One of the last times I yelled at my son was Sunday, November 10, 2013. That was the day I decided I never wanted to do it again because I never again wanted to see hurt and confusion, even fear, in his eyes when he looked at me. Although I am certain I will yell again at some point, I nevertheless keep the date posted on my refrigerator. Even when I have slipped, I see that date written on my refrigerator white board and catch myself faster. I take a breath, and then I stop.
A few months ago, I discovered a blog call The Orange Rhino. I’ve included the link, but for anyone not familiar with it, it’s written by a SAHM with four boys under the age of 6. A couple of years ago she decided to stop yelling for reasons she enumerates on her heartfelt and enjoyable blog. Reading through her emotionally charged posts, I began to think about my own yelling, namely how, and when it occurred, and most importantly, how often it occurred.
I am a stress yeller. I yell when my own experience is pressured and feeling out-of-control. The stress in my life since September has been near overwhelming at times, and as I’ve put my own needs aside to care for the needs of the people around me, I’ve become wound tighter and tighter, my breaking point coming closer with each twist. As a result, my fuse is shorter than at any other point in my life, and when it gets lit, the resulting explosion is faster, and there is less chance for those around me to move out of harm’s way.
I’ve always had a short fuse, but I have largely been able to compartmentalize so that I wasn’t overwhelmed. For example, when work was making my blood boil, I knew that I could retreat to the oasis of my calming and soothing home. It was like being embraced by a giant teddy bear when I walked through my front door. The scents were soft; the sounds were comforting; the companionship waiting for me was my warm and furry animals who loved me without reservation or condition.
When my home life was making me crazy, I knew that I could go to work each morning, close my office door, sit at my organized desk with my classical music playing softly around me, and breathe in the world of books and words I knew so well. My colleagues weren’t involved in my home life, and the only expectations they had of me related to the world of books and words. Even on the rare occasion that both home and work were pressing on me, I had the ability to go to the gym, take a weekend trip for fun, see a movie, read a book, take myself to a special restaurant I’d been wanting to sample. I had nobody but myself to worry about, nobody to make demands on my time, nobody for whom I was responsible…nobody but myself.
All that is different now. I no longer work outside the home. I am the primary caretaker for a small child. I help care for my parents. I am part of a team, one-half of a married couple, and I am accountable to my husband because that’s part of the bargain we strike when we partner up: we will take care of our partner and they will take care of us. Now when my work life stresses me, there is no separate home life to embrace me in warmth; when my home life stresses me, there is no escape to a closed office with soothing classical music and a neat and ordered desk to calm the frantic neurons in my brain.
Now, my “office” is the laundry room next to the bathroom off my bedroom. My house is cluttered and disorganized, much more so than at any point in my life. Like any other parent, I struggle daily with the clutter associated with the toy overload of a child. My space is not entirely mine, so I have less control over what comes into my house and where it gets put. Because I want to pay attention to The Boy when he is home, I feel pressure to clean and organize when he’s at school instead of going to yoga or the gym, which would help me de-stress. My time is not my own.
I don’t need to make a list of what’s stressing me. Nobody is going to come and rescue me, magically take away my stress. Part of being an adult is figuring out how to manage life’s challenges, then overcoming them. As it relates to my child, my first challenge was identifying my yelling trigger. Since the stress in my life isn’t going away anytime soon, my next challenge is learning a new coping skill: breathing through it.
I also need to let go of my particular priority lists. While The Boy is in school, I need to start doing things that help me relax so I can let go of some of the tension before it builds. I need to stop worrying about everything not getting done “on time” and accept that I will eventually get it all done, just maybe not when the she-devil perfectionist in me wants it done, which is yesterday. After all, checking items off the to-do list isn’t as important as spending time with The Boy, Ernie Hemingway, and others loved ones.
I need to see that, really internalize it and stop letting the she-devil banshee take over. Breathing helps. Stopping helps.
When The Boy was first at tantrum age, I would often have a tantrum with him. If we were in a place where it was safe to do, when he started to have a meltdown, I would tell him that I was going to have a tantrum, too, and that way we could get it all out together. Then I would proceed to whine and stomp my feet or lay on the bed or punch the pillow or pout.
I imagine I looked like quite the fool as it made him laugh every time and the moment passed. The most important thing, however, was that it made me take a moment to understand what he was feeling, why he was behaving the way he was, and how I could best help him manage his feelings.
I was very good when The Boy was young at not letting it all get to me, but as the stress in my life has risen, exponentially over the last year especially, I have found myself not being able to contain it all. Perhaps that’s due to both my husband and me having to deal with particularly thorny issues at the same time. Ernie Hemingway and I rely so heavily on one another as friends and confidantes, and usually when one of us needs support, the other is there to provide it. Maybe this is different because we both need support. Maybe this is different because it’s a more difficult issue. Maybe it’s just my perception that is different, my sensitivities.
Whatever the reason, I try every day not to yell in anger, and more days than not I succeed. I talked to The Boy about it so he gets what I’m doing and why sometimes I take a deep breath and lock myself in the bathroom for a few moments or sit down and count. He likes the whole idea and has decided he wants to do it with me. Together we will say, “I’m getting angry.” “I don’t want to yell.” “Please stop.” When it comes out, it makes the other person sit down and ask why, to find out the reason behind the emotion.
One afternoon last week I had about an hour of work to do. I told The Boy that once I was finished we could read or play, whatever he wanted. Five minutes into my allotted time, he started grabbing things off my desk and throwing them into the trash. I told him I was starting to get angry. He asked why. I explained that it felt like he was making it harder for me to get my work done so we could spend time together; he responded that he had something really important to tell me about school and he couldn’t wait to talk to me about it.
It was a thirty minute detour off my plan, but it was well worth it. He felt better; he felt as if he were more important than my work (which he is). Once our conversation was over, he moved on to solo play, and I was able to get my work done in less than an hour. Then he made me some ice cream with his Play-Doh ice cream shoppe and we had a fun snack together.