I had fifteen minutes to put on my three-year-old’s shoes, get her out the door, on the road, and into the waiting room for her yearly check-up at the pediatrician. The morning was already off to a rocky start.
The dog threw up on our new rug. The A/C unit was making a weird noise. And my toddler decided — after eating eggs every morning for breakfast — that they were “yucky” and tossed her plate across the kitchen in protest. While making a mental note to call the A/C guy and pick up some stain remover, I also remembered I had a huge deadline due for work that had been looming over my head for weeks.
If we ended up late to yet another doctor’s appointment, we’d need to reschedule, but my daughter needed her vaccinations before school started and who knows when they’d be able to fit us in. Getting to this appointment was crucial, but my toddler wasn’t up for listening to me. After asking her to put her shoes on for the 700th time to no avail, I grabbed the shoes and tried to put them on her myself. “NO! I DO IT!” she screamed and swatted my hand away.
And that was the cherry on top of my ruined rug, broken A/C unit, eggs on the floor, work deadlines, no-good-very-bad-day, and I snapped at my kid. I stood over her, pointed my finger, and screamed, “PUT YOUR SHOES ON — NOW!”
My daughter immediately bursted into tears. My heart sank. Instant regret. So much for the “gentle parenting” I’m always sharing memes about in my Instagram Stories. I lost my cool. It was my last resort to get her attention when I felt like I was losing complete control. But instead of gaining back the reins, I lost them completely.
She continued to wail. She was scared of me. “I’m a monster!” I thought to myself. “I am the only mother I know who has ever yelled at her kid like this! What is wrong with me?!”
The phrase “BAD MOM” reverberated in my brain. Her tears were tiny stabs into my heart — tears that I caused. Had this moment created a core memory for her? Was she permanently damaged?
There is scientific evidence to show that — yes — yelling at your kids can cause them to suffer later in life. In a study led by the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Education, evidence found that adolescents who had experienced harsh verbal discipline suffered from increased levels of depressive symptoms and were more likely to demonstrate behavioral problems such as aggression later in life. But before you deem yourself unfit to parent, let’s dig into what that means a little bit.
Yelling at your kid to put their shoes on or to get back in bed is not on the same level as “harsh verbal discipline.” It’s important to make this distinction when feeling guilt and shame about yelling at your kids. The context matters a lot more than the volume at which you’re communicating. Though I knew no permanent damage was done to my kid, I still needed to make this right and reset the morning.
After taking some deep breaths (Thank you, Daniel Tiger!), I got back down on my daughter’s level and apologized to her for yelling. She’s three. I’m thirty-three. I’m the grown-up.
It was now up to me to show her how, after someone makes a mistake, they need to own fault and apologize. “I felt really frustrated that we were going to be late, but I shouldn’t have yelled at you. I’m so sorry I yelled like that,” I said. “I should have used my words to tell you how I was feeling instead of yelling. I understand if I hurt or scared you. Next time, I’ll take deep breaths when I feel big feelings. I love you.” I gave her a hug and felt her melt into my arms. Peace was restored.
I slowly started to shake off the mom-guilt as we drove to the pediatrician. Did snapping at my kid make me a bad mom? No, it did not. Was my Mommy Dearest moment going to scar her for life and lead her down a bad path? No. Was this going to be the last time I ever yelled at my kids? Definitely not.
That moment of pure humanness showed her that sometimes people yell — that I have big emotions just like her — and sometimes they boil over, but that doesn’t mean I’m scary or a bad person. And if she yells or loses her cool, neither is she. When I apologized to her after that moment of true vulnerability, I showed her that the most important thing to do in that moment is to own our mistakes and say we’re sorry.
The life of a parent — especially these last couple of years — has not been an easy one. And when life is hard and the world is burning, parenting gets that much harder too. You might yell, and that’s okay. You’re not a bad mom. You’re human.
Katie Garrity is a contributing Scary Mommy writer covering parenting, celebrity, and viral moments.
She has written content for Distractify and Cuteness as well as personal essays for Thought Catalog and Clean Plates. She has a degree in English from North Central College.
In her free time, she’s hanging with her 3-year-old and husband, planning their next family trip, and watching restocking videos on TikTok.