Old Yeller | Confessions of a Stay-At-Home Mom

February 23, 2012

Old Yeller

I believe most people have things about themselves they wish they could change.  Some of these changes may be aesthetic: hair, clothing style.  Some changes may be physical: losing weight, gaining endurance for exercise, eating better. Some changes may be mental: learning a language, enhancing the ability to remember things. 

There are other parts of us, though, that live deep within.  Parts that were born long ago, and over time have nestled themselves into the very essence of our beings.  Parts of us that are particularly dark, ugly or unhealthy, and we are so entangled and snared by them, that it is very difficult to be free from their grips. Parts that make us disgusted with ourselves.

So: My name is Steph. And I'm a yeller.

I don't want to be a yeller. I think yelling is an awful means of communicating.  It's something about myself that I despise, maybe even embarrassed of.  But it has become an instinctual way of communicating, particularly when I am flustered, excited or upset.  

I grew up in a house where yelling was a common and acceptable way to speak to one another. So, growing up, yelling is how my parents would communicate their anger or frustration to us, or how my sisters and I would heatedly interact.

I never thought much of it until I married Hubby.

Hubby grew up in a more soft-spoken family. I don't think I've ever heard one of his family members raise their voice.  They are more quiet in they way they go about things, which is quite the opposite of my family's interactions.  

When we got married, Hubby and I had a huge learning curve ahead of us.  I liked to process or talk things out, often heatedly.  He tended to keep things inside, and refused to raise his voice. It was natural for me to speak loudly.  If I was upset, raising my voice happened almost automatically. If I was telling a story excitedly, my voice would get louder and louder.  Hubby would kindly (and quietly) let me know that the decibel level had gone up, and I immediately lowered my voice. 

Until he started pointing it out, I had truly no idea that I was a yeller.  I mean, I knew I yelled, but I was unaware of how often or how passionately I would raise my voice.  Words can be hurtful, and saying mean things is something I've always attempted to stay clear of.  But LOUD words can be just as (if not more so) hurtful.  And I was surprised to find how I had hurt Hubby from time to time merely by the audio level of my words.

So, I've worked on it.  And I can proudly say that I've come a long way in terms of my yelling (and Hubby and I have made great strides in our ability to communicate with one another).  

Becoming a parent, though, has really put my resolve to the test.  

Once Little Chica turned two years old, and started asserting her own independence the way toddlers do (i.e.: NO), it was very easy to slip back into my Old Yeller ways.  Sometimes I reasoned with myself that I raised my voice to get her attention in situations where she might hurt herself.  But that is a slippery slope. Over time, I subconsciously was yelling simply out of frustration.

This has been a growing problem.  Hubby and I had a discussion about it a few days ago.  Now, I don't yell all the time. It's not like I'm screaming at my kids from sun up until sun down.  But in moments of chaos, frustration or defiance, I instinctively slip into yelling. And I know that many parents struggle with this.  I can't tell you how many times I've gone to playdates, and we all recount our yelling mom fails from the past week. Secretly it's nice to know I'm not alone in my struggles. 

I believe it's a defense mechanism: when we are at the precipice of not knowing what to do in a situation (child rebelling, defiance, etc), yelling gives us the false sense of security that we are reestablishing authority.  When, in reality, it is only putting a rift between me and my kids (and teaching them bad communication habits as well).

Some days are worse than others.  I know Little Chica, who is creeping up on the 4 Year Old mark, will mimic my tone at times. She is learning to raise her voice when she is frustrated. And the idea of raising a Yeller breaks my heart. I want my children to know how to communicate affectively and compassionately. I want them to know that yelling does not accomplish anything, and does not magically give anyone power.  I do not want my kids to develop means of coping and communicating that involve empowering themselves at the expense of disempowering others.

And it starts with me.

As the mom, I need to be the example.  And when yelling is so engrained into who I am, into my natural instincts, it takes every fiber of my being to have the focus and awareness not to yell.  

I've made an intentional effort this week to raise my voice less. It's hard to be that aware! I have to constantly be thinking ahead, catching the emotions before they get out of control.  It means stopping the emotion as it builds, taking a deep breath, and redirecting my desired course of action (which is, obviously, yelling).  I've made some progress, although I haven't been perfect.  

But I will continue trying, for the sake of my kids.

What are the deep, entwined things you desire to change about yourself? Your parenting?

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