I’m a yeller. I never wanted to be, in my pre-parenthood, blissful ignorance I imagined and hoped that I’d be less of a yeller and more of a quiet voices/organic type. But as it turns out, I’m to yelling what Imelda Marcos is to shoes. I’m to yelling what the Queen Mother is to hats (have you ever seen her not wearing one? Didn’t think so). I’m to yelling what Fifi Box is to the perfect post-birth photo. People ask me advice on how to be such a fantastic yeller. I’m the yelling poster child. Do I like it? No. Do my children like it? I think they do, they do a lot of yelling themselves. Um… yeah.
Last week though, I became a reformed yeller. After a verbal explosion Wonderland #1, with the sweet innocence only a three year old can possess, asked; “mummy why do you always yell at us. Doesn’t it hurt your voice? It makes us sad and cry-ish.” Her protective use of the inclusive ‘us’ (and concern for my voice box) made me gush with pride that my three year old little girl, big sister to two, was sticking up for her siblings, speaking on behalf of the children. It was a turning point, an epiphanous moment that left me sobered and empty and really rather cry-ish myself. She’s only three, her need to be the ambassador for the littlies shouldn’t be activated yet. I think I literally hung my head in shame.
So I researched. I’m no behaviour-changing vigilante so I typed ‘I want to stop yelling at my children’ into Google (where else would I type it?). I laughed at the auto-prompter which suggested my search should be ‘I want to stop yellowing pubic hair’ (what?!). But that’s another search for another day and what I found was actually quite a bit of information, apparently I’m not the only mama who wants to turn the volume down. One of the most helpful blogs I found talked about “triggers”. It made sense, making a “scream diary” as she called it, would help me recognise patterns to the yelling (gosh that makes it sound like it’s an addiction). A “scream diary” seemed a bit intense but I did make an effort to recognise moments in which I would have normally, or felt an overwhelming urge to yell.
For instance, when I bent in front of the car to pick up a rogue sock and Wonderland #2 honked the car horn in the carport where the cavernous echoey quality made the honking seem like some kind of torture… that was a “trigger”. But! I didn’t yell. I approached the car window with my palms raised, as though a dangerous beast was encaged within. I said, in my calmest mummy voice; “ok buddy, that was fun, but now you can stop honking the horn. Stop mate. Stop. Stooop. Stoooppp. Honey, mummy needs you to stop honking the horn. Stop honking the horn mate. Stop. Stopppp. Stopppppppp. Sweetie it’s very loud and it’s hurting mummy’s ears, please can you stop?” His delight at my awkward-uncomfortable-non-yelling negotiation resulted in crazy laughing hysterics complete with bounding up and down on the driver’s seat, jabbing pudgy fingers at buttons and knobs. He stopped. And I didn’t yell! It was an accomplishment of epic proportions. I felt like this is how normal parents resolve issues, I felt like less of a bad mother. I felt good, and the ringing in my ears wasn’t even that noticeable.
When the nappy bag got tipped upside down and the children played ‘lets put coins down the heater vents’… that was a “trigger”. When the frozen peas marbled out across the kitchen floor… also a “trigger”. When the big tub of Sudocrem got plastered into blonde curls… “trigger.” When the spilt bottled of cordial merged with the spilt bottle of milk onto the freshly mopped kitchen floor… that was a FREAKING “TRIGGER!” There were these triggers, and those intense, all-consuming moments where the baby would be desperate-crying, toddler is exactly in between my legs tugging for something at full volume, pre-schooler is shouting about the importance of putting a different pair of leggings on, right now! Everyone is melting down around me, and I’m accustomed joining in. On most of these occasions I felt frustration rising and thrashing in me like smoothie ingredients in a blender. I slammed my eyes shut and my head had a visible little seizure as aggravation bubbled to get out. Deep breath. Shake it off. Speak calmly. I have most definitely been on the cusp on many occasions, but I haven’t exceeded the reasonable decibel limit.
Dr Phil says there are six weeks of discipline to successful habit changing. Well Phil, let me teach you something: mothering three very small children amplifies most aspects of life. My life isn’t busy, it’s very busy. That nappy doesn’t smell, it’s the stench extravaganza pod. I’m not tired, I’m exhausted beyond explanation. The forty-five minute period between breakfast and kinder drop off evaporates in five minutes. The hour from nine pm to ten pm might as well be eight minutes because that’s all the relaxing I get. My point is Phil, what might be one week for a regular non-parent type person is probably like at least three or four for a neurotic parent type person. So while I can’t say the habit is broken, I haven’t yelled in a week and I don’t need to wait six weeks to see results. It was a decision to be kinder, gentler, calmer with my children; I just don’t yell anymore, full stop. And they are happier, they yell less, they respond well when I need their attention. Life is just better.
It’s only been a week since my decision to stay calm so I’m no serenity guru, but the “triggers” are becoming less like loaded barrels of angry, screaming monkeys and more like reminders of how awful I used to be. It might sound harsh, but it’s absolutely completely true; yelling is awful, no one likes to be yelled at and it took me longer than it should have to make that connection (I think I’ve already suggested I’m a bit slow on the up-take).
In my perpetual mission for self-growth, I ask this: what have I learnt? Well, I’ve learnt that asking for, and explaining why the freezer door needs to be closed gets the freezer door closed more effectively than screeching about the freezer door being open again! I’ve learnt that I contributed to the crazy, heart pulsing, short-breathed elements of Wonderland more than I ever would have admitted. I’ve learnt that not yelling is as good as giving myself permission to be slower with life in general; yelling carries such an urgency, speaking is present and makes you focus on what is happening now. I’ve learnt that my children are even more wonderful than I realised (is that even possible, cos they were already pretty damn marvellous). And the best bit I’ve learnt is that my babies have a treasure trove of lessons to teach me if I slow down long enough to let them.
Now I just need to work on my smacking habit. Kidding.
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