Screaming (at your children): The New Black?

We yell at our children because we can.

In Hilary Stout’s recent for The New York Times, the former Wall Street Journal editor references a national study where, of the 1,300 parents asked, two-thirds “named yelling — not working or spanking or missing a school event — as their biggest guilt inducer …  Parental yelling today may be partly a releasing of stress for multitasking, overachieving adults, parenting experts say.”

The eye-opener here is not that we do it, or that damages the children we love purportedly more than anything on earth. What Stout brings forward is that we are finally defining yelling for what it is: verbal abuse.

My childhood was loaded with abuse. While the physical and sexual elements were more immediately life-threatening, the verbal abuse was no less damaging. No one believed me … UNTIL NOW. (Dum dum dum!!!!)

PS. Yelling at each other in front of our children is just as abusive.

We also yell at children because we still can. Most of the avenues that used to be considered a parent’s right are now punishable by jail time. Not so with our dirty little secret. It and emotional abuse remain the adult way to off-load onto the most vulnerable everything from frustration to fury (see above: “releasing of stress for multitasking, overachieving adults”). I call that abusive.

Well, every parent yells. True, but: desirable? Would it make a difference if you heard instead: “Every parent commits verbal abuse.” If: “My parents yelled at me, and I turned out okay,” then: “My parents verbally abused me.”

After I yell at my children, I apologize. To them. “I am sorry I yelled at you.” I resist the urge to add, “Because you (list offenses).” That can come later, in a low-key chat. “Hey, loved offspring; when you yadada yadada yadada, I thought/felt (choose all that apply): Anger. Fear. Guilt. Shame. Lonely.

It doesn’t matter how Loved Offspring responds, or even if. What matters is that I apologized.

Life Work: Boundaries

It is entirely human to respond to dysfunction by avoiding what could be unpleasant, even if it means you have to avoid all the good stuff, too.

K. from Seattle asks: You’ve mentioned having “epically screwy” parents.  Sometimes I think the reason I’ve never married is because I would never want to subject a spouse to the unpleasantness of interaction with my family. What is your relationship with your parents now and how does that affect your relationship with your husband?

My Dear K,

I am tempted to think of you as Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black, the first “old guy” I ever found sexy. I will refrain.

It is entirely human to respond to dysfunction by avoiding any connection with anyone or any thing that might bring about more dysfunction; marriage being one of them. Too bad it means you might die lonely.

My relationship with my parents is governed by clear boundaries. My relationship with my husband is affected when I let slip my boundaries. Good boundaries are the reason my marriage is not a repeat of my parents’. Good boundaries are the reason my children can be descended from the mentally ill and the pedophilic without me having to worry that they will be similarly afflicted. Good boundaries are the reason you can trust I am not fantasizing about Tommy Lee Jones when I said I wouldn’t.

I can’t say enough about developing good boundaries. Here is where go when I feel them slipping.