03 November 2012

Things That Make Me Ashamed - Shouty Mom

The truth is, I haven't been liking myself very much lately.

I've been letting things slide, I've been missing opportunities, I've been slow to react, and slow to finish things, if they get finished at all. I've ignored this blog, ignored writing altogether for probably the longest stretch of my adult life. I couldn't figure out why I cringed every time I thought about sitting down to put my thoughts in order.

Then I figured some stuff out, and it's not pretty at all.

I have some baggage about being ignored; being made to feel less than.

No four year old is really great at listening. The Imp, energetic and full of questions and entranced with all the shiny things is not good at listening at all in the morning rush before school and work.

He's a great kid. He's thoughtful, and generous, and sweet. Affectionate, whip-smart, and curious. He gets excited about every little thing, and greets each day with a let's go! attitude that I often envy.

But he's not so great at listening.

And I'm not so great at being not listened to.


It happened gradually, but I started shouting at him sometimes, to get his attention. After six times of asking him to do something with no response, I'd increase the volume to let him know I meant business. It was effective for a while, then it faded into the white noise of Imp's life.

So I started shouting to get his attention a lot of the time.

Then instead of just being a question of volume, a note of frustration crept into the shouting. Then the frustration turned to resentment, and soon it felt like I was shouting all the time, angrily barking orders at Imp every time I needed him to just do something.

I became Shouty Mom.

The morning excitement in Imp's eyes was turning to resistance and resignation, and that's when I realized that I didn't like myself very much. That I hadn't liked myself very much for quite some time. I was horrified by the parent I'd become without noticing.

Three days ago I hit critical mass. After a particularly difficult morning, I cracked. I just could not stand the idea of starting one more day fighting with The Imp about all the minutiae of our daily routine; breakfast, getting dressed, picking up his toys, getting his for-the-love-of-all-things-holy shoes on so we could just get out the door.

I could not, as a human being, spend that much time frustrated, angry, and living my life at top volume.

So I stopped.

And it's been hard. Not the stopping shouting, that's the easy part. It's a relief, to turn the volume down, to dial back the anger, to just get really quiet. I've kept my demeanor calm, my tone reasonable, and my voice low. Instead of shouting, I speak quietly enough that Imp has to get close to me to hear what I'm asking him to do.

The hard part?

(I'm ashamed, deeply ashamed, to admit this.)

The Imp's gotten used to the shouting. The Imp doesn't know how to deal with the not shouting.

The shouting is awful, but it's been consistent enough that it's comfortable for him, even if it's all kinds of wrong.

(I've been on the receiving end in an abusive relationship. The echoes of that here are enough to make my fingers shake as I type this.)

Because the dysfunction (temporary, it hasn't been going on that long, and I'm self aware enough to have caught it, for which I am eternally grateful) is what he knows, this sudden change to quiet, even-toned, non-shouting Mommy is discomfiting for The Imp.

He's flailing, striking blindly, lashing out at me to try and provoke the reaction he's accustomed to. It's been awful, seeing him escalate and escalate really bad behaviour because he wants me to shout at him. He's even asked me to shout at him. I've been handling it - we've been handling it - by limiting attention to inappropriate behaviour (make sure he's safe but ignore the outbursts) and lavishing attention on him when he's well behaved. Today there was a lot of progress, and I'm as proud of that as I am ashamed of why it was needed.

I've been crying a lot. A lot.

But I haven't been shouting.


  1. Hi.
    I couldn't read this and not write back. I am sure it is hard right now.

    I just started working full time for the first time since 2007. The mornings have been tough getting everyone brushed and fed and dressed etc. There has been shouting. I guess what I am saying is we have all been there. Take care,

  2. I'm so sorry and so proud at the same time. I went through just this phase with my lovely son when he was that age and I also made a choice to stop. It is so hard but also so worth it. It's the transition when you realize that you wouldn't respond well to being shouted at all the time. The moment where you know that your little one is a really real person with a will of his own and that if you want obedience it comes from collaboration and understanding and (ideally) mutual goals. Hang in there - you are a great Mom.


  3. You are so brave and transparent to share this with all of us. And I am so often that mom too - Shouty Mom, with that edge in my voice that I just hate the sound of. And aren't mornings just the worst? Trying to get kids moving, when they are in 1st gear? My (amazing) husband came up with an idea that's really helped. Maybe it'll help you in some small way? He made a chart with all my daughter's morning jobs/duties on it - eat breakfast, wash face and brush teeth, get dressed (clothes picked out and laid out the night before), feed the fish and bird, get backpack ready at the door, put on shoes and coat. For each day she does everything on the list without us nagging her, she gets a star on a little chart we made. When she gets 10 stars, she gets to do something special with us, which for her, would be going to IHOP for breakfast, or maybe going to a movie, if there is anything suitable for a 5 year old ever playing. It has made a WORLD of difference to our mornings, and there's a lot less of NAGGY mom over here.
    Cheers to you.