About two years ago, I stopped yelling at my children. I had been living by the parenting motto, “If you are not yelling at your kids, you are not spending enough time with them.” It was working for me. I justified yelling at their angelic faces because they were frustrating as hell and I was the one dealing with it most of the time.
Then one day I stopped—cold turkey. I pulled that pacifier out of my mouth, cut off the tip, and trashed it. I was planning on cutting down the yelling when it turned into a full-on cease and desist. The house was happier. I was happier. The kids were happier. For quite a while, my no-yell strategy was mothering gold. I would ask once, ask twice, and on the third request, I would preface my sentence with, “Did you hear how my voice changed there? That is what it sounds like the moment before I start yelling?” and I would ask one last time. The kids would spring into action without fail.
It didn’t take long before the warning became unnecessary. My good duckies fell into line just like good duckies should. They would get to two asks and clean out that lunch bag without a third request. They would brush their teeth before I had a chance to ask. We were the 1950s picture-perfect home without the poodle skirts or ribbons in my hair.
I can’t say I didn’t occasionally have a problem. I most definitely yell at my progeny in my head, which sounds a lot like “for fuck’s sake!” and looks a lot like an eye roll. Fortunately, I took out all my yelling frustration on the one person in the house that, by vow, had to take it. My life was idyllic.
Skip to two years ahead. We have two teens living with us. I could scream, but what would be the use. They don’t listen anymore, no matter the volume, no matter the tension, no matter the pitch. They have grown accustomed to my easygoing, no-yell approach and are walking all over me. Why did this happen? I was living the dream. I was an Oscar-winning mother for my quiet home. I was the envy of my moms’ group, and I had “Oh Silent House” printed on my Christmas cards. Why now?
Teens need a rare kind of parenting voice. Yelling isn’t it. My watch-as-I-get-to-almost-screaming voice isn’t it. The voice you need is the same voice with which you would approach a sleeping tiger or a scorpion on your partner’s face while they sleep. It is a unique tread-lightly voice that only the parents of teens can master.
My teens yell at me. They don’t give me one or two warnings like I did for them. They don’t have that marked almost-yell change in tone. They just go off, like a tea kettle with no auto shutoff or a toddler with the stomach flu on a flight.
Instead of training my kids by not yelling, I untrained myself. I am now ill-equipped to handle the volume of voices at the volume with which they speak. My ideal house is now hell. And hell hath no fury like a teenager scorned.
Let this be a warning to all those parents trying to give up the yelling. You are making a grave mistake. A mistake you will regret when your teenager yells at you and you don’t have the tools to cope. Remember the motto: “If you are not yelling at your kids, you are not spending enough time with them.” So spend more time with your little lambs. Raise those voices to new heights and feel good about it. You are preparing them for teenhood and doing an exceptional job of it.