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We know the feeling. We are frustrated about something, and as our frustration increases so does the temptation dial up the volume of our voices. But we may also know this (frameable) quote by David O. McKay: “There should be no yelling in the home unless there is a fire”. So then we have to light something on fire! I’m kidding!! But the situation can be challenging, especially when it comes to parenting…
If new parents could choose any attribute they could instantly have, isn’t there a good chance they would choose patience? This would have been my choice.
It seems that what we parents want most is Serenity… Now! 🙂
Truly, family life can feel joy fueled and wonder filled. It can be “Kodak moments” and Kleenex! It can be “running through fields of daisies, holding the hands of those we love”. But then suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, it can feel that we have tripped and somersaulted into the Grand Canyon of Annoyance.
We may be tempted to raise our voices.
But we don’t want to raise our voices. We really, really don’t want to raise our voices. But it’s hard because… children can be immature and demanding and how oh my goodness what is this sudden, massive mess and where are the 800 socks I bought you and please just Get. In. The. Car! And we are not yelling because you don’t want to break their beautiful spirits that just arrived from heaven and God is watching us! And we want to set good examples for them, so they won’t yell! So they can reach their full potential more easily! So they can be happier! So they can grow up and teach their children not to yell so they can be happier! So there can be more peace on earth or whatever and why is there so much pressure on parents and why do we feel like yelling about this?!?
But we can get better and better at conquering the temptation to raise our voices over time. Eventually, it is hardly even a temptation anymore. I am a living witness to this. But in my early parenting years, I could hardly wait for patience. A journal entry from one of my early parenting day reads “Spent the day yelling: ‘Stop Yelling!’”
But the truth is that yelling lies. Yelling may get kids to behave in the short but it may have long-term consequences. Yelling invites a spirit of contention into our homes. Yelling may teach children to yell at us and at each other. It may teach children to yell at themselves internally.
On the other hand, “staying gentle” (“Be gentle” we remind toddlers) invites a spirit of peace and love into our homes. Once in awhile, I still whisper “Be gentle” to teens when they forget to frame frustration with good manners.
My husband and I didn’t want to yell at our children or at each other because we knew that yelling brought contention and we believed in this: “…he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.” (3rd Nephi 11:29)
Fortunately, patience is an invisible ‘muscle’ that can be developed, like any other muscle. It takes time, practice and self-forgiveness.
Getting to calm(er) did not happen for me overnight. Or over a fortnight. Or in a fort. At night. First, I made a firm choice to try not to ever raise my voice. Then it was trial and effort. It was a trial to put in so much effort. So, I began to rely on what may be a surprising game changer: prayer. I just started praying for patience and a heart of love everywhere and anytime. Often, I was on my desperate knees.
One day a man knocked on our door and our three-year-old Emily answered it. “Hello” the man said. “Is your mommy home?”
“Oh … she’s home. But she can’t come to the door right now.”
“Why not?” Because she’s in there.” Emily pointed to another room.
“What is she doing?”
“Umm … she’s kneeling down…she’s praying that she won’t yell at us!”
I wanted a contention/ yell-free environment because my husband and I also believed in this:
“When you raise your voice in anger, the Spirit departs from your home.” (Harold B. Lee) We didn’t want to chase that beautiful gift, the spirit, away…
Prayer can even work when people aren’t sure they believe in God. An agnostic friend told me:
“I wasn’t totally sure if there was a God. But I would “pray”—literally beg—when the kids were nuts. I would pray the same thing over and over: ‘Please help me not to yell. Please. I don’t want to yell. Please help me. Just please.’ I would just keep on with this prayer, or whatever it was—until at last I would feel the anger that had been rising in my chest start to subside. I had never really wanted to yell. But I just felt so helpless and didn’t know what else to do. To my surprise, the prayer thing changed things. That’s when I started thinking, this is science. Every time I do this, things get better.”
I can second her emotions. I’ve been tempted to yell countless times, but as I have prayed, the frenzy in my heart would abate. Prayer can work miracles. It can help us to be gentle with everyone. It helps us use our personal power for good. Love can increase, crowding out resentment.
And when we stay calmer in our homes, there is a ripple effect that goes out into the world. As a nation, we could use some serious calm, couldn’t we? We want our homes to be places of refuge, safety, and peace.
We know the key maneuver for dodging contention: “A soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
Softness for the win. We may not get peace on (all of) earth right away, but we can get more peace in our homes right away, as we keep in mind the mighty power… of our soft response.