Let’s Talk About Yelling

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Yelling gets a bad rap. All the books say, “Don’t yell at your kids.”

let's talk about yelling

I say, “Yelling happens so let’s talk about it.”

Not everyone is a yeller but some of us (ahem, me) are louder than others. Being loud (yelling) is not necessarily bad and it’s not necessarily good either. Frankly, you can’t define an entire parenting relationship by a single behavior. Good parents can also be yelling parents.

Yelling is not just a single act taken out of context. Yelling is cultural. Some families are louder than others. Some families holler at each other more. They holler when it’s time for dinner or when it’s time to get out the door or when they’re telling funny stories so it stands to reason that they would also yell when they’re angry. We may think that moms are supposed to be sweet and patient and perpetually kind but that’s sexist as all get out. Moms are people. People are beautifully imperfect. Sometimes they raise their voices.

I use that term “raise their voices” deliberately because I want to confront the idea that mothers are supposed to be meek and mild. Maybe — just maybe — it’s fine for moms to be loud.

When I worked at shelter as the family program coordinator I collaborated with the case managers when a mom came into shelter with her kids. One of the case managers grew up in a quiet family so she was very concerned about yelling. Yelling to her sounded scary and out of control. I told her to watch the kids. Were they upset by the yelling or did it roll right off their backs? And I told her to watch the mom. Was the mom loud in other ways? Did she also yell when she wasn’t angry, like, “Dinnertime!” Or, “Come on, get your shoes on!” Was the content of her yelling an issue or was it just loud? (Was she threatening or name calling or insulting? Because threatening and name calling and insults are an issue no matter how they’re delivered.)

The other thing that can make this hard to figure out is that it feels lousy to be angry with our kids. That lousy feeling gets conflated with our behavior. Sometimes parents tell me they want to stop yelling and when we dig in we discover what they’re really saying is that they want to stop feeling angry. Maybe it scares them to feel angry. Maybe they feel out of control. Maybe they’re afraid they will cross a line. That’s different than actually being out of control or crossing an actual line. That’s why it’s important to dig in and talk further instead of just jumping on the “less yelling” assumption.

I’m not saying that “less yelling” is not a laudable goal; it can be a great goal. Or the goal might be to focus less on the yelling and focus more on what’s going on around it (the feeling of being out of control, struggling with anger, addressing our own residual trauma from the way our family of origin handled — or didn’t handle — anger).

Sometimes (and this is interesting) yelling becomes part of the process. Kids get used to routines, right? And sometimes yelling becomes part of the routine. Let’s take bedtime. It starts off calmly, revs up in intensity until mom is yelling and the kids are hustling up the stairs. Mom is thinking, “What is wrong with me? Why am I always yelling?” The children are thinking, “When mom yells, then it gets serious. We don’t really need to listen until she’s yelling.” Yelling has become part of the necessary routine for bedtime. Oops. This happens all of the time.

This is why I distrust parenting advice that’s one size fits all or makes assumptions about what’s right for every family. Yelling is something that happens and it can be problematic but it can also be just the way some families are. Now this post isn’t a “get out of jail free” card for yelling at your kids; it’s more of a “dig into the issue further” card. If you come to the You Are Not Your Mother community and say, “I want to stop yelling,” I’m gonna say, “Tell me more.” Because I guarantee there’s a whole lot for us to talk about.

Oh and here is my favorite book with a yelling mom, which I encourage everyone to check out because it’s fantastic.

Harriet, You'll Drive Me Wild! (Read aloud)

(This post was inspired by an Instagram comment. If you have something you’d like me to write about, please feel free to let me know!)

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