I don’t read parenting magazines. First, much like “women’s magazines”, they are ager to dispense not-doable-in-real-life pearls of wisdom—for instance, their “quick dinners to please the entire family” recipe ideas invariably include 20 organic-and-impossible-to-find ingredients (and for some reason, breakfast recipes always feature smoked salmon). More importantly, I find the articles very patronizing. “Buy this super expensive gizmo for the SAFETY and WELL-BEING of you PRECIOUS child!” “Every GOOD mother knows that (insert something no one does here”, etc.
I am easily guilt-tripped as it is.
But the other day, I needed a distraction at Chapters. Mark started playing with the train set and I flipped through one of these magazines.
An article caught my eye. It basically explained that screaming at your child was akin to physical abuse and could cause neurological damages and psychological problems.
Now, I doubt most parents wake up in the morning and have this kind of conversation at the breakfast table:
“What’s your plan today, honey?”
“Oh, I think I’ll scream at Bobby Junior for an hour or so, and then we shall go to the park.”
“Terrific, have a great day pumpkin!”
I mean, stating that screaming at your kid is not a good parenting technique is a bit like stating that calling your boss an asshole will get you into trouble and that your spouse may not appreciate if you sleeping with another person.
Yet, these things happen. Cause you know what? We are humans.
I’m not a shouter. In fact, in an argument, I’m most likely to break down in tears, hide in the bathroom to sob and step out for a smoke (not necessarily in that order).
But yes, I have screamed at Mark. Go ahead, throw stones to your heart content.
It’s not like I’m proud of it.
When he was just a baby, I was mostly reacting out of tiredness. I wasn’t shouting at him but I was very likely to say “fuck the world!” if I spilled the milk or if we had a poop disaster. I wasn’t angry at Mark. I was just frustrated. It’s not an excuse to lose my cool, I am merely providing context here.
Now, Mark is a toddler and I found myself raising my voice because of his behaviour more than once. There is the “MARK!” said louder and less gentler than usual because I am trying to get his attention—for instance when I’m trying to get him dressed after the bath and his is running around the room. Late at night, I don’t feel like playing hide and seek, especially when one of us is dripping water everywhere. There is also the “MARK!” that means “phew, close call”, for instance when he is goofing around and it’s dangerous—trying to run away from me and a car is coming, reaching for my hot coffee, etc.
And then there is the “ENOUGH, ENOUGH, BASTA!” when it’s just… well, enough. Like when he is rebelling as we are making dinner. He runs around the kitchen, empties the cupboard, clings to my legs as I’m stirring the pots or digs into the garbage (!).
Sure, I could—and should—be patient. I could say: “mommy is cooking a yummy dinner, my love. Would you please play with your toys in the living room?”
But see, I said that already. I was patient. Like, an hour ago.
I could simply avoid making dinner. Frankly, most nights, I’d skip it. But he still has to eat—and so does Feng. So back to square one. Sure, screaming “ENOUGH!” is counter-productive. He may freeze and cry (not that he is scared of me, just because he knows he screwed up) and then it will take me ten minutes to calm him down. And I feel like a shitty human being for screaming at an 18-months-old toddler.
But you know what?
Raising my voice can be surprisingly effective if used sparingly.
Mark is smart. He knows when he went too far, he knows when he did a good job (we do praise him), he knows when it’s time to have fun and when it’s time to behave. He is learning. Little by little, he has to understand that the world doesn’t always revolve around him.
When he doesn’t know, I explain—for instance, “Mark, if you pull my hair, it hurts.” When he acts up, then it’s time to discipline. What works best? Frankly, I don’t know. I am patient. Yet, when I lose patience, well…
My motto with Mark is “first, do no harm”. I screw up, occasionally. He has seen me cry, he has seen Feng and me argue, he has seen me scream and he has seen us stressed out. But we are also here to hug him, to guide him safely through life’s milestones, to provide positive attention, to make him laugh, feel safe and loved. And I like to think that our “we are just humans” moments are only 5% of the parenting adventure and that the rest of the time, we are good people—much like any good employee is likely to check personal emails or Facebook on company’s time.
Being a parent is tough. We are not perfect, we know it.
There is the ideal… and there is reality.