Good Mothers Don’t Scream

I was wandering around the internet, and this gem tripped me up.

It’s some overly sweet advice to frazzled moms. And okay, the ideas aren’t necessarily all bad. The tone is patronizing, but I guess that’s not a fatal flaw.

It’s just that the whole thing flashed me back to my young-mom days, when I was exhausted and stretched thin. I turned to a few women for help, but they didn’t give me any. They just dispensed advice like this (my commentary in bold):

“WHAT TO DO BEFORE YOU SCREAM

Life is not perfectly calm when you have little ones around you. Sometimes they get beside themselves and begin to act out very negatively. The worse they get, the more frustrated you get until you are ready to shout and yell or spank them all! But wait a minute. Before you scream, try an alternative. There are better options to calm them down.

This could be helpful, because when you get to the screaming point, you’re out of ideas, out of energy, and out of patience.

  1. CHILDREN LOVE SURPRISES

“Children, Mommy is going to give you a surprise! I want you all to hide behind the sofa and wait. No one is allowed to look!” Then arrange a little plate for each one with perhaps cut apples, pieces of cheese, raisins, a cookie you have made, or whatever they like. Make them into the shape of a smiley face.

Hahaha! I love the way she opened with a joke! No, wait, she’s serious? Okay, this is a bad idea, and here’s why:

Despite your exhaustion, you head to the kitchen to arrange these little plates—including cookies that you have made. (I like that part a lot. We all have time and energy to make cookies during the day.) Meanwhile, your children are waiting. And imagining. By the time you arrive with all the plates balanced on a tray, they have guessed the surprise:

You’re going to take them to Disneyworld! YAY!

So it’s a big letdown. Plus, it won’t please all of them. Two don’t like raisins, one doesn’t like apples, and one likes only chocolate chip cookies.

So what happens? They whine more, you start crying, and now you’ve got four more dishes to wash.

  1. CHILDREN LOVE STORIES

“Come children, let’s read a story.” Gather the children all around you, cuddle them up tight, and read some nursery rhymes or stories to them. I found story time never failed to calm my children. Can you guess that we had story time quite frequently throughout the day?

“Come, children!” Because I’m channeling an 1837 schoolteacher today.

But this idea really does work. For three of your four kids. That fourth kid will refuse to cooperate because she doesn’t like the book, or didn’t get a spot next to you, or because the book is in English.

So while you read to the others—all cuddled up tight to you even though you’re dying for physical and emotional space—this one child will lie on the floor, grabbing people’s toes to aggravate them, and whining about the book.

However, the other three will enjoy it. Then when the book is over, they’ll want another one. But no matter how precious these moments are, you can’t just blow off washing the dishes or starting supper. Hope you enjoyed that seven minutes of calm that you had to engineer!

  1. CHILDREN LOVE TO GET OUTSIDE

“Children, let’s go outside for a little walk.” Take them out to look at the birds, the butterflies, or any insects, lizards, or salamanders you can find. Ten to fifteen minutes outside lets them let off steam, changes their behavior, and they’ll come inside with refreshed spirits.

Note: This might require you to move out of a suburban neighborhood into the country. Also, please arrange for the weather to be not cold, not hot, or not rainy. Also, if you’re already tired to the point of screaming, it might seem like a bad idea to have to wrangle kids into outside clothes. And find socks and shoes, oh my gosh the socks and shoes. Don’t worry. Apparently the Childcare Fairy is on hand to get the kids ready for you.

  1. CHILDREN NEED SLEEP

Sometimes when a child, or all the children, are bouncing off the walls, we forget that they may be tired and no longer know how to control themselves. Perhaps they just need a sleep!

No mother ever thought of over the course of a day. Just put him in his room and let him go to sleep. Why don’t you let your kid nap, for heaven’s sake? How careless of you!

With most of these little alternatives, you have to stop what you are doing! That’s the secret. Children become more difficult to handle when you are engrossed in what you are doing. To stop and spend a little time with them makes all the difference.”

Well, there you go. There’s the secret. In fact, let me sum up this article for you:

“When you are exhausted and at the end of your patience, and your fractious children demand your attention anytime you try to concentrate on something else, here’s what you do:

  1. Try harder.
  2. Try harder.
  3. Try harder.
  4. Let the child nap for once in his life!

If I wrote this article, it would be shorter. It would say:

“Go to your room and shut the door. Scream into a pillow. Come back out and put your kids in front of a video, then lie down for half an hour. Sneak some ice cream. “

So that’s that.

What these glib little bits of advice seem to assume is that negative emotions are bad, and you should get rid of them. But they’re not always bad. Sometimes they’re signals, and you’d do well to listen to them.

Maybe you’re at this point because you’ve poured yourself into the happiness and well-being of young, self-centered beings who haven’t learned to consider your feelings.

Possibly you don’t need more interaction and more effort. Possibly you need space to breathe. Or scream. (I do recommend the pillow.)

Honest, they won’t remember you as a screaming slacker mom who shoved them in front of the TV and neglected them. Doubt me? Wait two years, and then see if they recall that surprise smiley-face snack and nature walk from yesterday. Right.

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