Tuesday, January 5, 2010

On Yelling Less

[New Years' Retreat, Blue Cliff Monastery; photo by
Melissa Setubal]

This transitional time between years, and decades, comes at a transitional moment for me -- or at what I want to be a transitional moment. It feels right to make resolutions, to set intentions.

One intention I set is to yell less.

I never wanted to me a mom who yells. There was a lot of yelling in my home growing up, between all of us. I hated it. And in raising my now-twelve-almost-thirteen year old son, I have worked hard not to yell, though of course there were plenty of times when yelling seemed to be the only way to get through to him. Instead, my intention has been to express my feelings and needs powerfully, if necessary, but not violently. I wanted to model for him how we can articulate our inner self to others without simply acting it out. And I think that I have done a pretty good job.

But sometimes a body gets tired. Sometimes a body just wants to yell, "Do what I tell you! NOW!"

I am writing this with awareness that my son may read it. That's okay. He and I have talked about how, at times, he is not the easiest child to raise. He is very smart, very active, deeply feeling, strong-willed, and at times explosive in his expression of frustration with the fact that things don't always go his way. He is also insightful and self-reflective, and can even smile at how he sometimes makes things hard for himself. He's come such a long way over the years. But he is still heavily invested in resistance. And that's what wears me down.

I never want to end up yelling. I never want to spend twenty minutes in growing frustration as he playfully, complainingly, distractedly, and angrily acts out his resistance to whatever needs to be done. I just want him to put on his shoes and go to school! NOW! I just want him to get washed up and GO TO BED! NOW!

Afterward, he is usually penitent, regretting that he pissed me off, sorry that he took things too far. Afterward, when he's insisted that I sit with him in bed so that we can cuddle, he wants to do better. He wants to be very sure of my love.

And I want him to be sure of my love. I love him dearly. And there are many moments during the day when we enjoy each others' company. There is plenty of the good stuff. I just get weary of the hard stuff.

I knew that I had been yelling more, losing my temper more, and I didn't like it. But it wasn't until I talked with a friend about it, and my husband interjected, "Yes, you are yelling more," that I really saw. I don't believe that yelling is effective as a disciplinary, that is, a teaching, tool. And I have evidence, fresh, direct evidence, that yelling doesn't change the unwanted behavior. It just sours the whole environment.

Now, there is a lot of history that I'm not going to go into here. We have wended our way through a wilderness of crises, conferences, specialists, therapists (so many therapists), diagnoses, techniques, strategies, books and articles and dvds ... it's been a long journey. And someday that tale must be told.

But for now, I resolve, before god and the buddha-nature of all that is, to yell less. No more yelling. (Or, very little.)

Even when he becomes a teenager, as of seven weeks from now.

An affirmation for my bathroom mirror:

I will not yell,
I will not whine,
I will not pester other kids,
I will not throw things,
I am the mom,
I am the mom!

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