Smotherhood: Parenting Made Me An Old Yeller

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Weekday mornings have one alarmingly consistent feature around our house: me yelling. I don’t get up thinking, “Today I will yell.” In fact, if anything, each morning begins with the silent affirmation: “Today I will not yell.” But, almost without fail, there I am, yelling my head off.

I did not begin life this way. Until a couple of years ago, I could count the number of times I’d been reduced to yelling, as an adult, on one hand. (I could actually count them on one finger: He knows who he is.) I was generally considered a nice person with a reputation for patience and a peaceable nature.

That was Dr. Jekyll. My children brought out Mr. Hyde.

It didn’t happen until my son, now five, was almost four, the age at which I finally recognized his preoccupation with his own universe for what it was: a conscious, deliberate decision to ignore any request or demand he didn’t like. I had previously attributed this lack of focus to a learning delay, because his speech was unintelligible until he was well past three. Repeated assessments by speech pathologists and public-health officials told me otherwise. And hearing specialists confirmed it for me: His problem has never been hearing; it’s listening.

I know it’s selective because if you put headphones on him, stood three rooms away and whispered, “Anyone want ice cream?” he’d come running. But I can stand a foot away and ask him repeatedly to do something boring and he won’t even blink in acknowledgment.

Usually the morning progression, over a span of 10 minutes, goes something like this:

Jasper, sweetie, please put your shoes on for school.

Jasper, I need you to please put your shoes on.

Jasper. Shoes. Now.

Jasper! Shoes!



Someone should capture this progression as it’s reflected on my face, which quickly goes from passive to irritated to out-and-out deranged. I hate yelling not just for his sake, but also for mine. It makes me feel old and tired, and affects my mood for the rest of the day.

And I know, rationally, that yelling is not an effective way to be heard. I’ve read the expert advice and tried everything I can to minimize these kinds of confrontations: planning in advance, speaking to him gently and explaining the consequences, letting him live the natural consequences of not doing what I’m asking. (But let’s be serious: Can you let a kid go to school with no shoes on without getting a call from social services?)

I’ve tried examining what it is, exactly, that makes me so mad about these episodes, and it comes down to respect. Ignoring someone is pretty much the most basic form of disrespect there is, and it drives a stake through my better self.

Until tomorrow morning, when I will resolve, for the 400th time, to be more patient, kinder, gentler.

(Photo: Brand X Pictures)


  1. Abigail

    July 10, 2011 at 10:04 am

    Not to sound bitchy, but have you ever considered that he knows there are no consequences for him ignoring you, and so he continues to do it? Our older son (who is 3) knows that if we speak to him, he must immediately say, “Yes, Momma” or “Yes, Daddy” and do whatever he was told, or he will be disciplined. Consistency is the key. Even our 1 year old, who can’t talk yet, knows that when we call him, he has to nod in affirmation and obey. I see so many moms in malls and stores that run around after their children screaming at them, but never following up with anything, so the kids know they can get away with it. Maybe the answer is not you being more patient, but him being more obedient.

  2. Holly

    July 10, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    I went through a similar experience with my son who has severe sensory issues. I used to yell often but soon realized that it achieved nothing in the end. Resort to other methods like counting to 3, award charts, time alone (time outs done in a nicer manner). Yelling ways made his behavior worse and my guilt was sky high unneccessarily.

  3. sarah jones

    July 13, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    the ten greatest gifts i give my children (great book!) i, too have very independent, stfu male children. when they all turned four i began to use the socratic method – ask them the question (give them the answer at first). ex: Mom: “jasper, it’s almost time to leave for school. what do you need to do to be ready to go? Remember, you need your shoes.” Jasper: “i need to put on my shoes.” Mom: “So when i tell you it’s time to go you are going to say, what?” Jasper: “okay, mommy.” and what will you have done to be ready?” Jasper: “put on my shoes.” with this method you have a much better than average rate of positive response. and you don’t pull all your hair out at once.

  4. Pingback: ‘Her Say’ Features Mommyish When Discussing Why You Yell At Your Kids | Mommyish

  5. Maggie

    July 19, 2011 at 11:09 pm

    I agree with Abigail. All this threatening, letting the child decide when or if he will listen. No raising our voices for fear of CPS being called. No spanking. No yelling. No touching. No threatening. No disrespecting the child. No embarrassing them. No invading their space. No invading their pricy…on and on and on… Where, exactly, does this leave us parents? Sitting there yelling or pretending we have it all under control or just ignoring the issue. yeah, the kids have won—those spoiled, entitled brats we all hate but continue to raise. YAY US!

  6. Freda

    June 21, 2013 at 11:52 am

    I have a child that ignores too. It drives me crazy, especially when I am running around doing a million things trying to get out the door. The only think that really helps is to stop, kneel down, take the child’s shoulder’s, look him/her in the eye, make sure you have his/her attention, then tell them calmly what you want. It is really, really difficult when you are trying to be efficient. They do not understand multi-tasking. If I tell my daughter to put on her shoes, while I am packing up the lunch, tracking down my cell-phone etc. She will stand there doing nothing, ignore me and continue playing, or follow me around the house strategically placing herself where I will trip over her, until I stop doing everything and watch her put her shoes on, paying attention to her the entire time. I think the eye contact, and giving them your full attention are the keys to cooperation.

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