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.