Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Silent Yell

It's not the yell that is silent, but the silence around yelling that I'm thinking about today. Last night I heard Devra Renner speak. She's the author of "Mommy Guilt" (one of the co-authors, actually, of this mom group effort). Guilt, Devra said, is like the vinaigrette that pulls together all the specific points of parenting, like breastfeeding, or how we get our kids to sleep. I'll add, and she'd probably agree, that guilt keeps us preoccupied and focused on small details, and makes it harder for us to feel empowered and confident and ready to ask for real social change to make our lives easier. I've blogged about it at the other blog. But here at Playground Revolution I want to raise a different question.

What intrigued me about Devra's presentation is that apparently, yelling is the number one thing we worry about, we feel guilty about as parents. No one wants to talk about it. When she asked our group what guilted us out, we answered with topics like breastfeeding, daycare, working outside the home, and things like that. We gave her the hot button issues.

These are all public issues. They resonate. We're used to talking about them. If we're on the right side or the wrong side we can feel self-righteous, and like we're holding up the world with our correct practices. Breast, bottle, home, paid work: each of these things have pros and cons, they're all more complex. And they are public. Yelling, on the other hand, is intensely private. Few people ever hear us raise our voices at our kids. It happens at home, or in the car. And it's hard to talk about, since aside from an extreme case, like yelling to get your kids out of the path of an oncoming car, there's no real reason for it.

I was touched by her comments. Even though I've read through her book, it didn't quite hit me that it was about yelling. I'm interested in what we're doing that keeps us focused on small detail when we need to see the big picture. In my family, I want to stop yelling, even if it's the smallest part of what I do. (Perhaps we should make up no-yelling charts to hang on the refrigerator, similar to the potty charts and clean-up charts we make for the kids?) It seems to me that the stress of being with our kids, the stress of responsibility, of all our different desires for them, and for us, adds up. I want to get that stress where it belongs.

What if everytime I felt like yelling at a child, I instead picked up the phone and called Rick Santorum's office, and Arlen Specter's too. These are the men who represent me in the US Congress. Redirect that anger where it belongs. Think about what would happen then? It'd be a start at incorporating an every day political practice into my life. And just think: I'd be happier, my children would be happier, and Rick's office would be annoyed and have to hear from me.


Lone Star Ma said...

I like it. I'll start today. Mr. Ortiz, here I come.

radmama said...

*sigh* If I could stop yelling, I would feel like not only a better parent, but a better person.

landismom said...

Interesting post. I might take up your suggestion and call Rick Santorum to yell at him whenever I feel like yelling at my kids, even though he doesn't represent me.

Devra said...

Truly it was a love fest all around, I enjoyed meeting Miriam and was so happy she and Amelia braved the elements, the personal and the weather related, to attend the discussion. It was lively and thought provoking and Miriam is right, it was somewhat of a surprise to see the number one guilt among moms was yelling at the kids. After all, we control our own voice box. But as Miriam pointed out, we use redirection to deal with behavior we don't like in regard to our parenting, so why not use it on ourselves too? So when you do feel like yelling at the kids, one option is to redirect yourself and let your voice be heard by someone who won't have their feelings hurt when you yell. I don't think most of us will feel that badly about letting loose on some of our government folks, right? And don't we feel better when we feel we are being heard? So throttle down the voice at home, whisper if you have to, but when it comes to political activism? Give a yell, give a yell, give a great substantial yell and when you yell, yell like hell. okay, so I stole that from a youth group cheer, but you know what I mean ; )
I am looking forward to seeing Miriam in April when she comes to DC for a presentation!

tracey said...

when i was trying to read this earlier and my daughter interupted, i yelled. yikes. old, bad habits are hard to break but always worth the effort when you make a change for the better.i think for the most part, i really do just yell out of's ridiculous and my kids hate it. i'm glad you're calling us on it. thanks for the challenge!

Mary Ann said...

What an amazing idea. The next time my eldest decides to cut all of the wires on the answering machine to build a pretend walkie talkie, I'll hit the speed dial for Spector and yell "What were you thinking?!?"

jess said...

hmmm...project my anger to a figure out of the house? a great idea! so far its only been making it as far as my husband

Dark Daughta said...

Thanks for the honesty. Yelling is like a private cross borne by many parents, especially mamas, who as wimmin, are expected to be the epitome of what the culture understands as feminine: gentle, loving, patient, accomodating and soft-spoken.

I have all of that in me, but I'm more complex than that. My relationship to my emotions involves finding healthy ways to express my frustration, impatience, rage, aloneness, especially a mama.

But, alas, I am imperfect. I do yell and I've also smacked her bum which is an expression of violence not considered as cool in our house hold regardless of whether my own childhood programming likes to sneak out every now and then or not.

One thing I've done to sabotage my own pre-programmed behaviour and its effects on my daughter was to empower her well before her present age (4) to feel and to speak her own upset, impatience, disappointment, sadness, rage...even about me, to me and to anyone else in the family.

So, when life gets out of hand and mama becomes an impatient parent not channeling her own frustrations in healthy ways, she has recourse and accountability built into our family. Anyone, everyone will listen to her and offer her language to address how she feels about what has happened.

She can also count on me to "turn my own self in" to my partner and other family members, by talking about my behaviour towards her in an open forum, by letting her know that it actually has very little to do with her actions,

I offer her some breathing space rather than leave her with the full weight of my actions as something she caused.