“Matt!” I yelled at my 15-year-old son. “Didn’t I tell you to mow the lawn yesterday?”
Silence. Then: “I had to…”
“No, Matt, I don’t want to hear excuses,” I shouted before he could finish. “Just do it. Now.”
“Why are you always yelling?” he grumbled as he stormed out the front door.
I flopped on the couch, my unspoken answer to Matt’s grumbly retort echoing in my head: “I’m yelling because I’m exhausted from working swing-shift in a dirty, hot factory. I’m yelling because I’m always frustrated with barely making ends meet. I’m yelling because, in the dysfunctional environment I was born into, everyone yelled.”
Then I immediately regretted my “just do as I say” moment. I’d failed to consider that perhaps Matt was also frustrated with how much was heaved upon him and his three brothers due to the fact I am a single mom. My own mother’s screamed ultimatums had been the hallmark of my childhood and young adulthood. And it seemed I had let her behavior spill over into my own parenting.
After a couple of minutes, the mower shut off and Matt shuffled back inside. He stood there, shifting nervously from one foot to the other, with a look on his face that told me he had something on his mind, but he was afraid to say it. “Mom,” he said finally, “I had a lot of homework to catch up on.”
Normally, I would’ve had my hands on my hips, ready to continue the fight. Instead, rather than going toe-to-toe with him again, I apologized.
“I’ll tell you what,” I said in a calm tone. “After you’re finished with the lawn, I’ll help you with your homework. How does that sound?”
Not Too Late to Change
Still feeling contrite after Matt went back outside, I put this question to myself. Does the dysfunctional environment I grew up in—or any other hardship—entitle me to yell at my sons like I did?
The answer was no, and it wasn’t too late for me to change. In fact, it was absolutely vital that I learn how to parent without yelling. And, because I knew my children would follow my cue, I began to consciously model how I wanted to handle conflicts in the future.
I took my four sons to lunch so that I could discuss with them how I planned to change my pattern of yelling. Over pizza, I explained the environment I had grown up in and how it had influenced my own parenting. I also added that it was no excuse for my own wrong behavior and that I would learn to handle our disagreements in a more constructive manner. I told them that I would likely backslide at times, but that we would figure it out together and they shouldn’t be afraid to disagree with me.
Parenting Without Yelling
I worked hard to stop yelling:
- I read parenting books and magazines for basic guidance and learned a different sort of parenting style that included firm discipline without overreaction.
- When I felt myself losing control with one of my teens or tweens, I dug into my past and recalled how I felt when I was that age and my mother yelled and screamed at me. Seeing the situation from the perspective of my younger self helped me back off with my own sons and handle possible collision-course situations more effectively.
- I placed this anonymous quote on a bulletin board in my computer room to serve as a reminder: “Pain travels through family lines until someone is ready to heal it themselves. By going through the agony of healing you no longer pass the poison chalice onto the generations that follow. It is incredibly important and sacred work.”
- I learned to laugh more. Research has proven that laughing positively affects our bodies and minds. It breaks down the walls between ourselves and others (in my case, my sons) and gets some shared communication going.
Changing my behavior so I could parent without yelling did not come suddenly or easily. For years, I hadn’t I handled conflicts with my sons with the grace, calm and fortitude of a conscious parent. I regret the lost years, and the years my sons suffered. But with determination, trial and error, and better communication, I did gradually become a better mom, if not the perfect mom.