Parenting Style: Kiss and Yell

One mom shares how a shriek can spur her kids to action -- with love.

Introduction

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Lately I've been sifting through writings by Mother Teresa, who talked a lot about the importance of being perfectly silent to connect with the joy and love of the divine. "We cannot find God in noise and agitation," she warned. Well, I'm left hoping that God still comes to those who seek peace but happen to be surrounded by the cacophony that goes along with raising kids. Because in our house where four sons live, a house of joy and love and religion, silence exists only when everyone is sleeping.

If I'm not yelling, someone else is.

I'll bet you that four out of five mothers with young offspring yell too. The six girlfriends I asked -- nice women with well-behaved children -- say they yell all the time and that most of their yelling takes place in the kitchen, on school days, in the morning. I'm a morning-kitchen yeller too. It's in the kitchen at 7:15 a.m. that a mom's response to the minutia of chores required to get kids out the door can easily explode into high-decibel madness.

Cranked up on coffee as I am, my morning broadcasts as I herd the tribe from bed to car go like this: "Teeth brushed? Homework in backpacks? Where's Jack's spelling notebook? Isaac, change that shirt -- you've been wearing it for three days. Where are my car keys? Chuck, I need help!"

Chuck, my husband, who is seated serenely at the breakfast table, reading a Washington Post that I fetched and drinking the coffee that I made, always says the same thing, in a soft voice: "Why do you need to yell?"

I fiercely love this man, an involved father who grocery shops and coaches his sons' sports teams. But Chuck does little in the morning other than show up for a meal. He arrives freshly showered, whistling and smiling, to a wife who is as red-faced and revved as if she'd just pumped weights. And so when he questions my yelling, I quickly suggest: "Tomorrow, you make the breakfast, assemble four school lunches, and search under every piece of furniture for Theo's missing shoe." That quiets him immediately; he's not the kind of guy who can snap out of bed at 6 a.m.

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When I'm scolding a child for serious misbehavior, I don't yell. A hushed and measured voice works best for that. I yell to be heard above their yelling, to propel children into action, to get them to do their best. As many basketball and football players know, the bombastic voice of a coach can be a very effective tool for running a winning team.

Of course, I'm not talking about abusive screaming that is directed at a child for no reason other than a parent's internal rage. I'm talking about the virtues of using a powerful voice to run a house, to get a dishwasher unloaded, to have a TV turned off and get a language arts assignment started -- the kind of yelling that means love.

In my childhood home with European-immigrant parents, there was always lots of noise and heightened emotions. My mother's calls throughout the house would be so forceful I could feel them reverberating in my gut. And I would come running, do what she said, captivated by the vein throbbing in her neck.

My friend Margie remembers that her own Irish mother would sometimes get so riled that she would take a dish from the cabinet and smash it on the floor. Then she'd huff out of the house and sit in her car until she cooled off. When she finally returned to the kitchen, the floor would be swept and her four kids would act like angels, at least for a while.

As years pass and my sons grow, I hope that what I need from them can be gotten by simply whispering in their ears. But that time isn't now. So until then, I must, at times, emote and be theatrical so they know their mother means business. Every so often it's necessary to let out a window-rattling shriek.

Iris Krasnow is the author of Surrendering to Motherhood and Surrendering to Marriage. She lives in Annapolis, MD.

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    Copyright © 2003. Reprinted with permission from the October 2002 issue of Child magazine.