I’ve written quite a few posts on the fact that I’m a yelling mom. Ugh! That’s so embarrassing to admit, isn’t it? That you kind of suck sometimes and you’re not a perfect parent?
Well guess what? Here’s a News Flash that I’m sure will be something you have never heard before — we all suck as parents; maybe some more than others, but WE. ALL. MAKE. MISTAKES. Yep, even Positive Psychologist, Dr. Robert Zeitlin, author of Laugh More, Yell Less: A Guide to Raising Kick-Ass Kids, has admitted to me that even he isn’t a perfect parent, or even close to a perfect person. And thank goodness for that, right?
Robert and I have chatted quite a few times and recently I spoke with him about his book. My bookshelf is filled with self-help parenting books — it is my addiction — and Robert’s book, Laugh More, Yell Less is most definitely one that you should grab a copy of if you feel that you could benefit from less stress while finding time for the things that matter. Laugh More, Yell Less shares with you the most relevant research in Positive Psychology, and gives you seven tools you can implement right now to increase the joy and laughter in your family.
My own personal reading of the book led me to a few questions, which I posed to Robert and he happily and very honestly answered them. Here is our Q&A.
Q: In what situations (if any) do you feel it is okay to yell?
When you only have one choice (reacting), you can’t judge yourself for yelling. Well, you can. Haha. We spend half the day f*cking up and the other half beating ourselves up for it! Does that sound like a productive formula?
I believe parents (who are trying their best!) already take on too much shame.
Proactive Choice Number One: stop beating yourself up.
Proactive Choice Number Two: don’t let yourself get caught in the same situation with only one option. You already make a thousand decisions every day as a parent. Step back and make a big-picture decision: “I will have more choices next time.”
Q: How can a type-A, anxiety-ridden, control-freak like myself remember to laugh when the milk gets spilled as we are walking out the door or when my toddler throws a tantrum in the checkout line of the grocery store, when the baby just threw up on me, and when we are running late to pick up my eldest? You get the picture. How do I remind and force myself to laugh in a moment like this when all I want to do is cry?
Oh Nicole, I SO feel you! I was a knee-jerk dad. I went all Hulk whenever my kids spilled. It was so stupid and I felt helpless, like I lost control, reacting mindlessly instead of choosing how I wanted to respond.
So, first thing, you can’t force yourself to laugh in these situations. Well, you can … go ahead and do you! Be the maniacally laughing mom with the screaming baby and puke on her top. You’ll get some stares and you’ll probably creep some people out. Haha. (And please send me the video!)
If you were a screenwriter, those moments are comic gold. But you are not in ANY position to find the humor. Crying is what you should be doing in that situation. Give yourself permission to have your feelings. But let’s make a plan so that those moments are more and more rare.
“Laughing more is a lovely goal. Like happiness, though, it isn’t something you can force to happen.”
Q: More than anything, I want to laugh more and yell less. I tell myself every day that I am going to do such. Yet, every day, I fall short of accomplishing it. How can I realistically accomplish this with all of the day-to-day stressors ever-present and weighing on me? What is an actionable and realistic way for a mother of three managing the children, a home, activities, and a marriage to hold herself accountable for yelling?
Laughing more is a lovely goal. Like happiness, though, it isn’t something you can force to happen. More laughter is something you go after but it isn’t a destination. It’s not specific enough. Think about the difference between saying “I need a vacation” and booking the flight to Cabo. One is going to happen, the other is a wish on the wind.
To get to more laughter (or happiness), you need a game plan. First step: What does laughing more and yelling less look like? What exactly are you shooting for? Pick a challenging part of your day (morning routine, bedtime, etc.) to break down the intersection of the road you are coming upon (tired, rushed, tense) when you cross paths with your kids. Then work backwards to figure out what you can deliver and what they need to know and do.
Q: I love the idea of zooming in and zooming out. So often I forget to look at the big picture and when I do, I realize just how silly and juvenile it was of me to have “freaked out” over something that wasn’t deserving of such and something that I couldn’t control anyway. I feel that this zooming thing kind of requires me to be more “present” which is a good thing yes, but is hard when you are go-go-going. How can I be more present so that I am able to zoom in and out?
Yes, the chapter on Zooming In and Zooming Out in my book is my way to help parents gain more control. Stop trying to control others and focus your energy to manage your own reaction. You can Zoom better when you can achieve a state where you slow down to appreciate where you are right now.
If you want to be more present, it will take daily practice. I help parents form habits and routines to become more mindful and slow down. It’s not that hard. It only takes a few minutes per day but you have to commit to it.
Q: I agree that when I have taken the time to “flip the script” and show more compassion, I am usually met with a better response than when I have simply lost my sh*t. But, I’ll tell you this, it is without fail that my children’s negative behavior/meltdowns/tantrums/etc., usually occur at the worst possible time (i.e. when we are running late to pick up the oldest or to get to soccer practice on time). I have a hard time taking the time to truly be compassionate in a situation that needs a slower-paced response, when we literally don’t have time for it. Help! What do I do here!
Nicole, when all this happens at once, don’t you just wonder if it’s all a test? It REALLY does feel like the “worst possible time” all the time.
The steps I teach parents (breathing, letting go, directing your focus) can help you find a bit of a pause that gives you the perspective to step back from brutal sh*tstorms like that. I can tell from your question that you are starting to see that you have a choice. You see how much better it can go when you choose to be compassionate over losing your sh*t. That doesn’t mean that you always get to control your reaction but it does tell me that you are no longer helplessly tumbling in the wave that knocked you down.
“For a busy mom or dad, being more grounded and centered can get you from one challenging moment to the next.”
Q: The Zig-Zagging approach is so on target and I can see and have seen how changing my role from hugger, to rule-breaker, to joker, to schedule-keeper keeps a good balance within our home. Still, it can be hard to switch hats so often throughout the day to meet the needs of multiple children, your business, your husband, etc. Any tips on how to do this effectively without losing yourself and your true personality in the mix?
Nicole, that’s a fantastic description of a parent at her best. You switch hats to meet your kids’ needs in the moment. Sometimes they need you to be compassionate, sometimes you need to be solid so they can be angry and push up against you. Brené Brown talks about the need to have a strong back and a soft front. In my book, I was talking about a different sort of Zigging and Zagging, the way two parents work together to support each other. But my answer is the same. If you Zig and Zag from schedule-keeper to joker to hugger, you are like a figure skater spinning at high speed. You need to keep your focus on the horizon to keep from getting dizzy and falling flat on your face. Each time you spin, you need to find a focal point. For a busy mom or dad, being more grounded and centered can get you from one challenging moment to the next. This is something I help parents do every day.
This is real life people, and real life is hard, messy, confusing, exhausting, and amazing all at the same time. My questions here are questions of a real-life mother who is admittedly struggling to be the parent she wants to be. And you know what is so awesome? That Robert’s answers are real, raw, realistic and full of good advice that you can actually implement — it’s not just fluff.
We only get one shot at this whole parenting thing and, at times, we will screw it up. We have already made mistakes and we will make more along the way. BUT, if we can screw up just a little bit less and get a little bit more right then we are doing parenting in a way that we should be proud of.