Monday, June 24, 2013

mind the gap: sometimes i yell.

When I held my newborn child in my arms for the first time, especially after his traumatic birth, I wouldn't have believed you if you told me that I would ever want to yell at him.  Yell at him?!? How could I ever yell at this tiny, helpless babe?  How could I even consider yelling at him?  How could I ever even feel frustrated by him?   

It happened.  I can't remember the first time but I could name at least six or seven from today.  That urge to yell.  Sometimes its just that, just an urge that I can subdue with the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness, gentleness and faithfulness that should be flowing through me daily (right?!).  Sometimes I have to pull out my secret weapon, SELF-CONTROL, to woman-handle that yell back where it belongs.  In those moments you might be able to hear me grind my teeth, not smiling but not exactly frowning.  Probably just staring.

And sometimes I yell. That's right, sometimes I yell at my child.  He's almost three.  If you have a strong-willed child, or maybe any child, you'll know what I mean.  I am absolutely in love with him and he also does things that make me cray-zay, and not in a fun way.  I really thought I was a nice person until I had two toddlers not going to sleep on a red-eye flight across Canada.

Sometimes I impress myself with my ability to choose patience and kindness, or at least muster up a few ounces of shut my mouth control.
And sometimes I just yell.

I don't want to yell at my children.  It's not fun for anyone.  It makes them change what they are doing because they are scared.  I send them into fight or flight mode which is not helpful in actually learning any kind of lesson.  And it makes me feel bad afterward.  It's not the parent I want to be.

I've been reading Brene Brown's "Daring Greatly" for the past few months and this afternoon I had a few minutes to read a chapter called "Mind the Gap".  Brene, a researcher on shame and vulnerability, was writing about what happens when the culture that we aspire to foster in our family doesn't line up with our actual practices.  When this happens routinely, or there is a gap between what we teach our children and what we actually model to them, disengagement occurs.  And the last thing I want, from my toddlers or my teenagers, is disengagement.

So how do we "mind the gap" between the values that we aspire to and the values that we actually practice in the day to day?  I don't want there to be yelling in our house and I'm trying to teach my children to speak kindly to people, but right now I do occasionally yell.  I believe that I can see my yelling instinct be transformed but it is going to take some time.  In the meantime?  I apologize.

Rather than let shame cover me over and fill my mind with lies that I'm a terrible mother and my children are going to run from me as soon as they can, I acknowledge my mistake to myself.  Brene describes the difference between shame and guilt as believing you are a terrible person and believing that you did something wrong.  When we become resilient to shame we are able to forgive ourselves when we make mistakes and move forward.  I've decided to really tune into my thoughts immediately after I make a poor choice and make sure I reject any thoughts that are shaming.

And then I simply tell my children (usually my son) that I'm sorry for yelling.  I shouldn't have yelled, it's not a nice way to talk to people and would he forgive me.  He always does, it's such a beautiful thing.  "Tuddle, mama" and he cuddles me to that sweet reconciled place.  I'm learning the healing power of grace and forgiveness, even from my two year old and he's learning the importance of apology, that even moms and dads make mistakes and have room to grow.

Brene writes:
Mind the gap is a daring strategy.  We have to pay attention to the space between where we're actually standing and where we want to be.  More importantly, we have to practice the values that we're holding out as important in our culture.  Minding the gap requires both an embrace of our own vulnerability and cultivation of shame resilience -- we're going to be called upon to show up as leaders and parents and educators in new and uncomfortable ways.  We don't have to be perfect, just engaged and committed to aligning values with action.
As a recovering perfectionist, these are liberating words.  I don't have to be perfect to be doing a good (even great) job as a parent.  I just need to mind the gap.

This is a great post by The Orange Rhino: 12 Steps to Stop Yelling at Your Kids

Is yelling a struggle for you?  Has anything helped you to yell less as a parent?  As always I'd love to hear your thoughts!


  1. Oh, I can relate to this post. I yell at my daughter all the time. I remember the first time I yelled at her: she was 5 months old!! She was in the Moby wrap and I was trying to can tomatoes, but she kept whining and needing me, and I yelled, "CAN'T YOU JUST LET ME DO THIS ONE THING?!" To a BABY?!! It pains me to remember it.

    When I yell, I'm usually just expressing my frustration in a way-too-loud voice: "WHY CAN'T YOU EVER LET ME DO ANYTHING?!" (or something to that effect). It's completely inappropriate, and not at all the way I want to parent. But it's the way my mom parented. She was ALWAYS yelling. It's hard to get out of that.

    I love the distinction between shame and guilt. And I love the image of your son forgiving you and asking for a cuddle. I know I make mistakes, and I'm trying to get into the habit of apologizing to my daughter when I make them. The positive side is that she can see that it's okay to make mistakes. Sometimes we lose control of our emotions. When we do, we apologize and promise to do better next time.

    I've got Brene Brown's book on hold at the library. I can't wait to read it -- it sounds wonderful.

    1. thanks so much for your comment kathleen! i've been really encouraged by Dulce de Leche's blog that when we make mistakes and apologize to our children that it shows them the power of reconciliation and how to do it in a healthy way. I'm really enjoying Brene's book although it's taken me a long time to get through it ... the toddlers don't like it when i read. :) sorry for the delay in response!!!