What's All the Shouting About?: My Best and Worst Mom Moments

11.24.10: Leo's 30th Month

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Here’s what makes me feel like a bad mom: yelling at my kid. Yelling with a mean, scary voice at a cowering, pale, big-eyed toddler who has very little impulse control. “IT IS NOT OKAY!” I shout, pinning his arms as he grabs for the third time for the glass bottled drinks in the cooler while I’m putting my coat on and the whole bagel store stares at us. And really, it just isn’t okay. Any of it. Do you yell at your kid?

If you do, do you think it’s useful? Good discipline? A good way to communicate your emotions, to teach your child that you have emotional reactions, to vent your rage instead of using violence, to avoid grinding your teeth so hard they crack…. Or do you do it because you can’t help it? Or do you help it? And if so, how?

Did your parents yell at you? Mine did, and so did the parents of every kid I knew growing up in Brooklyn. A few of us got occasional spankings, some got slapped spontaneously, but mostly, we just got shouted at. So why, when I repeat this age-old habit, do I feel like a massive jerk and an ineffective person?

I have a friend who speaks admiringly of how much patience other parents have. Patience is nice, a virtue and all that. But can you cultivate it through sheer will power? Or perhaps if I take up a martial art—or maybe kick boxing—will I find that I gain the ability to jokingly hoist Leo onto my shoulder, my coat half-on, then hook my purse onto my elbow, and breeze out of the bagel store cheerfully trilling “no grown-up drinks for you silly boy!”

Perhaps it’s not a will-power issue or a martial art matter, but more about having the sense to know my limits. If I am running short on patience, I need to…be more creative? Get more help? Let Leo break more stuff? I have no idea! And as you can probably tell, I also have no idea whether yelling at a kid is a good idea or not. I do think the alternative of pretending he hasn’t pissed me off—when he really has—is not viable. And I don’t think it’s possible to avoid getting pissed off, frequently, since Leo is two-and-a-half. By which I mean, he is defiant and interested in pissing me off. Of course he’s trying to get a reaction from me. Is it more withholding to blow up and then forgive, or to deny him that reaction?

All I know is that yelling at Leo doesn’t really change anything. The bagel eaters think I’m loud. Leo thinks I’m loud. He already knew he wasn’t supposed to be doing what he did. He already knew it would make me mad. And he already knew I would go on loving him anyway.

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Here’s what makes me feel like a good mom: after-school snack. Lately the three meals Leo eats at school aren’t enough to last him till dinner. We discuss snack on the short walk home. And since I’ve been working from home, I have developed the habit of having something ready on the table for him. While we walk I give him hints. “There are two different round things on your plate, and something with hummus and eggs,” I’ll say.

This snack ritual has finally gotten us past the year of battles we’ve had getting in the door and up the stairs (he would just sort of melt on our front steps for the longest time, and I’d end up dragging him in while he fought like mad for no reason he could express—maybe it was hunger!). Now Leo runs upstairs, we throw off our coats and shoes and he skips into the kitchen to see what’s on the table. Then he washes his hands like someone who just won the lottery, saying “ooh, oh yay! mmm!” and sits himself down for an enormous snack.

My mother swears that her parenting life turned around when she discovered the trick of giving me a late-afternoon protein boost. And I am ready for my parenting life to turn around. So far, not sure about that. But definitely, this hummus egg salad was a major success. And we need all of those we can get around here.

Recipe: Secret Ingredient Egg Salad

Zoe Singer is a freelance food writer and cookbook editor and co-author of The Flexitarian Table. Food Editor and blogger for The Faster Times, she tries not to eat for two now that her son is a toddler.

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