Part 1 of a two-part poll I conduct with my audiences: “Raise your hand if you were reared by a mother who never yelled, yet you consistently obeyed her. To clarify, your mother may have raised her voice emphatically on occasion, but never broke the sound barrier with it.”
In a recent audience of slightly more than 500 people in Albuquerque, I estimated that some 150 hands went up. My “average” audience member is 30-something. He/she was probably born in the mid-’60s, as the transition from values-based to self-esteem-based parenting was taking place. My impression is that most of those upraised hands belong, however, to the older people in the crowd, those reared – in all likelihood – by parents who were guided by tradition rather than the “book.”
Part 2: “Now, raise your hand if you are a woman with children still living at home and you can honestly say your children obey you as well as you obeyed your mother, and you have never yelled.”
Immediately, there is general laughter, as if the very idea of a calm, in control mother is absurd. It’s rare, of course, for even one hand to go up. The contrast proves that the periodic emotional meltdowns which are all-too-typical of today’s mothers have nothing to do with motherhood per se. Rather, these guilt-inducing meltdowns are a sign of the times. Why are today’s moms, compared with yesterday’s, much more likely to yell at their children? In answer, I propose:
First, yesterday’s typical mom wasn’t trying to be all things her children. She expected them to be independent, to stay out from “underfoot,” to fight their own battles, to lie in the beds they made, to stew in their own juices, etc. Today’s typical mom, by contrast, has entered into a co-dependent relationship with her children. She fights her children’s battles, lies in the beds they make, and stews in their juices. This alone puts her under considerably more stress than, in all likelihood, her mother ever experienced in the context of rearing children.
Second, yesterday’s typical mom wasn’t trying to be a friend to her kids. She didn’t much care, if she cared at all, what they thought about her decisions. Today’s typical mom is trying to have a “wonderful relationship” with her children. She wants to be liked, if not to be their very best friend. Ergo, she worries about what they think of her. Ergo, she is afraid to make them upset. Ergo, she minces her words and flinches when it comes to consequences. Ergo, she has more discipline problems with her children than her mother even thought possible. Ergo, she is more frustrated. Ergo, she yells.
Third, today’s mom believes the most committed mom is the most frenetic mom. She races her children from one after-school activity to another, arranges their social calendar, helps with their homework, and so on, ad infinitum. She has virtually no life of her own outside of her preoccupation with the never-ending (in her own mind) chores of child rearing. If she works outside the home, she’s attempting to perform these child-rearing “necessities” in one-fourth the time she would otherwise have available to perform them. (Not that they should be performed under any circumstances, mind you.) As will be the case whenever someone over-focuses on any one thing/task, today’s mom tends to be tense rather than relaxed. A stress attack is never more than a hitch away.
No, yelling and being a mother do not go hand in hand. Yelling at one’s children is the predictable consequence of trying to conform to a nouveau standard of “good mothering” that is, was, and will forever be bogus and self-defeating. The problem is not one of gender, but of choices. The good news, then, is that any time she so chooses, a mother who yells can transform herself into a mother who does not yell. All it takes is letting go.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website at www.rosemond.com.