If you know my youngest daughter at all, you know she is an incredibly strong-willed kid. She is at once fiercely independent and incredibly sensitive. She is both a firecracker and a sweetheart. She is a whirlwind of activity, constantly busy with projects for someone she loves. She’s a truly amazing kid.
And her room is a mess. Always.
I could clean it spotless every morning, and it would look like a natural disaster had taken place in there about ten minutes after she got home from school. So, feeling a bit like Sisyphus, I gave up trying to help and left her to her own devices for several weeks in December.
December is fairly insane for my husband and me until finals week is over, so I just ignored the ever-growing mess as I pushed through the end of the semester. But as soon as I could turn my full attention to the state of the household, Sophia’s room was first on the menu.
Because this is what it looked like:
It pains me to post this, but I did leave her all on her own for several weeks, and it was just too much for her little self to handle, no matter how independent she is.
I waved the white flag of surrender and agreed to help her get it clean again. We went in together, and I gave her an assignment (pick up all the clothes and put them into a clean pile and a dirty pile) while I tackled the closet floor. Within a few minutes, she had forgotten her task altogether and was involved in making something out of the craft supplies that were strewn all about. I reminded her that I was only helping and that I did not intend to do all the work myself and to please get back to what she was supposed to be doing. She did so happily, but quickly got derailed again and began to read a book.
When I looked up from the detritus on the floor of her closet and saw that she was again ignoring what I had asked her to do, I lost it. I completely flipped my lid and I yelled. Loudly.
I am an opera singer, trained to project over an orchestra in a large hall, so when I say that I yelled loudly, I mean that I yelled LOUDLY.
And, as you might imagine, my fiercely independent and incredibly sensitive child began to cry.
Moms yell for lots of reasons, and I can make all sorts of excuses for why I yelled: I don’t function well in a messy home, I was under a lot of stress, I was exhausted, I hadn’t been making very good food choices, I wasn’t feeling heard. All of these were true, but not one of them was more important than the well-being of my daughter.
As I was yelling at her, I looked down at the mess I was working on in the closet and a piece of paper she had written on caught my eye. It said, “I HATE MOM!” I picked it up and turned it over to see a picture she had drawn of me blowing up. Not yelling blowing up but actually being blown up by a bomb. Because she hated me so much.
Now, I am no stranger to being momentarily hated by my children, and it usually doesn’t bother me. But the timing here stopped me in my tracks as I realized what I was doing. But before I could even think through anything, a distraught little girl flew at me, snatching the paper out of my hands and ripping it to shreds.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” she cried, while digging around for all the other hate notes she had written about me that were still scattered around the closet floor. Every time she found one, she tore it into a million tiny pieces and continued to repeat how sorry she was.
I finally stopped her and pulled her into a hug and apologized for my own poor behavior. She sobbed into my shoulder and said, “I’m sorry, Mom! Sometimes I just get so mad!”
Frankly, she managed her emotions far better than I did in this case. It’s much healthier to go write how you feel than it is to scream at someone about it. I have much to learn from my children.
But what I can learn from my children is not actually the point of this post. The point of this post is that I need to stop it with the yelling at my children. My husband will read this and be horrified because I have perhaps painted myself as a woman who can’t control herself at all and yells at her children all day long. And maybe I have painted myself that way because sometimes that’s exactly how I feel. I know that I am usually a pretty nice mom and that I don’t actually yell at my children that much. But when I do yell at them, I feel so terribly guilty that I feel like I’m some sort of a lunatic who can’t control herself at all.
Every time I yell there are triggers, and most of them have absolutely nothing to do with the situation at hand or the child I am yelling at. I yell because I am exhausted, or stressed, or expecting perfection that is unattainable. I yell because I have low blood sugar or PMS. I yell because I feel that nobody hears me and that the only solution is to talk louder. I yell because I am not at peace with myself.
After my daughter and I hugged it out, I promised her that I would do better and we resumed cleaning up her room—she with renewed focus, and I with renewed calm. While we were cleaning, I came upon another note and I furtively stuck it into my pocket so I can remember how my children feel when I am not being kind to them.
Once upon a time a few years ago, I had a particularly bad yelling episode. In that moment, as I was screaming at all three of my girls about getting the playroom clean (yes, for me it’s always about the clean house—I can honestly say that I rarely yell at my children about anything else), I had something like an out-of-body experience. It was like slow motion and I was suddenly hyper aware of my children’s faces and my own stark raving lunacy. And suddenly I burst into tears, crumpled to the floor, and immediately apologized to my beautiful daughters for my horrible behavior.
My children are so forgiving. They accepted my apology without question and frankly forgave me. They showered me with love and told me what a wonderful mother I am, and we all had a great little therapy session together.
That day I resolved to quit the yelling, and you know what? I didn’t yell for nearly a year. Our home has never been so peaceful. But, bit by bit I let my guard down and I let the stress and exhaustion take over, and I would yell every once in a while. And then I yelled more often. And then my daughter had the messiest room in the history of ever and I yelled again.
I wish I could say that was the last time I yelled. I’m doing better, though, and I haven’t yelled again until today. And today I caught myself and I nipped it in the bud after three words, even though my daughter was already crying about how mean I was.
I like it when our home is peaceful. I like it when my children speak to each other kindly, I like it when I feel peace in my heart. And so I will continue on this path to more peaceful parenting.
Yelling may not be your weakness as a parent, but for me it is. I think that my daughter probably gets that firecracker part of her nature from me. She certainly doesn’t get it from her father, who rarely raises his voice unless he is calling us to dinner. It’s something I will always have to work on, but it’s important and I’m willing to do the work necessary to have that peace I so desire.
P.S. It took two days, but we did finish cleaning that crazy room of hers. It helped to make her a step-by-step list of the things she needed to do to get her room clean.
I wish I could say it has stayed clean, but this is my firecracker’s room, and perhaps I need to be at peace with the fact that it will rarely never be as clean as I prefer it to be. Tonight, it is booby trapped with “lasers” (pink stretchy jewelry making twine) so nobody can get to her closet. That is what she spent time doing today after school instead of practicing her violin.
And I love her for it.