Sometimes my daughter drives me crazy.
Is there a parent who can’t say that? If so, I really don’t want to meet them. This may just demonstrate my lack of enlightenment, but I believe they are either not telling the truth, they really are enlightened, they’re on powerful tranquilizers or they have the most compliant, complacent child in the known universe. And if any of those are true, it is not helpful to me to be around them. They just make me feel unlucky, or bad, and definitely angry.
When my daughter drives me crazy, I try so, so hard to follow all the good parenting advice I have received from friends, family and books. I try to make my instructions simple and clear. I try to honour whatever process she is in and wait until a good time to interrupt. I try to only ask things of her that she is able to do. I try to step back from the situation, get a little space, take a deep breath, consider my options for responding. I try to remember that she is doing the very best that she can. I try to remember that children move a lot slower than adults move. I try to remember that the need for attention is a valid need and not a devil-sent method of draining every last ounce of my sanity.
Sometimes I succeed. In fact, despite my sometimes dismal parenting record, I often receive the feedback that I am extremely patient with my daughter. Sometimes, however, if I’m tired or I’m not awake yet or it’s been a trying day, I yell.
My daughter will unabashedly tell you that I yell much too much. She is a sensitive soul, my daughter, and also happens to have unusually good hearing. After these 8 years of parenting, I can now see the sad effects of my yelling. It’s not a pretty sight, and I feel terribly, awfully, shockingly bad about it. Mother guilt is big and deep and I’ve got a big dose of it. Worse yet, I probably deserve a lot of it. (I intend to write more about mother guilt and shame in the future.)
So when I ran across the Orange Rhino blog, I began to follow it with interest. This intrepid stay-at-home-mother of four boys under 6 1/2 challenged herself to not yell for 365 days. If she did yell, she had to start the 365 days over again. To her unending credit, she succeeded, and is now on the second 365 days. Not only that, she is now helping other parents to stop yelling. It only took a few posts to convince me that she was on to something, so I decided to stop yelling. I explained to my daughter about the Orange Rhino and she thought it was a great idea. She volunteered to let me know at the end of each day, how well I’d done. Shortly afterwards, the Orange Rhino offered a 30-day supported challenge beginning 1st June. I took a deep breath, overcame my reluctance to random too-good-to-be-true things on the internet, and signed up.
The first 10 days are for preparation and the second 20 days are for not yelling. Preparations include setting up support networks and visual measures of goals and progress. Very sensible, and I have done neither. I did pilfer my daughter’s orange highlighter (with permission) and I did purchase orange sticky notes. I’m meant to create a calendar for noting the days I don’t yell (in bright orange). I keep thinking I’ll do this with my daughter as a nice art project, as she says she’d like to try to stop yelling too (hooray!!!!). We haven’t done it yet.
We were also instructed to write down our worst parenting moment on the private comments section of the blog. That was grim but satisfying. It is a relief to (anonymously) admit to one’s most shameful moments, and is an antidote to unhelpful shame. (There is helpful shame and unhelpful shame, according to I Thought It Was Just Me (But it isn’t) by Brene Brown. I’m working on noticing the distinction in my own life.) The best part was reading everyone else’s worst parenting moments. (6,500 people are participating in this challenge!) I am in good company. I had no idea so many parents are driven to the same lengths as me and just as often. This is part of the Conspiracy of Silence (see future post) that I would love to see us dissolve. Just imagine what we could change for the better if (a) we knew we were not alone in our reactions to our children, (b) we could collectively come up with better supports for parents and (c) we had some training and willingness to come up with better responses. On a personal level, reading those descriptions of worst parenting moments was sobering, saddening, and very deeply healing. From here, I and we can move forward.