So I haven’t yelled for a whole week.
I came close a couple times, but I never yelled.
Not at my kids.
Not even at my husband.
And I feel great.
I’m not claiming to be mother or wife of the year.
Not yelling hasn’t magically caused all of my other shortcomings as a mother and wife to disappear, but at least the list of Things I Feel Compelled to Beat Myself Up Over has one less item on it.
Now let me tell you, it hasn’t been easy.
But it also hasn’t been as hard as I thought, either.
Just as with quitting most things, the first three days were the hardest.
Because that urge to yell comes up, and, well, you just have to stop.
And you are not armed with any other tactics to change the behavior.
You have no plan.
And you have maybe convinced yourself that yelling is the only way to get your kids’ attention or make them stop.
The. Only. Way.
Before I tell you what I did to help myself stop yelling, let me just be clear.
I could view this as the worst possible time I could have chosen to decide to stop yelling.
Stress is at an all-time high in this house.
If I ever had reason to justify or rationalize the yelling, it’s now.
There are the seven kids and the laundry and the cleaning and the cooking and the driving.
But it’s not just that.
The bank is getting ready to foreclose on our house, and I have no idea how we are going to change that.
Worrying about money 24 hours a day has a ripple effect, and it takes a toll on your marriage and your level of patience and your general ability to stay focused.
But what I have realized is that the yelling doesn’t decrease the stress.
It just adds to it.
Plus, it’s fucking tiring to yell.
The repercussions of yelling aren’t only emotional, they are physical.
And if I am going to get my family out of this situation, I need to seriously be on my game.
I cannot afford to waste any energy going all Bruce Banner on my kids or my husband right now.
I need to conserve my strength for the things that will turn our situation around rather than digging a deeper hole for myself.
So maybe it’s not the worst time to stop yelling.
Maybe it’s the best time.
Before I share what has helped me this first week, let me make one more thing clear.
Eliminating yelling doesn’t mean your kids have a green light to do whatever the hell they want and that you smile while they throw food across the kitchen or basically tell you to go fuck yourself.
It means that you change your persepective.
At least for me it does.
In seriously examining why I was yelling, I found three main reasons.
I also discovered that I was yelling the same types of things:
FOR ONCE, CAN YOU JUST FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS!!!
IF YOU DO THAT ONE MORE TIME, I AM GOING TO…
YOU DON’T EVEN WANT TO KNOW WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN IF YOU DO THAT AGAIN…
I was yelling a lot of threats.
And you know what?
My kids didn’t really give a shit.
I mean, it’s annoying to be yelled at, but really, what happened to them?
Not much, most of the time.
I was handing out way more empty threats than I thought.
So the payoff for them was totally worth it.
For me though, it wasn’t.
That’s why I committed.
And here is what I did to make it through that first week.
1. I got real.
When you have kids, you are handing over MASSIVE amounts of time to them. For at least eighteen years. Keeping another human being alive requires a serious time commitment.
But I think, even after seven kids, I have been unrealistic in determining how much time certain things will take to complete. I found myself getting really angry with my two-year-old when it was taking more than .47 seconds to get her underpants on.
Um, she’s two. She is going to be distracted by,
And the chances of her being okay with the outfit I have chosen for her to wear on the first try are very small.
So if I’m going to be realistic, I need to factor in time for at least four changes of mind, or one significant temper tantrum if I decide I will not be flexible on what she is going to wear.
Reserving one and a half minutes to get her completely dressed is unrealistic.
I need to get real.
Plan on seven minutes.
If it takes less,
You’ve scored a few extra minutes you hadn’t planned on.
But if not, you are still on schedule.
2. I changed my perspective.
When you are in the midst of financial ruin, you realize that some of the things you used to freak out over are kind of insignificant.
Or really insignificant.
If you are a couple minutes late to a baseball game, the world will not end.
I was presented with this situation a couple days ago.
Number 3 couldn’t find his baseball hat, and it threw him into a tailspin.
He searched and searched, and he just couldn’t find it, and eventually, he ended up on his bed, his head buried under his pillow, refusing to go, panicked about what his coaches would say.
In the past, I would have lost it.
I would have yelled and threatened, and I would have thought to myself:
What will his coaches think?
What if he doesn’t get to play because he’s late?
His baseball career is over!
These types of ridiculous thoughts often go through my head.
Not this time, though.
This time I thought:
He’s nine. His baseball career is not ruined. And maybe this will teach him to keep track of his shit.
So, very quietly, I said to him,
Your coach has another hat for you (I had texted him to let him know why we were late).
I know you are embarrassed, but it’s okay.
I am walking out to the car, but I will not wait more than one minute. After one minute I will drive down to the field. If you are in the car, I will take you to the game. If you are not in the car, I will drive to the field and tell the coach that you are not coming to the game.
And I promptly walked out to the car.
I knew I had to follow through with this.
So I walked out to the car and prayed that he would drag his butt out of his bed in less than a minute.
But I was prepared to go tell the coach that he wasn’t coming if he didn’t.
And since I hadn’t worked myself into a frenzy, I was calm enough to reassure myself that the coach would understand and would not throw Number 3 off the team for not showing up at a game.
Thankfully, Number 3 rallied.
He also drove in the three runs that won his baseball game.
And now he puts away all of his baseball crap as soon as he gets home.
Without me yelling at him to do it.
So score one for both of us.
3. I stopped shoulding on my kids.
I’m a decent mom. My kids know right from wrong. They know what the rules and expectations are.
So I repeatedly ask them to behave, unattended for long periods of time.
And they repeatedly don’t.
Which is not only the definition of insanity, but also just unrealistic on my part.
If I took a classroom full of kindergarteners and put them in a tenth grade Geometry class and expected them to make it through the whole thing,
Well, I would never fucking do that.
But I do it at home all the time.
So I stopped that shit.
I referred to strategy Number 1.
I can reasonably expect anywhere from five to thirty minutes, depending on the age and number of kids I’m asking to do something.
Not an hour. Or two.
Once I got real, I stopped setting myself up with unrealistic expectations, which are what often led to the frustration and then the accompanying yelling.
4. I got off my ass.
I’m not lazy.
In some areas, anyway.
I work out regularly. I work my ass off on the blog and the e-course and teaching swim lessons and coaching the swim team and making sure the house doesn’t burn down.
But there are other areas where I am lazy.
I yell for the kids from the kitchen to the playroom. I yell up the stairs.
And when they don’t answer, I yell louder.
If I hear someone doing something they shouldn’t be doing, I yell.
WHAT IS GOING ON DOWN THERE?
But I don’t move.
This past week, I changed that.
When I wanted someone to come downstairs, I walked up the stairs, and I quietly asked them.
And if they didn’t come down right away,
I walked up the stairs again.
When I heard fighting or arguing (or nothing, which is sometime worse) I actually stopped what I was doing, and I walked into the room.
I think we often try to squeeze out that one or two or five more minutes to finish whatever it is we are doing.
But in those minutes, in our refusal to stop whatever it is that we are doing to get just a little bit more done, that’s when the kids can really do some damage, either to each other, or to your couch or your walls or perhaps, their little sister’s hair.
And when you think you are gaining time by not moving, you are ultimately losing it.
So in getting off my ass, I cut down on the number of time outs, powdered sugar disasters, and impromptu hair cuts, and resulting clean up time associated with the major disasters.
5. I stopped threatening, and I started rewarding.
I have written before about my therapist who introduced me to the when/then statements.
Rather than issuing a threat, the IF YOU DO THAT ONE MORE TIME I AM GOING TO…,
I have tried really hard to use the when/then statements.
When you take out the recycling then you can have 15 minutes on the iPad.
That has a much different ring to it than
IF YOU DON’T TAKE OUT THE F&%$ING RECYCLING, YOU WILL NEVER USE THAT IPAD AGAIN!!!”
Not only does the when/then focus on the behavior you would like to see, but it also helps you avoid putting yourself in the position to dole out another empty threat.
Even more importantly, you are giving your child the message and impression that you are in control of yourself and your words.
When that happens, their behavior changes.
And that is ultimately what you were hoping to accomplish in the first place, right?
So there they are.
The five strategies I used to make it through week one.
Now I’ve got to go.
I hear crying, and I’m pretty sure I also heard LOTS OF SOAP! and KITCHEN! in the same sentence.
I might have overshot that time expectation again.
But on the bright side, the kids may have taken care of both bath time and cleaning the kitchen floor on their own tonight.
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I’ll keep writing, you keep voting!