’s when I say something I don’t mean. Daniel Tiger has great lessons for both children and adults. I can even sit down and watch this episode with my children, and it’s a good reminder of how we both can handle situations when emotions are running a little too high.
This advice is perfect for so many situations in parenthood. So often, all mothers need to just walk away, take a breath, and clear our heads. When we come back, then we can approach our children with a cooler temper and more patience.
Sometimes, I try to rationalize why I raised my voice at my children, but often I know it was by far the worst choice I could have made. I want my children to see that I can admit when I’m wrong so they can learn not to blame others for their mistakes. Above that, I am genuinely sorry. I never want to hurt their feelings, and I want to protect their hearts. Offering an apology and a hug helps us both to forgive and move on.
Of course, there will be situations when I’ll need to raise my voice to keep my children out of danger. But every day I will be working to be my normal, rational, even-keeled self around my children. I’m very glad to know I’m not alone, and that even the best mothers will also lose their tempers with their children. The days may be long, and I know there will be times when I fail miserably. In the meantime, I will give myself grace, learn from my mistakes, and work to do better.