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Dear Parents, Just Breathe

Musings from a recovering yeller

Yelling at my children makes me feel like the worst mom on the planet. Energy builds. I snap, raise my voice, and immediately I feel ashamed. Our connection to each other is lost and I pine to find my way back to myself and to them.

It became clear to me many years ago that whenever I would be getting upset and about to “blow”, my body would be giving me all kinds of signs. You might see me pacing, cleaning up frantically, or tightening my jaw. Anyone who lived with me could see the frustration and rage building — anyone, that is, except myself.

That’s why I enlisted my little guy’s help.

At the tender age of four, Tyler had a far greater ability to see when mommy was about to lose her cool. The funny thing is, this was a time in my life when I was working with a somatic teacher to consciously learn what my body was trying to tell me about my internal state. I was practicing regularly, yet it took my sweet four-year-old to help me interrupt the pattern that caused me to yell and bring me to my knees with the dreaded mommy guilt.

Oh, mommy guilt. It’s brutal.

I desperately wanted to end my tendency to react so strongly to the stressors in my life. Now, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t yelling every moment of every day, but it certainly happened more than I personally felt comfortable with. I was ready for change.

I had asked Tyler if he would let me know whenever he noticed me becoming upset, suggesting he tell me I needed to stop and take a breath. We had made an agreement that whenever he uttered the words “Breathe, Momma” I would immediately stop. There would be no overriding what he was asking, no matter how powerfully the rising tide of emotion (and insanity) rose within me.

Hearing his little voice remind me to “Breathe, Momma” was precisely what I needed to hear. Dealing with the pressures of a career, while trying to be a sane parent and loving wife, I frequently found myself feeling frazzled and his little voice helped every time.

This simple practice of getting Tyler to help me check in with myself became a powerful tool for change. By stopping me in my tracks before I raised my voice, Tyler enabled me to begin to notice what was happening inside me that triggered my outbursts. I found myself floored early on in our little experiment as to how many times he noticed me getting agitated long before I caught on to it. To this day, many years later, Tyler will call me out on the rug if I need to stop and take a breath. He helped me begin to learn the power of awareness.

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