More than once I have lingered, parked in the driveway, delighting in a few extra minutes of uninterrupted quiet. Like a thief who has stolen something precious, I'll sit there without letting my family know I've come home from the grocery store or other outing.
I might play a game on my phone or listen to the radio. Often, I just sit in total quiet, enjoying this indulgent getaway until I realize how sad and somewhat pathetic it is that my aging Honda Pilot is my go-to respite from a noisy, vibrant home filled with the sounds of all those I love.
I do not love that once I cross the threshold and make my way inside, the other effective tool I have for cutting through the chaos is a big, booming voice.
This is the curse of mom vigilance, of being hyper-aware of all that is happening. It is compounded by being somewhat of an introvert, a person who gets overstimulated without precious moments of downtime. Private moments in the restroom? Forget it. There is no hiding with a 2-year-old in the house. She will ask to wash her hands, to take a shower. She will make a makeshift choo-choo train out of feminine products, meticulously unwrapping and lining up tampons as train cars.
Quiet time to rest in the bedroom is equally as elusive. An epic sibling spat is destined to erupt, and in the process of negotiating peace, someone older will decide to argue with the 2-year-old, something that irritates me immensely. To keep everything fair, when the older kids start acting like 2-year-olds, I regress to elementary school. It's a winning combo.
For added kicks, most of my family members have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, known as ADHD. This insulates them from paying attention to what's going on until they need or want something, at which time they just start blurting out questions, complaints, urgent last-minute school errands, resistance to homework. They never speak up one at a time. They don't notice if you're already having another conversation or are on the phone. They speak louder and louder over each other to make sure they are heard.
Much to their dismay, none of them are as loud as I am. A thundering "Be quiet!" or "Stop talking!" or "I am talking!" or "You are not the parent!" generally does the trick, albeit only for what seems like a nanosecond.
Once, the grand finale was to have every child sit quietly on the couch and stay there until my spouse came home. The kids didn't get anything done during the long wait, but it was heavenly. They were quiet. I could think.
Sometimes, loud words charge out of my mouth with the intent to scare everyone into compliance and order. I'm not proud of that. When it happens, I feel defeated, and carry the shame around for days. But honestly, getting loud is sometimes the one tool that seems to work. Problem is, it's a problem.
When you shout and scream, you've lost control, and children have a sixth sense for exploiting that weakness. When shouting demeans or frightens your child, you've lost the battle in another way. (Forgive yourself -- we all lose the battle from time to time.) If shouting becomes a habit, you and your child are likely to develop a poor dynamic along with poor coping skills that are bad for both of you.
I don't want my children to feel they can't express themselves. But I do want them to express themselves appropriately. I also want (and need) them to be good helpers who spend more time following routines and expectations than fighting them. Pick the laundry up off the floor. Put dishes in the dishwasher. Do your homework. Stop whining. Don't push back.
So how does the harried mom or dad go from screamer to successful parent? Drawing from family therapists and parenting classes, here's what my family has learned:
Don't take it personally. If your child is pushing your buttons, deal with the problem behavior and not how they're making you feel.
Walk away. Count to 10. Take a break. Pick the discussion up the next day. Few blow-a-gasket moments require immediate fixes.
It's okay to be stern, but don't be mean.
If you do blow a gasket, apologize. Own up to your misstep. Explain how you could have handled it better. This is not the same as letting your child off the hook.
Empathize with them and let them own their power: "Gee, Billy, I'm really sorry you made such a bad choice. I wish you could go to the movies. But you know it's not okay to ignore your homework/tell lies/break the rules. Hopefully, next time you won't end up in this position."
Prepare for repetition. It's how children learn. We adults can use the practice, too.
Prepare for repetition. (See above.)
Make time. Having a little extra time to manage what comes up (and something unexpected always comes up) goes a long way toward alleviating stress.
Choose your battles. Use your time and energy on the ones that matter most.
Remember to have fun together. Don't battle 24/7. Take time to enjoy each other.
I'm off to quietly explain for the umpteenth time why no one's going anywhere until their homework is done. If you've found the perfect formula for harmony at home, I'd love to hear about it. Meanwhile, I think I'll add a foghorn to the grocery list.
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