Thursday, February 23, 2012

Banishing the Screaming Banshee Inside

Last week I came to horrible, startling truth. We have become a family of yellers. I'm not sure when exactly I became a full-time yeller or when the habit extended to my children and husband, but in a moment of shocked recognition, I realized we were. I'm sure, like many bad habits, it started out slowly--occasionally raising my voice to get my children's attention. As yelling seemed to be effective, it started to take place of the calmer, albeit slower, process of talking and working through issues. And while yelling does get their attention after asking three, four, or 20 times for them to clean their rooms, come for dinner, stop hitting their sibling or whatever infraction they have perpetrated, it is also damaging to the relationship we all have as a family. I hear Baker yelling at Emery, and I know that is my voice coming out of his mouth. I hear Jamie scream at Glen or I when he is upset about something, and I know we have taught him that. I also know that being tired and over-extended has caused me to rely on poor skills.

Last week I was caught up short when I realized I would never yell at the two children I watch the way I yell at my own kids. Their mother would fire me on the spot if I yelled at them like I yell at Baker, Jamie, and Emery. And yet, I continue to yell at and berate my own children for mistakes they make. Why? The answer is easy: no one can get under your skin like your own children. It is an easy trap to fall into, a hard habit to break, understandable, and still wrong. I had really been thinking about the fact that my life had taken on run-a-way train proportions--too many commitments, too many projects--when I had this realization. The following day, I heard my husband yelling at my oldest like I've never heard him yell before. I was deeply saddened by the realization that we all seem to be mad at each other all the time. I did some reading on yelling. One article clearly stated that verbal abuse can be just as detrimental as physical abuse. A quote by Lao Tse, often heard in our church, kept echoing through my mind:

If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.

If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.

If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.

If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.

If there is to be pe
ace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.

There has not been peace in my heart of late and, therefore, there has been no peace in our home. After hearing my husband yell, I vowed that there would be no more yelling. It has been a week and so far, with one or two missteps that were quickly corrected, I have kept that promise to myself. I have made an attempt to cut back on the things that I can and I've committed to focusing on the things that are truly important to me. It isn't an easy commitment to make. I'm constantly being asked to get involved with things at school and church. I have things I want to do and my family wants to do. It is hard to say "no" sometimes, especially to family and friends. But, I realize now, more than ever, that my children are following my lead and I haven't been happy with some of the places I've led them to. It is time to take a more thoughtful path instead of meandering, somewhat aimlessly, where ever the wind takes us. I am trying to create the time and space to be thoughtful about how I handle things, so I do not fall back on yelling as a coping mechanism.

I have felt better about the relationship I have with my children this last week than I have in awhile. Though they are still yelling at each other and us, I have met it with calm. I have questioned them on their feelings, and asked how they think their actions are making the people around them feel. I know it will take awhile to effect some permanent change, but I am feeling good about this commitment and trying to create a home filled with peace and love.

If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace. -Thich Nhat Hanh

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