Sunday, April 21, 2013

the absence of fear: on spanking and yelling.

before ben and i became parents, we made a conscious decision:

absolutely no spanking.

we had several conversations about this while i was pregnant with caleb and i was relieved we were both on the same page.  i knew others who i considered to be good parents who spanked, and it was their choice.  but for me, it wasn't an option because i felt it was a tactic that promoted fear in children.  i had been spanked, and when i remembered those moments, i couldn't ever recall why i was spanked.  i had no idea what i was doing at the time, but i could remember the emotions i felt before, during and after being spanked.

fear, anger, embarrassment, hurt, shame.

as a mom i wanted to try to find a way to teach around the behavior of my children, even if it didn't get an immediate reaction the way spanking did.  my hope was that consistent teaching would produce long-lasting results of change instead of momentary change due only to the fear of the consequence, not because it was a choice to do better with an understanding of the teaching.

however, we had seen "that kid" enough times to know that we might end up with a child who had very little to no impulse control, or one with such a strong desire for control that they would completely disregard our direction.  so, we gave ourselves a disclaimer:  if one of our kids completely disobeyed one of our rules regarding their safety, {like running into a road or something like that} a swat on the rear was okay, while teaching around it so that they took it more seriously.

almost eight years into motherhood, i have not encountered a situation where i have found a need to spank any of my children.  has been there been a desire?  oh, sure.  i've felt the desire--even visualized it--and that thought has mainly surfaced during times when one of them is physically hurting one of their siblings.  nothing brings out the mama bear quicker than when one of my children is being hurt, even if it's at the hands of one of my others.  luckily i have realized the hypocrisy in spanking specifically during those moments...swatting one to prove a point to not to hurt another.  it didn't make sense to me, so i found other consequences to fit the actions.

i've been grateful to have been able to find other ways--effective ways--to parent without spanking.  it's not that my kids don't push boundaries, or disobey.  but up until a couple of months ago, i think deep down i prided myself on parenting without using fear as a tactic to control.


i remember the first time i yelled at him.

not raised my voice, or spoke firmly.  i'm talking about yelling.

he was 5, and upstairs in his bedroom with his door open.  we were late for school, i had a screaming 2 year old leah on my hip, who was wrestling me to get down so she wouldn't have to get in the car.  he was supposed to be putting on his socks and shoes and running down the stairs, as quickly as he could.  he knew we were late.

the seconds felt like minutes, the minutes felt like hours.  as they ticked on, and i continued struggling with my very strong-willed daughter, i felt like my insides were catching on fire.

"CALEB!!!  WHAT ARE YOU DOING!  HURRY UP!!  WE'RE LATE!!"  i yelled. and it wasn't just the fact that i yelled, because i hadn't said anything unkind to him.  it was the way that i yelled.  it was more like a roar, that held a tone of urgency mixed with complete annoyance.

"MOM!!  I'M TRYING!  YOU'RE SCARING ME!  DON'T YELL AT ME LIKE THAT! I'M PUTTING MY SHOES ON AS FAST AS I CAN!"  he yelled back from up the stairs, but his voice broke, and i heard him start to cry.

immediately, i knew.  i knew i had hurt him with the tone in my voice.  after watching the way he works for 5 years, i also knew that he gets flustered when he's in a hurry, and that his little fingers don't work the way other little fingers do, becoming even less efficient when under duress.

what i'm saying is, as his mother, i knew better.

he came down the stairs still crying, asking why i yelled at him like that.  i swallowed the lump in my throat, set leah down, and ignored the time on the clock.  i knelt down to his level, looked him in the eyes and told him how sorry i was.  that i was frustrated because we were late, but that it wasn't okay for me to talk to him that way.  he sniffed, said a small okay and we hugged.

when i mentioned in my last post about seeing the ugly inside of me as a mother, i was referring to situations similar to this one.  only the child has changed, and the circumstances are different.

a couple of months ago i was staring into two big brown eyes framed with thick dark eyelashes when i yelled as i stood in the door frame of the bathroom, only a few feet away from her.


i watched those beautiful eyes fill up with tears as she covered her ears with her hands, and yelled back,


part of me knew better, and another part wanted to fight back.  i listened to the louder part.


she began crying harder.  exasperated, i turned my entire face up to the sky.


i left her there, crying.  i left her because i didn't want to yell anymore.  but even though i knew the reason behind my walking away, i could tell she internalized my absence as rejection, because her cries of anger turned to pitiful wails of my name over and over again.

i didn't turn back to comfort and reassure her, but instead went into my bedroom and began to cry.  i knew my tactics were not only failing, but they were wrong.  wrong for me, because i knew the emotion my loud voice and narrowed eyes had brought out in her.


the worst part is, i was actually trying to scare her, because i felt i was out of options.  this was the fifth time that day she and i had come to this place--arguing over going potty.  things would begin pleasantly, me talking softly and just prompting her when i saw the signs.  she would begin by refusing in a cute and silly way.  but no matter how nicely our exchange began, we continually wound up here.

she had just finished her round of antibiotics from the bladder infection she had given herself from holding it for so long, so this wasn't a time i was willing to give her back complete control of yet.  i had explained this to her in detail, teaching her that it was important for us to listen to our bodies, that God created us to take care of ourselves, if we listen to our body's needs.  when we're hungry, we eat.  thirsty, we drink.  and this same thing applied to going potty.  i told her what happens when we don't listen is we either have accidents or make our body sick...leading to pain and discomfort, doctor's visits and medicine.

we talked about it, and she understood what i was teaching her, but then when it came time to her actually doing what we had talked about, she refused.  i knew she wanted control, but also knew it wasn't clicking yet, because she had gotten into the habit of holding it for so long and didn't like putting life on hold for minor interruptions like going potty.

which brought us to here, with me crying in my bedroom while she cried in the bathroom.

i wasn't being the mom i wanted to be, the one i knew i had been before, and could be.  i knelt down next to my bed and prayed for extra patience.  to dig into the depths and find softness for this little girl i loved so much, who i knew was merely trying to exercise her free will and who i knew didn't understand the connection between her choices now and the ramifications they led to in her future.  i asked to be shown a better way to help her, one that removed the tactic that had snuck upon me, and had settled into as a habit:

parenting with fear.

this was what God showed me that afternoon.  the ability to see the teaching wasn't getting through to her because the behavior i was using was only effective in getting an immediate reaction without the long-term change.

i realized this, and it was hard for me to shown.  i'm not much of a yeller in general--neither ben nor i work that way--and yet here i was, and i knew then that it was no better than spanking.  so i cried some more, and apologized for hurting one of my sweet children.  i stood up, resolved to do better.

i walked into the bathroom where leah was still crying, and sat down next to her.  i held her in my lap, started crying again, and told her how sorry i was.  that it wasn't okay for me to yell, even if i was frustrated.  that i was going to try my best to be more patient and speak softly, and i needed her to try to realize that i wasn't perfect and made a mistake, and asked for her forgiveness.  she said "yes" in between sniffs, and we hugged.  we also talked about how i was trying to help her, and i needed her to work on being more obedient when it came to going potty.  even if she didn't want to, because i was helping her learn how to listen to her body while she was having a hard time doing it.  we both promised to do better, and shook on it.

i'd like to say that's the perfect ending, but it isn't.

i've made mistakes, but those moments are much more rare.  i make a conscious effort to stay in check with my emotions.  i read an article written by a mom who was a yeller, and some tactics she used to stop the habit.  i tailored these to what works for me, and have on more than one occasion--when i feel like my insides are lighting on fire again--walked into my bedroom, buried my head in a pillow to muffle the bloodcurdling screams i let out until i've felt the fire disappear.  my kids don't even know i'm doing it, and i return to the situation able to handle things without using fear to teach them to obey.  i let them know i'm frustrated, but then teach them why and we work through it.

i also wrote a list of what my triggers are.  being late is a huuuuuge one for me.  i get snappy when i'm running late, which can quickly turn to yelling if any of the kids act like, well, a kid.  fighting or wanting a toy, or suddenly needing a drink or refusing to put on their seatbelt.  it pretty much happens every time we're going anywhere, but when we're late?  it puts me over the edge. now that i'm aware, i work harder to not run late, and when we are, i stay aware of my emotions.  another trigger is being exhausted.  so i'm making changes to not be the night owl i've been, because when i'm tired i'm not the mother i know i can be.

the good news is, leah and i are doing much better.  i've had to be firm but loving with her, immediately starting out with a choice to do what she's asked or to go on a time out.  that's it, no other options.  she learned the hard way to do what she was asked.  once we had that down, i was able to ease up, giving her the choice to go potty immediately, or to go in 3 or 4 minutes.  and she always chooses to go later, but it's done easily, without a fight.  {for the most part--she isn't perfect either.}

together we're seeing our way out of the ugly patch that shadowed our relationship for a couple of months.  and we're both growing and finding other ways to communicate and work with each other.  motherhood is tough business, one that is constantly stretching and humbling me.  and it's for these exact reasons that i wouldn't trade it for any other job in the world.

i've been focusing lately on finding the fear in my life, and working with God to figure out how to eliminate it.  it's become my mantra for 2013.  next i'm going to write about how it took me a couple of years to recognize, admit and change being a mother who parented out of fear.  also known as, "the helicopter mom."


Nana said...

Linsey, I so wish you were around when I was raising my girls! You are brilliant beyond your years! You are a wonderful mother and I admire you!
Sending love your way as you fulfill the measure of your creation!

LYDIA said...

I love how honest you are in your posts. It's inspiring :)I admire what you are trying to do as a mother and your mantra for 2013.

Michelle said...

Hi linsey, your posts always make me think. This one made me uncomfortable--because I am learning these lessons in my mothering too right now. And they are hard. I have found that most of the time I don't actually yell-- but I am "snippy" and short-- which my children (Age 7 and 5) call "yelling" so even though I have learned to not raise my voice, my irritation has been just as hurtful to them. So that is where I am focusing right now. But keeping my tone kind the WHOLE day seems really overwhelming to me. So this month I decided to just focus on our mornings; just being pleasant and loving to my little kids while I get them off to school-- it is only a short amount of time AND I feel rested so I knew I could do it. While I have definitely had my slip ups, I am so happy to tell you how much of a difference it has made in our home. And I find more resolve later in the day to keep those nice feelings going (Still have a long way to go . . . Maybe when I really master mornings I will work on the bedtime hour!) Thanks for your honesty and thoughts.

lynsey said...


thank you for your comment! i love the idea of picking a smaller goal of time to help change feel not so overwhelming. funny, my kids call my firm tone "yelling" too when i'm actually not, and i remember feeling like if that's what they considered yelling, when then i was doing pretty good! but you're right, it's all about the tone. and i don't want my kids to ever pick up from my tone that i'm disgusted with them. they internalize so much at a young age. it's okay for me to be frustrated, and to vocalize it. but there's a fine line, and i can feel deep down the times that i've crossed it. we're all a work in progress aren't we?

thanks again for the comment. :)

Rachel Chick said...

I love you so much. I really appreciate your perspective - as always. These are lessons that I'm also learning, but I'm coming along and making progress. I find the more of my own insecurities that I root out, the easier these kind of things go. The more gentle and understanding I am with myself, the easier it is for me to extend that to my children. Thank you, as always, for making me think. You truly are such an influential person to me. You inspire me to be more thoughtful and purposeful in my parenting and I will forever love you for that.