Yes, It’s Wrong. Yes, It Happens.

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Selfie, April 2014

Selfie, April 2014

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.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. I WANT TO KISS YOU! Sounds like very good parenting to me!
    I see more and more people with kids in the bus, at the pharmacy, at the market, who don’t discipline their kid AT ALL. I am wondering what will become of our society in 20-30 years, really. Frustration, learning how to deal with it and, yes, a bit of yelling when you go overboard, seems like mandatory in someone education, and yet….
    I have been yelled at (sometimes), I even got the exceptional “fessé”, and those have been so effective that I do remember every single time my parents were REALLY mad at me. And guess what? It’s never what I am talking about in therapy, because it was not traumatizing 🙂
    So, keep on the good work, and sweet hugs to Mark and you 🙂

    • Come on, let’s kiss. We are French, after all 🙂

      I can’t stand it when parents never say “no” as a matter of principle. Not only their kids grow up thinking they rule the world, but it set a very bad example. I mean, at one point, you have to say “no”. This is just the way it is.

      I also got a few “fessées” and I think I turned out okay 🙂

    • Martin Penwald on

      Good parenting, it is quickly said.
      I don’t see any barbwire-whipping nor pillory, here. You are too soft.

      Seriously, it is a non-sense that one cannot rise the voice against a chlid who behave badly. Yes, they have to experiment by their own, but they have to be straightened when they are wrong, for a lot of reasons. Not that it means I agree with corporal punishment, but there is a difference between yelling at your kid once a time because he misbehave and beating him all day long for no reason.

      • Well, we are on the same page. I strongly believe kids need limits and that it actually make them feel safe and secure.

  2. Hi Zhu,

    I bumped into your blog by accident. My Swedish neighbour once told, I could end up in jail by giving a fessé to my daughters even when they misbehaved. Kids need limits so that they know that we love them. Frankly, I wouldn’t spend time checking on them if I don’t love them.

    We’re human after all.


    • I know in some country spanking is an offense… which I personally find strange. There is a different between beating a kid and spanking a kid but I understand it’s hard to draw the line. I had some fessées and my parents are the most lovely people…

  3. Quand j’ai menacé michoco du doigt, il a commencé à faire de même sur moi, alors j’ai inversé la tendance avec le pouce en haut pour dire “super” et maintenant il le fait tout le temps pour s’auto-congratuler ! J’avais entendu une minute par année pour les punitions mais pour le moment on n’a jamais eu à y venir… En revanche quand je lève le ton, michoco fait bien la différence et sort sa petite tête de chien battu à mourir de rire, ou alors enfoui sa tête entre ses mains, alors je viens vers lui et on en discute ! La seule fois où j’ai vraiment crié très (trop ?) fort il a fondu en larmes immédiatement. J’espère que le pouce en bas pour l’avertir et le haussement de ton pour le ré-avertir vont continuer à suffir… je lui confie pleins de missions sur les moments où il voudrait plus d’attention (genre porter les choses à table ou à la poubelle mais en 25 aller-retours !), ça évite les bêtises, la frustration, l’énervement pendant ce temps… Je n’ai pas envie de faire tout le temps celle qui fait l’autorité, pourtant je suis bien obligée !

    • Bonne idée pour le pouce! J’ai remarqué ue Mark est beaucoup plus dur quand son père et moi sommes ensemble. Seule avec lui, je le recadre facilment en général avec un “non” ferme ou un “Mark…?”.

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