Tonight my three-year-old and I had a little stand-off.  He wanted to wear his brother’s roller skates (instead of his own), and he thought that kicking, screaming, hitting, and biting would do the trick.  Dinner was on the stove, my husband was delayed getting home from work, I’d just had a full afternoon of unproductive errands (where I drive around from store to store, but never find quite what I’m looking for), my eyelids were drooping from lack of sleep, and my daughters were begging me to join them in the front yard while they practiced their new photography hobby. 

It’s moments like this when I want to yell.

For the past month, we’ve been working on Patience at The Power of Moms, and I’ve been amazed at how the thoughts and ideas I’ve been reading on the website have helped me keep a better perspective when I encounter situations like the one above (which is replicated in some form or another at least three times a day).

When we visualized motherhood, way back when we “knew everything,” it’s unlikely that any of us pictured ourselves consistently flying off the handle.  I think that’s why Linda Eyre’s book, I Didn’t Plan to Be a Witch resonated so well with mothers.

One of our new Power of Moms Authors, Aubrey Degn, recently wrote a post called “Becoming Snow White.”  Her four-year-old son had watched that classic movie, and he wanted his mom to act the part:

One morning, we were pretend playing and I was saying things like, “Oh Grumpy, come put your pants on,” or “Please pass me that train,” in my Snow White voice. Suddenly Luke misbehaved, and I said something like, “Hey, Luke, no, don’t do that!” I stopped. I had talked in my normal voice, and compared to Snow White, I sounded like an ogre. Did I sound like that all the time? No wonder my kids didn’t listen to me!I started to notice during my stint as Snow White that I actually got some quicker, happier results from my children. Was it Snow White or was it my tone? Friedrich Nietzsche said, “We often refuse to accept an idea merely because the tone of voice in which it has been expressed is unsympathetic to us.”

This article got me thinking about the way I try to motivate my children.  A good friend of mine taught me early on,  “If your children don’t listen to you, it’s because you’re talking too much or too loud.” Wise, wise words.  I’m pretty good about keeping my voice even, but I’m sure the word “ogre” could be used to describe me from time to time.

If someone yells at me (even through an unkind email or comment), it might motivate me to address the issue that’s upset this person so terribly, but the relationship I have (or might have had) with that person is forever altered.  It’s like squeezing all the toothpaste out of a tube and then trying to put it back in.  Once it’s out, it’s out.  We can clean up the mess, but we can’t make that experience disappear.

I was raised with a “Snow White” mom, and a “Prince Charming” dad, and one of the main reasons I wanted to behave well and create a meaningful life was because I knew how much my parents loved and supported me.  Contrast that with the book I’m currently reading, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, where Amy Chua’s hours and hours of music practice with her daughter Lulu are described as “bloodbath practice sessions” where they “fought like jungle beasts,” and you get an entirely different picture.  (In defense of the author, I must say she has done a beautiful job with her book–it’s a “must read” in order to get the whole story.)

Perhaps some would consider my life a failure because I never played an instrument in Carnegie Hall, but the love and adoration I have for my parents is something I would never trade.  Each time I call my mom on the phone, it goes like this:

MOM (In the gentlest, kindest voice you’ve ever heard):  Hello?

ME (in an excited voice–like we haven’t spoken in years): MOTHER!!!!

MOM (in an equally excited voice): APRIL!!!!

I love that.  I love it that I mean so much to her–and that she shows me through the way she speaks.  In a parenting class I took back in college, my professor drilled this idea into our heads:  “Every child in the world deserves to have at least one person who is absolutely crazy about them.”  Living that is my goal.

How did the roller-skate-dinnertime fiasco turn out? I took a deep breath, gently strapped my little boy into his stroller, and let him sit next to me in the kitchen while he completed his tantrum.  In my “Snow White” voice, I reminded him that he could get out as soon as he said, “I’m sorry, mommy.  I will be nice.”  Within five minutes (which felt like 30), he calmed down, and our evening proceeded beautifully.

Whether it’s a 3-year-old throwing a tantrum, an 11-year-old repeatedly breaking a family rule, or an adult child making choices that cause mom and dad to cringe, we, as parents, get to choose whether we motivate by yelling or by love.  Sometimes I want to yell, sometimes I think yelling will yield quicker results, but still . . . I vote love.

QUESTION: Have you ever been motivated by yelling? What do you do to control your temper?

CHALLENGE: Decide now that you’re going to handle the next catastrophe in your home with patience and love.

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