I write for Mommyish five days a week, which means I read dozens of parenting articles and (sometimes half-baked) studies every day I have a deadline. Most of them I read, consider for a few minutes and move on. I keep perusing until I find “the one.” The one that gets me writing in my head before I can even open up the dashboard to type. But then every once in awhile something I read just sticks with me in a way that sends up all kinds of red flags and sirens and maybe even smoke coming from my ears. I don’t write about that one. In fact, I try my best to just forget it. This happened to me yesterday but I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. It makes me want to ask every parent I see the same question: do you yell at your kids?
Yesterday Slate published a Homer Simpson-esqe “it’s funny cause it’s true” piece detailing the author’s co-workers’ experiences with either being yelled at as a child or yelling at their own children. The study, if you haven’t read it in the past few months, concludes that yelling at your children is as damaging as physically abusing them. GREAT.
I admit I lose my cool more than I would like with my two-year-old and four-year-old. I yell a fair amount during the day, especially trying to get them out of the house in the morning (them to school, me to work). I also yell a fair amount at bedtime because they prefer running around naked, throwing books and bears and making jokes, to brushing their teeth, putting on the pajamas and actually going to bed. After reading the Slate piece, the Washington Post take and the actual study I stopped dead in my tracks. Am I essentially beating my kids on a regular basis? Is that the kind of harm I am inflicting on them?
And the study doesn’t let the sometimes slip-up slide:
Even lapsing only occasionally into the use of harsh verbal discipline, said Wang, can still be harmful. “Even if you are supportive of your child, if you fly off the handle it’s still bad,” he said.
Even once in awhile, “it’s still bad.” Where does that leave me? Besides thoroughly depressed.
Although the study specifically analyzed teens and tweens, I’m guessing it’s because that age group is best able to detail how exactly their parents are damaging them with their every move. I wasn’t thinking I was off the hook because my kids haven’t reached those ages yet. So then I can’t stop thinking. I’m arguing with the study in my mind while I’m on the bus, at work, in the shower.
This can’t be. And what am I supposed to do? First of all, I’ve already done immeasurable damage. I mean, I don’t want to yell. I don’t think of it as a great parenting tool. But sometimes I just lose it. I yell for them to put their shoes on. I yell at them to brush their teeth. I can’t be perfect! I’m really trying to raise good human beings here, but I guess it’s all invalidated by my yelling? What am I supposed to do???
Screw it. That was my conclusion last night after hours of self-torture. Screw it. And try my best to keep it together as often as I can. It’s all I can do.
And then today I read the Motherlode and found my underlying reasoning echoed right back at me:
I’m calling this one out. I’ve looked at the study. I’m not accusing the researchers of any failings (this is a peer-reviewed study, which appears to have dotted all i’s and crossed all t’s). I’m merely saying that I refuse to buy it. I refuse to let this one crawl into my brain and take up residence in my psyche, where it could snuggle up right next to the baby sleep expert who wrote something like “even leaving an infant to cry alone a single time is damaging to the trust you are building between you” and caused me untold sleepless nights. If a parent’s hauling off and hollering over a lapful of hot coffee is now considered to be as “damaging” to a child as it would be to lash out with our fists, then the real message of that research is this: Only the perfect parent can rest easy, while the rest of us must just live with the knowledge that we’re inflicting harm with every “occasional lapse.”
I am not perfect, nor do I ever expect my children to be. If we keep talking – and try to keep the yelling to a minimum – we’ll all be alright. I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got. Today I’m going to let that be good enough.