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Gail Silver: Blog

Cue the Mindfulness

Posted on November 9, 2013 with 0 comments

on the little people that live in my home as if it were a cork flying from a bottle, or better, a rocket launching from zero to one hundred in one tenth of one second. My physics is off, but you get the point, and even more so if you are like me and are quick to boil.

     Most of the time I have good intentions, even a plan. I might start off grounded in mindfulness, silently repeating mantras —Don’t yell, breathe, be firm but patient, only to be uprooted by a feisty pre-teen whose loathsome verbal comebacks are capable of reigniting in me, my own not too deeply repressed tween style retort. Last week, in the midst of a mother daughter argument, I heard myself (on my doorstep in bathrobe) say, “Don’t talk to me like that! I’m bigger than you, older than you, meaner than you and I’ll always win!” Yes. That is what I heard come out of my mouth. It actually rendered my daughter speechless, or maybe she just had to run to catch the bus.

     You see, reminding myself not to yell, to be mindful, is not enough. I have to do it over and over and over again, and then once more—many times in the span of a mere minute. If I don’t, I will forget my intention and am likely to revert to what comes more easily— yelling. Mindfulness, though I wish it were, is not automatic. The truth is that it is much easier to give into anger and to allow it to control me than it is to reel it in, acknowledge it, manage it, sit with it and then re-channel it into calm, useful speech. The latter requires a kind of restraint and patience that I often can’t, or maybe (gulp!) don’t want to muster. It requires discipline, desire and actual time to practice mindfulness in the midst of a toddler meltdown or when caught up in the swirl created by irritable adolescent emotion. On the other hand, a good holler takes only seconds. So why bother?

     I bother, or I sometimes attempt to bother in order to avoid the aftermath, the dependable aftermath—picture the damage after a tornado passes through town. The stillness is not tranquil, but is the sad and soiled wake of the recent uproar. There is eeriness as people disperse, each harboring their own private pain. There are pieces to be picked up and put back together, and some forever damaged. My analogy may seem dramatic, but over time, ceaseless yelling will leave an indelible mark.

     A recent Slate blog, Stop Yelling at your kids, It’s Bad for them, addresses this as well, citing a scientific study, although the study’s efficacy is called into question by some of the commentary following the piece. Then there’s No More Yelling, written for by physician, Perri Klass, M.D. She strikes a nice tone and offers some good sound advice without making you feel like an ogre for an occasional holler. I think she and I could be friends.

     Yelling doesn’t really feel good. Its effectiveness is questionable and psychologically it is harmful to the people I cherish most in this world. I know this to be true because of the way that my children respond when I experience one of my all too frequent lapses in mindfulness. There’s Hiding and Crying (the seven year-old) Verbal Retaliation, (the twelve year-old girl) and Reluctantly Doing As Told (the 14 year-old boy) although he would do what he is told regardless of the decibel that I strike. A mother just has to be prepared to repeat herself at least three times and for him to then still forget.

     We know that yelling at our children is not particularly good for their development, but let’s not forget the impact on the yeller. If I’m yelling, I’m not doing my best as a human or as a parent, I feel guilty and rattled when I’m through, and am left less than proud of the example that I’ve just set. There’s also a peculiar irony here that I do want to mention. I spend most of my waking hours thinking about how to best keep my children safe, healthy, out of the way of passing harm, yet conveniently set my life-mission aside when I feel a moment of rage coming on, in other words, when it suits me.

     Sometimes I feel as if I am in behavior training as a parent. Even after fourteen years at this parenting thing, I still have to say to myself, “Okay, Gail, remember how nice it was last week, when instead of scarring your vocal chords, you breathed, remained calm, and safely guided each of your daughters through that awful argument about, what was it, oh yeah, the computer—again. Remember how you stayed settled even when one of said kids spewed derogatory words and the occasional obscenity at the wise and patient maternal figure that you channeled on that sunny afternoon?

     It was a high road on my parenting path—one I hope to travel again someday. I remained steady but firm in the midst of each and every cross fire. Between the two girls, there were flying accusations, possible lies, ridiculous exaggerations, foot stomps, crossed arms, turned backs, pinches, pushes, some alleged spitting and of course, the proverbial disinvite to a birthday party. When I look back at the parenting performance that I called in that afternoon, I wonder if I may have been drugged and if I will ever rise to that level again. One would like to think that if I can do it once, I can do it again, but as any parent knows, it is not that simple.

     You see, we have to remember to stop and breathe before we act, and not just upon stepping into the ring, but at every bell, at the beginning and at the end of each round—imagine if in the middle of a match, the man in black and white stripes began fighting with the fighters? Admittedly, in the midst of a whirlwind it is difficult to cue the mindfulness. Often it’s not until after the dust has settled that I recall that it was there and realize that I must have made a conscious split second choice to not call upon it, to not invite mindfulness up to the ruckus.

     Mindfulness is like my quiet friend, living in-house, napping in my basement. She doesn’t make a sound. It is easy to forget that she’s even there. Sometimes, I might remember that she’s there, but decide that it would be easier to let her stay sleeping—“she won’t mind sitting this one out. I’ll invite her up for tea later, when it’s quiet.” It is simple to practice mindfulness when everything is going smoothly. What we must remember though is that mindfulness makes for an exceptional companion on all occasions, especially the ones that you wouldn’t even allow your best friend to attend.