I hate yelling at my kids, but I do it all the time

Image by Greg Westfall
My 7-year-old was sitting at the dinner table, messing
around with a pencil sharpener instead of doing his homework, while my 5-year-old
was dancing in the living room, waving some streamer she’d found rather than
cleaning the mess of plates and cups she’d made on the table. I was on the sofa
with stomach pain. My wife, Mel, was at a church. She had the baby.
It was just after 7 p.m.. I’d been having horrible stomach
pain for several weeks at this point, and my doctor suspected it was an ulcer. It
was probably a result of stress from raising a family, and the fact that I
drink 6 or 7 cans of diet soda a day (I have a problem).
When Mel left, I was feeling fine, but suddenly things had
changed, and all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball. I went from sitting to lying
on the sofa, one hand over my stomach, and began directing my kids. So much of
parenting is dictating, monitoring, and repetition. Tristan was supposed to be
in bed in one hour, and yet, despite repeatedly being told to get his homework
finished, he was still dragging his feet, making strange grunty fart noises
with his mouth.
And Norah, she was still dancing and singing, and having a
jolly time in the living room, despite the fact that I’d told her over a dozen
times to clean up her mess. Both the homework and cleaning the table probably
would’ve taken each kid less than ten minutes, but they’d dragged it out.
“Listen kiddos,” I said. “Daddy’s not feeling very good. Can
you please just get your stuff done? I’m in a lot of pain right now.”
I don’t fully know why I always assume that if I tell my
children that I’m not feeling well that they will be compassionate. Because it
never works. Both looked at me with greedy eyes. Like they knew that I was
down, and felt comfortable taking my wallet.
I hadn’t started yelling yet, but now that I was in pain, and
the kids weren’t listening, I didn’t have the patience to keep calm. It takes a
surprising amount of concentration, a real focus on feelings and emotions, to
keep from yelling at my kids. I don’t fully understand why this is. I love the
hell out of them. I think they are cute. In so many ways they are my world, and
yet they frustrate me most of the time. It’s such a strange relationship of
love and irritation that makes me wonder if I’m doing something wrong. I feel
like I should unconditionally love them, but what does that really look like? Does
that mean I can’t get frustrated? Does it mean that I have to always, 100% of
the time, put up with their crap?
I don’t know, but what I do know is that as I lay curled on
the sofa, felling intense pain in my stomach, I started yelling. I started
issuing ultimatums that were over the top.
“Tristan, if you don’t get started on your homework by the
time I count to three I’m taking your Nintendo DS and breaking it in half.” And
I told Norah, “If you don’t clean that table I’m going to take all of your baby
dolls and light them on fire.”
Both looked at me with big eyes, as if they knew, suddenly,
that I was serious. That I finally meant business. I really hate yelling at my
kids, but after an hour of repeating, and nagging, and persuading, and trying,
and hoping, and wanting, eventually, I get rubbed raw. I get frustrated, and I
see no other resolve but to start yelling and pointing, and stomping my feet, and
snapping my fingers, and sounding just like my mother did when I was child. The
pain in my gut made all of these emotions worse.
But you know what I what I hate the most about yelling? It’s
how it gets results. I know that if I get flaming pissed my kids will get busy.
I think that is a huge part of why I all ways fall back on yelling. I keep
trying to convince myself that if I just act nice, use positive reinforcement,
gentle nagging, expectations, anything but yelling, my kids will come around.
But rarely does it work. The kids drag their feet, and push
it to the line, until I feel like I have no other resolve.
And once it was all done, and I was red-faced, and
emotional, and the homework was finished, and the table was clean, and the kids
looked at me with big watery eyes, I felt like an asshole. I always do. Sure,
it takes a good hour or so to calm down, and in the moment I always feel a
little justified. I feel like they pushed me to it, and I had no other recourse.
But once that all fades away, I always feel like complete and total garbage.
Both Tristan and Norah were in bed by the time I started
feeling bad about yelling. My stomach still hurt, but not nearly as much as my
I went into Norah’s room first. She was in pajamas with
little hearts, wrapped up in a Frozen
bedspread. I sat down on the lip of her bed and said, “I’m sorry for
yelling.  I don’t know why it always
comes down to that, but I’m sorry.” Norah smiled at me, like she usually does,
then she put out her arms for a hug.
Then I went into Tristan’s room. He was lying in bed,
wrapped up in a quilt. All I could see was his little round buzzed head. I told
him that I was sorry, but he didn’t respond. I felt like I should’ve had some
heart warming, Atticus Finch, fatherly thing to say, but I wasn’t sure what
that looked like.
“Listen,” I said. “I hate yelling at you. I hate it a lot.
But sometimes, I’m not sure what else to do to get you to listen. I know you
hate homework, but I know how important it is, and there is no way I’m going to
let you not understand that.”
He didn’t say anything. He just nodded. I kissed his head,
and left. In the past year or so, he’s started to be a lot slower to forgive,
and it makes me wonder if all this yelling will make him hate me, like I hated
my parents as a child.
Parenting is hard.
You would also enjoy,  Sex Is Not An Obligation

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a
charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky
little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father
left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and
husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good
Morning America
, The New York Times,
Washington Post
, The
Huffington Post
, Scary
, The Good
Men Project
, Fast
, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and
Photo by Lucinda Higley 
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Showing 2 comments
  • sam

    Oh my goodness, this is me with my 3 girls.

    I just wanted to say I don't comment on blogs often anymore, but I really, really enjoy yours.

  • Jentri Nay

    I do this all the time with my kids. I have found a simple phrase that I tell them before it gets to the point of yelling. I don't know if the phrase itself works, or if they have figured out it means mom is about to lose it, but it has helped. I simply tell them, "I love you way too much to let you act this way."