A friend of mine got in touch recently, close to tears. Someone had told her that they’d overheard a group of school Mums laughing about her, saying how noisy her house was and that you could hear the shouting from three roads away. The instigator was her neighbour. A lady who is usually nice (to her face).
My friend wasn’t sure whether to be angry, sad or mortified at what she heard.
I told her to be none of these things. To hold her head up high. That these Mums who know little about her have no right to judge her and absolutely no reason to laugh at her.
You see my friend has three children and is a bit of a brilliant mum actually.
Yes, her house is noisy. Noisy with clashing developing personalities, with indignant squeals, tantrums, heated debates over who’s turn it is on the iPad and squabbles about TV choices. It is noisy too with loud displays of love, shrieking laughter and from everyone wanting to talk all at once in innocent excitement about a billion different things.
The household is loud. The neighbour is absolutely right. The noise is booming because the house is roaring with life.
I need to shout less, my friend admitted. I am trying. It is on my list of ways to make me a better person. But I usually only shout to stop them shouting. She giggled. I even shout what will the bloody neighbours think about all this shouting?
I told her to stop beating herself up about it. She was loyal, kind, funny and she adored her children who were her whole world. I believe these things are more important than any minor loss of control. Because who among us hasn’t shouted at their kids? Glass houses and all that.
I know the books say stuff like: ‘If you only pay attention to your child when they misbehave, they’ll learn to misbehave to get your attention.”
And the experts helpfully add: “Yelling at your kids can be just as bad as corporal punishment, and it could cause behaviour problems and emotional development issues.”
Or even more reassuringly: “Shouting at children can significantly and permanently alter the structure of their brains.”
But then back in the real world where we all dwell, as opposed to a fairy tale utopia, there are just normal Mums and Dads doing the best that they can.
After I virtually hugged my friend to death and ordered her to eat a mountain of chocolate it got me thinking about the noise levels in this house. Also filled with three children and what my neighbours probably make of it all.
There have been periods in my life when the bellowing has peaked. Like when the oldest two were little. Dealing with a brand new baby and a toddler who liked to jump off things (unsuccessfully) would do that.
As would surviving on three hours sleep for months and being so tired you want to scratch your own eyes out.
Or when Gabe was a baby and would vomit up every feed. As I couldn’t shout in frustration at this tiny failing child, others would get it unfairly in the neck.
Then there were the post-hospital come down days when we were searching for answers and got a hundred more questions. These days would witness record highs of Mum and Dad roaring for minor misdemeanors.
Not our finest moments.
You see no one wants to shout at their kid. It is not the thing we most looked forward to when we saw those two blue lines. Our plan was to be an oasis of calm, but then life kind of has a way of wrecking the best laid plans.
It makes us feel horrible and crap. Like we are getting it so wrong, where others are doing it so right. And the guilt is always immense.
Of course we all know there is better ways to handle things. Reasonably and calmly. But with the best will in the world, out it still comes.
But as my father-in-law used to say: you are not dead yet. Which I think translates to: tomorrow is another day. That this could be the day when counting to ten might just work.
For all these reasons and more, I don’t think you can judge a household by the noise. Nor brand the shouter as a bad parent. Beyond the blare, is probably a Mum that spends hours playing on the floor, listening to her children, moulding, shaping, creating well-balanced (albeit noisy) individuals. In the quieter households, where no one raises their voices, could the same be said? Who can tell? So no one should judge.
I think shouting at your children is akin to passing wind.
We all do it at some point, but none of us like to admit to it.
Some border on the ridiculous and trigger giggling.
Others can give you an unsettled stomach
In my experience, the loud thundering ones, like my friend, are usually the most benign and have an air of comedy.
Whereas the silent ones, like her neighbour, are usually more poisonous and the smell tends to linger long after the event.
I know which one I’d like to be in a room with.
P.S. I have worked out that I hit the menopause around the same time as my daughter hits late teens. There will be many a good door slam and I hate my life shout (and that will just be me). So dear neighbours, now might be a good time to move out while the market is good.