A Yelling Mom’s Guide to Keeping Your Cool

Temperature's rising on the ther-mom-eter

Temperature’s rising on the ther-mom-eter

Temperature’s rising, and I don’t just mean outside.

Summer is around its halfway mark, and that means we’re all knee-deep in “vacation.” This is actually a misnomer; while kids dove into a cool, deep ocean of free time weeks ago, grown-ups struggle to keep up with their plans AND our heads above the normal tidal waves of home, work, and other responsibilities. (That is unless you send your kid to two months of sleep away camp. If so, you are exempt from the rest of us water-treaders… at least for now.)

As the mom of a pair o’ teens who don’t drive and are too young to work, but are also too old to be fully worn out after day camp (if you can even find a day camp for kids over 12), a trip to the beach, or other summer activities, I am currently in full-on frantic dog-paddling mode. (Don’t tell my bitch; she might run if she hears that, and huddling together in our nighttime pack is the last bastion of sweet relief I have each day.)

The red in the emotional ther-mom-eter’s been rising, and I’m a little afraid to tell you the truth about how badly it blew last week.

Let’s just say my screaming, along with the high-pitched wails of the children, shattered the glass bulb and broke a few records.

I am not necessarily a big yeller; this kind of crazy is reserved for times when gnashing of teeth, tearing of hair, and plain old weeping aren’t cutting it.

But then again, I don’t drink the “parenting, a verb” brand of Kool-Aid that says using the dulcet tones of your “inside voice” and patiently explaining the problem… 457 times over and over again… teaches children anything, except perhaps the “Marge Simpson Philosophy of Parenting”:

Lisa Simpson: But I’m so angry.

Marge Simpson: You’re a woman. You can hold on to it forever.

OK, fine, so I flew in the face of Marge Simpson (now there’s a visual, eh?), and totally lost my shit.

Loud. Hard. Mean.

Oh man, it felt good.

And then, it felt really, really horrible.

Just to reinforce my guilty feelings, I did a quick Google search, “yell at my children.”

Sure enough, I found a landslide of strident, research-backed articles about how bad it is to yell at kids. The most recent of which hearken back to an article published last fall in the Journal of Child Psychology that revealed that “harsh verbal discipline” (swearing, insulting, screaming) is as bad as hitting or spanking. It’s also not particularly effective — unless your goal is to make your child depressed, angry, aggressive, and generally anti-social. This conclusion came from a two-year study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh that surveyed nearly 1,000 middle school students and their families.

“This may explain why so many parents say that no matter how loud they shout, their teenagers don’t listen,” said the study’s author Ming-Te Wang, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh.

The study also went on to say that even kids in homes that were otherwise “warm and loving” weren’t insulated from the harmful effects of yelling. Further, angry outbursts directed at children don’t have to be regular occurrences; even the occasional scream-fest can inflict lasting psychological damage.

As I searched for answers in what’s been written and studied to my burning question of what then, realistically, is a parent is to do in the face of extreme frustration, I only got more and more… frustrated.

We can, of course, focus on doling out “constructive consequences,” which entails making the punishment fit the crime. The key there is being consistent, which, when your kids are a bit more independent, isn’t always that simple. For example, I can take away video games, but then again, they’re so ubiquitous — on phones, on computers, at the neighbor’s house — the being a full-time gamer cop is nearly impossible.

Then there’s the idea that the more respectful you are of your child (i.e., praising them when they do something right), then the more likely it is they will be respectful to you. This is good in theory and something I try to do, but then again in practice, it doesn’t exactly fuel the fire necessary to pick up dirty socks strewn around the living room or make a bed or remember to walk the dog… and the list goes on.

Eventually all this reading and studying and trying not to yell, and then yelling again, took its toll. By the end of the week, I was exhausted and ready for a break. I had a nagging suspicion that maybe the answer to feeling closer as a family and cool down my roiling daily anger was to spend some quality time with the kids, out of the house and away from the things that set off the bad cycle (READ: dirty socks strewn around the living room. I know it’s a little thing but grrrrr.)

Watching baseball is something my peeps all love, and I figured a dip in the well of Dodger blue might just be the cool down we all could use.

Little did I know that a split second in the field was EXACTLY what the doctor ordered and the answer to how quell the yell.

About halfway through the game, a fly ball was hit to right field. All heads turned to Dodger fave, Yasiel Puig.

Puig just stood there, fully non-plussed, until at the very last second, he suddenly stuck up his glove. The ball flew easily and gracefully right into his glove.

It was poetic. And suddenly it dawned on me: why make a fuss when you know what the game is all about?

So much of resorting to screaming at your kids about trying to fight things you already know. Just like in baseball, balls are constantly being lobbed a parent’s way. Sometimes you can clearly see them coming; other times, like on an extra sunny day at the field, it’s hard to see clearly what’s en route… but still, it’s no reason to freak out. 

Summer vacation is like playing an away game for a spell. It’s not your home turf — the one with predictable schedules and external consequences inflicted by others (teachers, coaches) — but the rules are all the same.

And I got this, is the mantra. No need to flail about, and definitely no need to scream. Gracias, Puig, for that winning reminder.

So if you see me picking up a baseball bat, don’t worry about my kids’ safety. I might just be heading out the batting cages for a little anger management. Taking it out outside, especially in the heat of summer, is sometimes the best way to cool it all down.

How to Write Your Own Obituary

!!!! -- Photo by Barbara Green (http://barbaragreenphotography.com)

!!!! — Photo by Barbara Green (http://barbaragreenphotography.com)

Last week I was with my BBFs as they celebrated and honored the life of their father.

The night before I left, my BBF’s mom announced, very nonchalantly, that her husband had written his own obituary. Oh, and he’d already penned hers as well.

When I asked why he did that, she replied with a matter of a fact smile, “Nobody wrote better than him.” To prove her point, she pulled out legal pad pages carefully written out in elegant longhand.

While this was a very literal take on what she was saying, I understood what she meant figuratively. After all, the man headed the department of communication at Rider University; putting things in his own voice through to the lasting summarizing statement made a lot of sense.

But beside all of that, what I found absolutely fascinating — and inspirational — was idea of legacy. The concept of figuring out what can be said about you once all is finally done. While you are still living.

This got me thinking, because my BBF’s family had a motto: just do it. (Sorry Nike, you weren’t the first!)

Or maybe, more accurately, don’t postpone joy. (This is one of my favorite expressions, a legacy of another BBF who knew about all about YOLO.)

The act of writing an obituary when it’s your own involves reflecting on every significant aspect of your life. Not to go all Oprah on your ass, but I don’t think that this is an exercise reserved for when you take your last breath. 

I believe this makes a whole lot of sense to do all along the way.  So here are a few guidelines for how to live your life as if you were writing your own obituary:

1) Always celebrate your accomplishments… even ones from long ago: This is directly tied into self-esteem. An obit includes information about the educational degrees you’ve earned, awards you’ve won, and acknowledgements you’ve received. Sometimes when I’m feeling extreme mommy-brain and get down on myself for not being the sharpest tool in the shed, I remind myself that I have a couple of advanced degrees and I got this. Whatever this might be.

2) Be present with everyone, and especially those worth mentioning by name: Every obituary lists family and close friends who are left behind. This is one that I am currently focusing on, as my work has gotten exceptionally busy, my husband’s job is all-engrossing, my kids are constantly on the go, my parents have an active social life, my brother and his family live far away — ditto on the in-laws — and my friends are in the thick of it all, too. I’m just saying that time is precious, and we have to make the space to be present and connect with the ones we love.

3) Unpack your adjectives: If you describe your life in dynamic, kind, lovely words, then guess what? It will feel all that much more dynamic, kind, and lovely. Case in point: my BBF’s dad’s obit described his death as “peaceful,” his battle with cancer as “courageous,” his daughters as “loving,” his wife as “beloved,” his son-in-law as “wonderful,” his granddaughters as “beautiful” (and also loving). Those words allowed him to proceed as ifas if he knew he would feel peaceful in the end, as if he would certainly face the darkest day with great courage. And most importantly as if he was well loved by gracious people…. which of course, all the way through to the end and beyond, he was.

4) Be charitable, now: It’s traditional for people to want to honor you after you go with donations to a philanthropy that speaks to you — and how much more meaningful it is to have a charity of your choice now, that you are involved with today, so that your support can live on?

5) Make time for doing what you love: In my BBF’s dad’s obituary, it mentioned his passion for opera, how he and his wife were “inveterate travelers, fortunate enough to see the world together,” and also that he was an ardent, life-long New York Yankees fan. Does everyone know what you’re passionate about? Do you put off doing the things you enjoy most because there’s “not enough time?” Do you think you can’t afford to do what you love? I’d argue that you can’t afford not to do what you love.

6) Think about how you live your “dash”: At my BBF’s dad’s funeral, a poem called, “The Dash” was read, and it was all about not the numbers “born,” and “died,” but about what the dash in between the years truly means:

… So, when your eulogy is being read,
with your life’s actions to rehash…
would you be proud of the things they say
about how you spent YOUR dash?

And so, if you see me dashing off to do the things and be the person that will be worth mentioning in the end, just know that while I might not currently be writing my own obituary, I am conscious that leading a life I love today is the legacy I truly want to leave behind.

Now, enjoy the full poem,”The Dash,” read by its author, Linda Ellis:

Death, and a Salesman


In memorium

In memorium

“Are you a model?” the man on the FlyAway bus asks me.

It’s 5:32 a.m., and I’ve just put a quick dab of Burt’s Bee’s cocoa lip tint on, partially to moisturize my tired, chapped lips, and partially because I realize that I forgot to brush my teeth, and the vague mint scent might help mask my morning breath.

I glance at the beefy, 60-something-year-old man sitting next to me. The heat being thrown from his off-season tweed blazer already bothers me.

Later he’ll tell me that he’s from Minnesota, which excuses him from any further interrogation by the fashion police.

But right now I can’t believe my horrible misfortune to start my day of travels with a chatty seatmate. When he hands me his business card with his name and “SALESMAN” proudly proclaimed on it, I know I’m doomed.

I am in no mood to speak. Not because it’s so early, although the hour is definitely an impediment. But because the journey I’m on is one I’ve planned for, yet am not truly ready for.

The father of my college BBFs – twin sisters, actually – has passed away. It’s been a long time coming; his cancer battle went on for a decade, and rumors of his imminent demise have been intensifying in recent years.

So his death was not shocking, and yet, it still feels unbelievable.

I am going, as I told my kids, not just to honor the man, but also to be there for my friends.

Those who are left behind.

That’s who funerals really are for, after all.

And so, I am going back East to stand with my girls. In a twisted way, I know it will be a good time. It always is when we’re together. A lot of laughs.

No doubt I’ll tell the story for the 1,587,062nd time about when I first met my BBFs’ dad. It was spring break freshman year, and we were headed to NYC for a long weekend.

As we left, my BBFs’ dad pulled me aside and said, “Now, dear, please make sure that my daughter doesn’t leave her purse in a cab. Also, when you get to Penn Station, there will be men that will grab your suitcases. Don’t let them do it; they’re not real porters and they won’t give your bag back unless you give them a big tip. Now go, and have a good time.”

I’d never been given such specific instructions by anyone’s dad other than my own, and my BBF and I laughed about it all the way into the City.

That is until she left her purse on the train, and a faux porter made off with both of our suitcases and I was stuck handing $20 to a random dude (a lot of cash in those days!) just to get our stuff back. And we still had to schlep our bags up the gigantic escalators ourselves.

This is just one of the times when father knew best. He weathered a ton of nonsense from all of us girls with humor and patience. And thanks to him, I always keep a hold of my suitcase and an eye on my purse.

I shift in my seat and realize that my gabby seatmate has moved on to talk to the guy sitting across the aisle. They are chatting about their kids, and I hear unmistakable pride in the man’s voice as he talks about his sons, both of whom are now retired from the military.

Now I’m thinking about how he must’ve held his breath, praying that his sons were surrounded by comrades in arms that would do anything to protect his babies.

We may be grown-ups — retired even — but we are still our parents’ children.

I ache for my friends, their loss, and for my own, too.

And then I say a quick prayer of gratitude that my parents are alive, well, and safeguarding not just me, but also my children, so that I can get away to hold my BBFs’ hands and encircle them with love and support.

My seatmate taps me on the shoulder, bumping me out of my reverie, and says, “Hey, kid, do you wanna hear a joke?”

I realize I could use a laugh, and perhaps a couple of one-liners to share wouldn’t be such a bad thing to bring with me to the funeral.

I give him a model-caliber smile, and say, “Absolutely. But first, tell me, how was your visit with your sons?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” he says, leaning back in his seat.

I’m still not ready for this ride, but I realize I’m glad for the company. And maybe, after all, that’s what life’s really all about.

What Orange is the New Black Teaches Us About Parenting

It's a little dysfunctional, but it does feel like home.

It’s a little dysfunctional, but it does feel like home.

NOTE: No spoilers here! If you’re reading this, then you’re my bitch… in a good way, not necessarily in a prison way… and BBFs never ruin good binges! I myself am consuming slowly to savor the show; so I’m still not done with Orange is the New Black, Season 2. Jealous? 

If you’re like me, the ladies of Litchfield State Prison have you locked up and unable to do much else besides watch them in the new season of Orange is the New Black.

Even if you don’t watch the show, you know the premise: Piper Chapman, a bisexual Yuppie with a male fiancé that wears annoying sweaters, goes to jail for being a drug mule for her ex-girlfriend ten years prior. It’s a fish out of water story set in the cesspool of the US prison system.

Although the series is specifically about harsh realities — the injustices of incarceration, the viciousness of the cycle of poverty, racial tension, drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness, and more — it also lends itself to some universal life lessons, too.

So while you probably shouldn’t look to Orange is the New Black for LITERAL parent role models (i.e., it’s not a good idea to bring your daughters into your drug ring or enlist your sons to help you smuggle contraband), there are several figurative parenting lessons well worth stealing:

1) The punishment doesn’t have to fit the crime. You don’t have to watch OITNB to know this to be true; in the show, Piper was a drug mule just one time a decade prior to her conviction, yet she’s still serving a 15-month sentence in women’s federal prison. In my house, leaving dirty socks laying around in the living room now gets offenders one week cellphone-free — it’s not fair, but so far, it’s working. Also, the system of giving “shots,” which are often arbitrary write-ups for even minor violations, seem like a really good way to keep the kiddos in check.

2) S/he who controls the kitchen wins. Aside from literally having the power to keep people happily fed or systematically starved, the kitchen is the heart of any house — Big House included. Cooking is an excellent stress-reliever (all that chopping!), and doling out treats is a good way to get people’s attention. My kids know I usually keep a bag of chocolate chips hidden somewhere in the kitchen, and I’ve found that even a small handful makes for an excellent bribe. Also, as it is in Litchfield, when I REALLY want to win some favor, I just bust out a Funfetti cake. Works every time.

3) Sometimes other mothers are the best parents. One of the strongest themes in the show is girls looking for mother figures. And some of the girls (i.e., Daya) are locked up with their own moms (i.e., Aleida) or even surrogate moms (Taystee/Vee). While the mothers look out for their kids in their own way, other women are often better at lending comfort and support. The mother-child dynamic is part of the reason, and also, the idea of it taking a village to raise a child holds true everywhere. 

4) Be resourceful: Maybe you think you’re resourceful for keeping baby wipes in your car and bathroom long after your kids need them, but can you light a fire with a battery or have you considered cleaning that stubborn floor stain with a couple of maxi pads strapped to your feet?

5) Find a constructive way to blow off steam: Just like prison guards are people too, parents deserve a break AND a way to authentically express themselves. In OITNB, Officer Joe Caputo plays bass in his band, Sideboob and gardens. Or, for a more cerebral break, take a page out of the inmates book and immerse yourself in a good read (i.e., Anna Karenina [Piper], We are the Goldens [Red], Sinful Chocolate [Taystee], Atonement [Leanne]).

6) We make our own prisons: Of course on OITNB, the ladies are literally behind bars, but as we get to know their backstories, it’s pretty clear that bad choices, poor impulse control, and unwillingness to walk away from a soul-sucking or dead end situation had them locked up long before they ever got busted. Take away societal pressures, expectations, and constraints, and many of the women find themselves freer in jail than they ever have been. Similarly, there is a lot of social pressure on parents to conform to often unrealistic, rigid, and inappropriate standards when it comes to raising a child. (Youth sports, anyone? Today’s academics are rough, too.) Don’t lock your kid in a parenting jail; the key is to know who s/he is, and make decisions about what’s right for your child based on what they need, not what the outside world is pressuring you to do. (Word to Suzanne, “Crazy Eye’s” mom!)

7) You’ve got time. Aside from being OITNB’s brilliant (and/or annoying, depending on how you look at it) original opening song by Regina Spektor, it’s also a good reminder that even when everyone is waiting on you (and that’s usually the case as I traverse well-worn paths to pick up my kids at opposite ends of the earth daily), you’ve still got time. Even if you end up paying for after care every once in a while.

8) Parenting is a life sentence. And that’s a good thing.

Now, if you’ve never seen the show, are watching it now, or can’t wait for Season 3, here’s the excellent trailer:


Copyright © 2012 - Trudi Roth. All Rights Reserved.