January 20, 2012. I will never forget that date. Thinking I was home alone with my four boys, then ages 5 and under, my handyman caught me in a full on, red in the face, body shaking, throat throbbing scream so bad that all my boys burst into tears. I was mortified. Mortified! And so sad; this was not the mom I had ever dreamed I would be! The next day I decided enough was enough and I promised my boys I would go 365 days straight without yelling. Soon thereafter I discovered that rhinos are calm animals that charge when provoked; I was so a rhino (I even have lots of stretch marks and saggy body parts to prove it.) I just charged with my words instead of a horn. I quickly started calling myself The Orange Rhino as a reminder to no longer yell, but instead to be calm like a rhino and warm like the color orange.
I proudly share that I am officially an Orange Rhino! I haven't charged with my words in over 400 days thanks to many things I learned this past year. Here are the top 10 things that I learned but trust me, there are many many more!
1. Yelling isn't the only thing I haven't done in over a year.
I also haven't gone to bed with a gut-wrenching pit in my stomach because I felt like the worst mom ever. I haven't bawled to my husband that I yelled again and again. And I haven't heard my sons scream, "You're the meanest, worstest, mommy in the whole world, I don't love you anymore!"
2. My kids are my most important audience.
When I had my "no more yelling epiphany," I realized that I don't yell in the presence of others because I want them to believe I am a loving and patient mom. The truth is, I already was that way... but rarely when I was alone, just always when I was in public with an audience to judge me. This is so backwards! I always have an audience -- my four boys are always watching me and THEY are the audience that matters most; they are the ones I want to show just how loving, patient and "yell-free" I can be. I want my boys to judge me and proclaim, "My mommy is the bestest mommy ever!" I remember this whenever I am home and thinking I can't keep it together; obviously I can... I do it out and about all the time!
3. Kids are kids -- and not just kids, but people too.
Like me, my kids have good days and bad days. Some days they are pleasant and sweet and listen really well; other days they are grumpy and difficult. By the way, I am always sweet and never difficult. Always. Ha! And like all kids, my boys are loud at times, they refuse to put their shoes on, and they color on the wall, especially if it is covered in brand new wallpaper that mommy loves. So, yeah, I need to watch my expectations and remember that my boys are kids: they are still learning, still growing, and still figuring out how to handle waking up on the wrong side of the bed. When they "make mistakes" I need to remember that not only does yelling not help, but like me, they don't like to be yelled at!
4. I can't always control my kids' actions, but I can always control my reaction.
I can try my hardest to follow all the parenting tricks of the trade for well-disciplined children, but since my kids are just kids, they sometimes won't do what I want. I can decide if I want to scream "Pick up your Legos!" when they don't listen or if I want to walk away for a second, regain composure by doing some jumping jacks, and then return with a new approach. P.S. Walking away and taking a breather can actually get the Legos picked up faster than yelling.
5. Yelling doesn't work.
There were numerous times when I wanted to quit my Orange Rhino Challenge, when I thought yelling would just be easier than finding deep breaths and creative alternatives to yelling. But I knew better. Early on, I learned that yelling simply doesn't work, that it just makes things spiral out of control and it makes it hard for my boys to hear what I want them to learn. How can they clearly hear me "say" "Hurry up, get your backpacks, your shoes, your jackets, don't touch each other, go faster, you can do it yourself!" when it's all a garbled, loud mix of intimidating orders that are making them cry?
6. By yelling you might miss out on life-changing moments.
One night I heard footsteps coming downstairs well after bedtime. Although infuriated that my "me-time" was interrupted, I remained calm and returned said child to bed. As I tucked him in he said "Mommy, will you love me if I go to heaven first, because if you go first, I will still love you. In fact, I will always love you." Tears still come to my eyes just writing that. I can guarantee if I had yelled "GET BACK IN BED!" we never would have had that sweet, very important conversation.
7. Two words you should always remember are "at least."
I am not going to say not yelling is "easy peasy," but getting creative with alternatives certainly made it easier and more doable. And after yelling into the toilet, beating my chest like a gorilla, singing Lalala, Lalala it's Elmo's world, and using orange napkins at mealtime as a reminder of my promise, it certainly got a heck of a lot easier. Sure, I feel silly at times doing these things, but they keep me from losing it. So do my new favorite words: "at least." These two small words give me great perspective and remind me to chill out. I use them readily in any annoying but not yell worthy kid situation. "He just dropped an entire jug of milk on the floor... at least it wasn't glass and at least he was trying to help!" I also use them readily when I want to give up:"'Okay, this is hard but at least there are only three hours until bedtime, not 12."
8. Often times, I am the problem, not my kids.
The break-up line, "It's not you, it's me" rings uncomfortably true when learning not to yell. I quickly realized that oftentimes I wanted to yell because I had a fight with my husband, I was overwhelmed by my to-do list, I was tired or it was that time of the month, not because the kids were behaving "badly." I also quickly realized that acknowledging my personal triggers by saying out loud: "Orange Rhino, you have wicked PMS and need chocolate, you aren't mad at the kids, don't yell" works really well to keep yells at bay.
9. Taking care of me helps me to not yell.
I was always great at taking care of others; I was not, however, always good at taking care of myself until now. Once I realized that personal triggers like feeling overweight, feeling disconnected from friends, and feeling exhausted set me up to yell, I started taking care of me. I started going to bed earlier, prioritizing exercise, trying to call one friend a day and most importantly, I started telling myself it's OK to not be perfect. Taking care of me not only helps me not yell, but it also makes me happier, more relaxed, and more loving. Ah, the benefits of not yelling extend far beyond parenting! There is no doubt that I am in a better parenting AND personal place now that I don't yell. Just to name a few unexpected benefits of not yelling: I do more random acts of kindness, I handle stressful situations more gracefully, and I communicate more lovingly with my husband.
10. Not yelling feels phenomenal for everyone.
Now that I have stopped yelling, not only do I feel happier and calmer, I also feel lighter. I go to bed guilt-free (except for the extra cookie I ate that day, oops) and wake up more confident that I can parent with greater understanding of my kids, my needs, and how to be more loving and patient. And I am pretty sure my kids feel happier and calmer too. I know everyone wants to read, "I stopped yelling and not only do I feel great, but also my kids are now calmer AND perfectly behaved." Well, they aren't. They are still kids. But, yes tantrums are shorter and some are completely avoided. Now that I am calmer, I can think more rationally to resolve potential problems before meltdown mania. But forget perfectly behaved kids for a second. My kids are most definitely more loving towards me, and now tell me quite often "I love you Orange Rhino mommy!" and that feels more than awesome, it feels phenomenal.