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How yelling less taught me one important lesson

How yelling less taught me one important lesson

 It’s 313 days since I last raised my voice at my daughter.

This didn’t come easily to me. It doesn’t mean I never lost my temper or never got upset. It just means I didn’t raise my voice or lift a finger. As difficult and strenuous as it may have been, it’s come with its share of slow but much-awaited rewards.

On a Thursday in July, 3 years ago, I gave gratitude for completing an entire week without yelling at a 7-year-old. At the same time, my heart was fighting inside, telling me I shouldn’t have even had to yell at a child. This tug of war, the battle between ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ yell, made me examine a very important aspect of being a parent.

Every time I yelled at Gy, it was for a number of reasons:

* I was angry

* I’d been defied

* I was losing control over the situation

* I was tired and beyond exhausted

* I hated when things didn’t go according to plan

Common factor for all triggers? Yes. That was me.

What I didn’t realise was I was offloading a lot of my expectations and emotions on to a child. And this isn’t entirely my fault. As parents, we all do it. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up over it though. We can, however, learn from the mistakes.

Kids are incredibly resilient and forgiving too. They’ll bounce back, hug you and forgive you all within the space of 5 minutes, maybe less. But you’ll notice that as they grow older, they are more observant of the way you handle stress and manage your emotions. And they watch and learn.

Slowly, I began trying to put into practice a few key concepts that I’d learnt in the last 3 years.

Let go of the small stuff

I stopped yelling at her for not doing her homework or completing her school work. I figured that she needs to learn these things at her own pace.

Take a deep breath

It’s tempting to want to explode when the fury of being defied hits you full in the face. My suggestion? Walk away and take a few deep breaths.

Listen to the reasons

Sometimes, kids do things because they are upset with someone else. You may not be the actual target but you end up being one anyway. When calm, find out if something else is bothering the child.

Spend more time with them

I know this sounds trite but it’s one of the things that really works. Whether the child is one year old or ten years old, it doesn’t matter. They want us to be with them, even if it’s for 30 minutes of uninterrupted time just reading, talking, playing or lying down together.

Let them make some mistakes

I’d get wildly upset that she wasn’t being careful with her belongings and roundly accuse her of irresponsibility. No surprise that she continued to be so. But allowing her to forget a few things and face the consequences has helped her learn this on her own.

Appreciate the good

In June this year, she started showing a marked improvement in her school work and I consciously started acknowledging that, telling her that it was admirable that she had started taking responsibility for herself. Praising the efforts, not the child, have gone a long way in building her self-confidence and also eliminated the need to yell.

Why is it important that I share this today?

Because we need reminders. Each reminder is an important lesson and it’s always the same lesson: Love.

In a world where we are constantly forgetting the good in favour of the horrific, we must remind ourselves that we have a genuine role to play in the universe. We are parents, caregivers to children who look up to us and address us with affection, trust and love.

Above all else, love. That takes care of just about everything.

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Honesty begins at home #1000Speak

Honesty begins at home #1000Speak

I’m an honest person.

That sounds like such a trite and seemingly weird thing to say about oneself, right? I mean, would you ever actually say that if you were asked to describe yourself at a job interview? 

No, you’d probably start off with your strengths in your field or the fact that you excelled at something, because that is what the interviewer wants to hear. He doesn’t want to hear or probably won’t believe you if you made a statement as simple as, ‘I believe in being honest. It’s something that I think everyone should bring to the table.’

But, the fact is honesty, simplicity, sensitivity and kindness are undervalued in the world today. It’s probably more important or cooler to seem cynical and look down our noses upon everything out there, since that gets more notice. 

Small wonder then that we need networks like Good News network or The Better India to remind us of the goodness that abounds in life. The media does a bang-up job of presenting the worst of the worst, all in the name of ratings and views. 

It’s one reason I appreciate and look at the #1000Speak initiative as a welcome breath of fresh air. But, this post is about how honesty starts at home. So, let me talk about how it has impacted me as a parent.

As a parent

To be brought up in a home like mine, with a dad who stood up for the most upright principles- honesty and straight talking- I have never found it incorrect to be straightforward in my opinions. Yes, I think before I speak, but I cannot, for the life of me, do double-speak or nod along for the sake of doing so. 

This trait has earned me , not surprisingly, very few friends. A large part of my school and college years were spent in isolation or in the company of a close-knit group of trusted pals.

Learning to be honest though, has its pitfalls. I cannot sweet-talk. So if I find something unpalatable, I say so. Most times, I keep my trap shut, but you know how that isn’t always possible. It has its downside when you are parenting a strong-willed kid, of course. Being told you’re wrong is difficult for most adults to accept, let alone a nine-year-old. In the interest of good upbringing, I think it is an important skill to impart to our kids. 

To be honest takes guts and the fact that we need to be willing to let go of things like friendship at times. We teach them not to gloss over disappointments but face them with courage.We learn to become tougher but stay true to our principles.

This was brought home in a bittersweet way this afternoon and it came from one of the wisest souls I know- my daughter, Gy.

Last week, she had enthusiastically participated in the elimination rounds for both song and dance contests at her school. She was very thrilled and kept asking me day after day if the results were out and if she’d made the cut. This morning, an alert on my phone indicated that the names of shortlisted participants had been put up. Checking warily, I was disappointed to see that she hadn’t made it to either list.

Sitting her down, I gently explained to her that this time, she hadn’t made it through. Her eyes filled with tears and I hugged her to say that I was proud of her for having participated and that there would be other contests.

‘But, I am allowed to feel sad, right?’

‘Of course you are. It’s very normal and even healthy to feel sad. Always express the emotion you feel.’

To make her understand further, I told her, ‘See, I too had applied for a blogger award this year. Last night, I found out that I didn’t make the shortlist. So, you know? I understand exactly how you feel.’

With a smile, she turned, hugged me and said, ‘It’s okay, Amma. You can cry too, if you want to.’

Smiling, I returned the hug and said, ‘You know? I think I will. Maybe just a little.’

After a while, I said, ‘Hey, do you want to go out and celebrate with ice-cream?’

‘What are we celebrating?’

‘Well, we both didn’t get selected, but we both participated. Isn’t that awesome? I think that deserves ice-cream.’

Jumping up, eyes shining, she said, ‘Yes! Let’s celebrate!’

She then ran off to get dressed and came running back to say, ‘You know? I am actually glad you didn’t get selected for the blog awards.’

A bit hurt, I asked her, ‘Why do you say that?’

‘Well, this way, you get to spend more time with me and lesser time blogging. Isn’t that awesome?’

As I watched her smile, jump up and down in gladness at my loss, a loss that seems so insignificant now, my heart filled up with gladness that my daughter has imbibed an important lesson- to be honest, no matter what.

*Since we are on the topic of honesty, I must admit that I just broke my no yelling streak again, this morning, much before the episode mentioned above. Lasted just 52 days this time. But, as the saying goes, tomorrow is a new day.

It’s tough to be honest, but also very rewarding, don’t you agree?

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The Mother of all Meltdowns

The Mother of all Meltdowns

There was crying. Loud, unabashed sobs.
Things were flung- at the door, on the bed, against the wall. 
Eyes reddened and the blood boiled to the extent that veins stood out on the temples.

It truly was the mother of all meltdowns. Last week, on a Wednesday afternoon, to be very precise, all of the above manifested to create a very scary and unexpected outburst.But it gets worse. (Oh yes! Worse!) 

All of the above was not Gy; it was me.

Mother of all Meltdowns, Diary of a Doting Mom, Shailaja V

What happened:

 As much as it hurts me to admit it, I broke my streak after almost a year of keeping my temper, maintaining my cool and handling tough situations with my daughter. 308 days of good parenting were flushed down the drain that afternoon.

Almost a year. Do you know how that feels? To go almost an entire year without raising your voice and then watch all Hell break loose in a flood of vitriolic fury? Oh and to do it two days before your daughter turns 9? Well, that’s just adding insult to injury.

The really funny part though? I didn’t yell

Nope, I didn’t raise my voice. It didn’t go a notch over the standard serious tone that says ‘Know-that-I-mean-business-young-lady‘. So why do I say that I broke my streak? That’s because I terrified the life out of two people- Gy and myself. There was so much palpable anger in the room that had it taken the form of a fire, it would have engulfed us both.

What caused the outburst is not important, but the anatomy of it will interest you. As I repeatedly asked her something and got only silence and a mutinous look in return, something snapped inside me. 

I could feel the yell welling up within and in an attempt to keep it inside, I balled up my fists and stood before her. After the fourth unsuccessful query, I picked up a doll on the bed and flung it across the room and watched it hit the wall.

Mother of all Meltdowns, Diary of a Doting Mom, Shailaja V

Then I saw the fear in her eyes, as she backed away from me, hands up in front of her face, as if to shield herself. Still, it didn’t hit me. I continued to stride forward menacingly and wagged my forefinger, forcing her to reply.

Shaking and whimpering, she cringed and moved to the corner. Frustrated, I stormed out of the room, slamming the door, the walls reverberating with my rage. This episode had been my worst in a long time- two years to be precise. The last time I had lost it this terribly was when I embarked on my Yelling less challenge.

My rage didn’t die down, not for a whole day. It simmered beneath the surface like a dormant volcano, waiting for the right moment to explode. Once it left the realm of pure fury, it gave way to sadness. So I sat in the living room and sobbed my heart out as Gy walked around on eggshells, watching me out of the corner of her eye. 

Ordinarily, I would have apologised, hugged her and smoothed things over within the hour. That day was different.

What I did later:

A whole day had to go by before I could clinically look at what had transpired the day before. One part of me was going through the standard emotions of rage, anger, cooling down, guilt, sadness, regret and vowing never to do it again. Another part was arguing that this was bound to happen since repeated instructions to Gy had failed to provoke a positive outcome.
I picked up the phone and called my mom and bawled. A good cry always helps. Trust me on this. Following that, I waited for Gy to get home from school, sat her down, hugged her close and explained that this could not happen again- both for her sake and mine. She nodded, still shaken from the memory of a mother who’d lost her head so completely.

We discussed that this episode was a good reminder of what happens when:

  •  we are not in control of our emotions
  •  we feel helpless 
  • there is lack of clear and level communication
  • there is no empathy for the other person- in this case, both ways.

The Outcome:

I was defeated by the very fact that this occurred, but a part of me is glad that it did. Now, instead of mere guilt over the incident, I am able to look back and learn from it.

Thinking back, there were a lot of things that happened last week that could had led to this- PMS, a sick relative, another in the hospital- but pinning my outburst on any/all of these would only be a temporary solution. Life is always going to get in the way. It’s never going to be a bed of roses, so it’s time we started triumphing in spite of our hurdles, not without them.
Since I haven’t really lost my cool this way for a while, Gy knew it was serious when it happened. It’s unfortunate that there is an element of fear now when it comes to telling me about something but that cannot be helped, except perhaps that with time, it will get better.
Life isn’t always going to be easy. Even a perfectly manicured garden will start looking shabby if it isn’t nurtured and tended to every single day. I have been neglecting myself- be it as a woman or a mom- and this was a wake-up call. If I care for myself just a little bit more, I would be in better control of my emotional health. This would imply a few adjustments in my schedule and I’ve started implementing them right away.

Mother of all Meltdowns, Diary of a Doting Mom, Shailaja V
Finally, despite our best efforts, mistakes happen. For all my yelling less tips and suggestions and that yelling less meter on my sidebar here, I am human. There are going to be pitfalls and slip ups along the way. What matters is not how I fall, but how I pick myself up and learn from that incident.
Writing this post was very very hard for me to do. It’s taken me a whole week just to come to terms with the fact, let alone put it down for posterity on my blog. But I have always found that writing about it and being honest-with myself and others- has been therapeutic. In doing this, there is hope that tomorrow will be a better day. And that, as we both know, is a wonderful thing to anticipate.

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The Simple Power of One Word

The Simple Power of One Word

Has one word ever changed things around for you? 

Have you landed a job, gained happiness, improved the way you lived, enhanced your productivity all because of one single word?

You may not realise it, but that one word can pretty much define how you spend your day. If you haven’t guessed it already, that word is YES.

As a race, we thrive on acceptance and affirmation. Just look around you. You feel thrilled when a status update is ‘Liked’ on Facebook. You are suitably ecstatic if your achievement is recognised by your peers. You are over the moon when your book gets accepted by a publisher (yes, yes, I am practising the power of The Secret) 😉 !

The point is, there is nothing WRONG with this. Yes is a powerful word. It carries heavy associations of gladness, doing the right thing, encouragement and positive vibrations every time it is uttered under the right circumstances.

Why am I saying this, you ask?

Well, it hasn’t been a great month on the parenting front. Yes, I am being honest here. After 218 days, I broke my Yelling Less streak in early September. I flipped out, screamed, came this close to shaking her and let loose a choice set of angry words that were totally unwarranted. The reasons were ridiculous and petty, but I suspect the deeper, underlying reasons were many more. There was a general feeling of discontent in the way I was handling her emotions, compounded by the fact that I had a bad sprain in my shoulder/neck which left me virtually unable to write/blog for a long time. 

This unsettled me a good deal and I spent many nights tossing restlessly, worrying about how I was damaging her self-esteem beyond repair by constantly snapping at her for every little thing. This wasn’t helped by the fact that she ALWAYS ended the day with a hug and kiss, saying, ‘Amma, I love you so much.’

What triggered the decision

Recently, I was telling a friend that it annoyed me when Gy would not immediately respond if I asked her to do something. It was always the same response, ‘One minute more, Amma. I just have two pages left to read.’ It made me see red when she said that. The anger was bubbling up as I said, ‘Not later. NOW!’ This was inevitably followed by a sulky-faced child who would do the task, but with mutiny in her eyes.

When I was cooler, it hit me. She was doing two things that mirrored my being.

One, she was so engrossed in the book that tearing her away from it was plain torture- for her. Why, I was exactly like that, growing up! Why would the genes be any different?

Two, that was usually my response when she asked me a question, ‘Give me a minute, while I finish my work here.’

We know that kids learn by observation. We acknowledge that we should lead by example. That’s when the decision took shape. What I needed to do was clearer now.

What did I do?

This morning, I woke up with a resolution. It was a simple one. I decided I would say ‘YES’.

As easy as that sounds, you have no idea how hard it is to practise for someone who is, in essence, a bit of a control freak. I wasn’t like this. I don’t think so, at least. But, parenting brings out some harsh truths about oneself.

So, to make it simple, I just told myself that my first knee-jerk response to her queries or her need to read a bit longer would not be a snappy ‘NO!’ Instead, I would pause and say, ‘Okay, no problem. Five more minutes is okay.’

Almost magically, all her tasks today happened smoothly- her eating, her getting dressed, her homework (!), why, even her TV time limitation! Plus, she helped out with cleaning up around the house. 

The fortunate fallout of this was manifold! 

One: She was happier today than she has been in the last month. 

Two: I had a song in my heart and a spring in my step. Even my friends online noticed that I was chirpier and cheerier than usual and were worried about my mental health 😉

Three: I found little things to be happy about, like this incredible sight of two tiny butterflies perched on top of the plant outside my building!

Today was a wonderful day. I know it may not last all the time. But, I am sure going to give it a go, to ensure that my days are happier and my peace of mind more regulated.

All it takes is One Simple Word. Such a delight, don’t you agree?

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