Why I Yell: 3 Surprising Revelations About Parenting

We live in a loud house. Most days, we can attribute the noise to my mother-in-law and husband yelling at the Hawkeyes, Cubs, Bears, Cowboys, and Bulls on the television. When we are not yelling at sports teams, we debate politics, sports statistics, current events, and the daily news at the dinner table. And then there’s the “Time for Dinner!” call that we shout down the stairs to my in-laws. There’s also copious amounts of loud laughter as we enjoy funny stories and our 6 year-old’s antics. Oh, and my husband was a Drill Instructor in the Army.

If you’re an introvert or were raised in a (gasp!) quiet house, you may not be able to hang with us. But, it works. Most of the time.

The other day I was reminded of another kind of loud noise in our house. As I was sorting through my daughter’s hoarding bin craft box, I found a small notebook. She had written “My Big Idea Book” across the top. I was so excited to read what she’d been dreaming up! I opened the first page and found a picture of a big stick person with lines coming out of a big, open mouth and two smaller figures, one smiling and one sad. The caption stated, “Try to do really good all the time.”

Later that evening I asked her to describe the picture and she said, “That’s you yelling at me, and that’s me trying to be good so you won’t yell.” Well, crap. I couldn’t concentrate on the next few pages she was describing to me because I was too busy fast-forwarding 20 years to her therapy sessions where she processed her lifelong drive to be perfect because of her mother.

Why I Yell

Somewhere along the way, I had become the mom that yells at her kid.

Not Faye Dunaway in Mommy Dearest a’la “NO WIRE HANGERS EVER!” yelling. My yelling was more of the incessant, “Shut the door! Pick up your clothes! Stop touching that! Come here! Brush your teeth!” to the point that I feel like all I ever do is yell. I’m sure (please tell me you can?) some of you can relate. What starts as requests for cooperation escalates until you are yelling at this little person with your big, loud, mouth.

The troubling thing to me is that I started adding, “Why do you make me yell? Why do I have to ask you five times?” to my yelling script. I realized that if my daughter and I were in relationship counseling, the professional would probably ask me to think about the number of “you” statements I was yelling. I was behaving as if this little person was making me react the way I did when she wasn’t cooperating, when she was acting like a six year-old. Was she making me yell, or was I reacting to her action–or inaction–by yelling? Do I have to ask her five times to do one thing, or do I repeat myself because I haven’t set any consequences for not listening in the first place?

This truth-telling picture from my daughter made me quiet down and think about why I yell.

I paid attention to how I was feeling when I was interacting with her, my tone of voice when I asked her the first time, and whether or not she knew what was expected of her in the first place. Here’s what I learned:

1. The way I interact with my child is more a reflection of how my day/week/life is going rather than how she is behaving.

It’s not rocket science to realize that if I am feeling tired after having worked a full day, driven the 100 mile roundtrip commute, and still have dinner to get on the table that I may not have penciled in enough time to breathe. And not having time to breathe makes me feel anxious and pent-up, waiting for the smallest thing (or person) to trip my switch.

Revelation: If I haven’t had time to breathe, that’s not my child’s fault. It’s mine. I need to stop and think why I feel anxious or pent-up or exhausted and take steps to change. Every mama has a busy life, no matter what that looks like for you. The first thing to go is often our own well-being. Figure out what you need to do to regain control of your emotions. More sleep, laughing out loud, fresh air and exercise, whatever works for you. And don’t be too proud to apologize with a simple, “Sorry I just yelled at you like an a-hole, I am really tired or had a big day at work…” only in age-appropriate language. They feel when we’re stressed anyway, so let’s just own it.

2. I repeat myself with ever-increasing volume because I make the mistake of assuming that once was sufficient, and I hadn’t outlined any consequences for not listening or cooperating.

If I’m six and a big person yells, “Come in for dinner!” and I’m just now learning to master riding my bike down the driveway, well, it’s a no brainer. Bike mastery wins. If I’m six, and I hear a big person ask and then yell for me to, “Brush my teeth! Get dressed! Get my shoes on! Eat my breakfast!” I may feel like I’m in a Peanuts special and the big person’s words are a jumble of “Mwa Mwa Mwa.”

Revelation: I realized I had not explained what happens if she doesn’t come in when it’s time to eat or exactly what her morning routine should look like. If she doesn’t come in when she’s asked, she loses something of value, like less time on her bike after dinner. I turned each yelling rant into a to-do item on her morning list. Now, instead of “Brush your teeth! Why aren’t you dressed?!” I can ask her if she’s done her four things. If not, no Nick Jr., which is super-leverage in our house! Figure out how to leverage their tasks in age-appropriate ways and be quiet already.

3. A lot of times, and oh how this is a tough one to admit, I am too distracted to be an effective parent.

I try to direct the morning production of “Getting Ready for School: Episode 56” behind my coffee cup and iPad instead of paying attention. I multi-task, reading and responding to work emails, seeing what’s happened on Facebook in the last 12 hours, and reading the news while also packing lunch, getting myself ready and keeping track of my kid’s morning routine. The same scenario is repeated during the bedtime routine.

Because I’m doing five things at once, I find myself getting angry when she interrupts my news feed. Who’s not listening now?

Revelation: What is so important that I must fire up my iPad and phone during every idle moment? Thing is, I don’t receive the missile codes in my morning email and I don’t save lives for a living. My daughter and I are both early risers, which means that we have at least an hour alone before anyone else is awake. I can take a tech-free moment to just be while the coffee brews. At night, after stories are read, I can lay for a quiet moment with her without scrolling through my news feed.

I know this may be an unrealistic ritual for those mamas with more than one child, who have different work schedules, who are doing this parenting thing without a partner. Maybe this happens after nap, while commuting together, before dinner, whenever. The idea is to find a few minutes without distraction. Anything that shows them they are the most important person in that moment.

Why I Yell

Do I still yell? Yes.

Will I ever practice parenting with a soft, gentle voice. No. But, I am working on it. I try to say “I love you” more than I yell. And, most important, I remind myself that being a mother is an emotionally demanding job and I’m doing the best I can.

This post is about what I consider to be in the realm of to-be-expected emotions and challenges of parenting. If you’re going through a particularly traumatic or stressful time or find that you cannot manage your emotions beyond just tired mom triggers, talk to someone. Call a friend, call your doctor, you’re not alone!


Sherri is a transplant from Oregon who came to be a Hawkeye in 2006 and stayed for the sweet corn...and for the Iowa boy she met along the way! She and her husband (Kyle) have a 9 year-old daughter, Aissa. Sherri earned her Ph.D. in Higher Education and Student Affairs at The University of Iowa and works for Ruffalo Noel Levitz as an Enrollment Marketing Consultant for colleges and universities. When she's not working, you can find her with her family, enjoying Iowa City and cheering on the Hawkeyes.


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