A Yell-y Mommy’s Lament; the I’m a Horrible Mother Edition

CTFD. Calm the Fuck Down

It is a mantra I could’ve used the last two weeks.

My husband’s mother passed away in Ireland at 96 – peacefully. He flew home and was gone for 12 days. He made a trip home last December for 10 days, so I assumed my experience would be similar.

It wasn’t.

The unexpected came almost immediately. My youngest son came home from school with a high fever and explosive (!) diarrhea and was ill for almost 3 days. It was messy. And scary.

Also while Hubs was gone:

  • I was late getting the kids to school three different days.
  • One field trip to Pumpkin FarmImage
  • Dog was injured by another dogImage
  • I worked 30 hours of overtime in 2 and 1/2 weeks.
  • The kids’ school had their annual Fall Festival & Book Fair. I didn’t have much money, so everyone was deflated not to be able to do everything they wanted.
  • Daughter had nightmares almost every night (never happened before)
  • Oldest son got sick at a sleepover and I had to go get him at 2 am and then he puked for about an hour.Image
  • We got a new landlord who is doing lots of work on our property, but needs to be in and out of the house.
  • Halloween was a bit of a mess. Tornadic weather was predicted for Nashville and most activities were postponed at the last minute. We went to a friends house and the kids ended up being able to do a bit of trick-or-treating, but I couldn’t walk with them because of pain. It was incredibly sad watching them from the minivan. Then, Halloween Part 2 happened the next night. Image
  • I only got to sleep alone one night out of 12. I was up at least 2x each night. I’m not one of those people who can do this and function the next day.
  • It was my mother’s 65th birthday and we had to postpone our celebratory dinner because of kid sickness.
  • I have a chronic spinal issue (a fusion surgery that was unsuccessful) and was unable to bend over (at all) and couldn’t stand or sit for longer than 30 minutes. I get spinal epidural injections about every 2 months and I got the shot four days before Hubs returned. It can be a painful procedure. So, I’m just now feeling “normal.”
  • I received a letter from the IRS saying I owed $3500 from 2010.
  • I blew a tire.
  • I ate an unnatural amount of chocolate candy, resulting in my annual Halloween zit fest.
  • Kids and dog took advantage of the fact that I am (as Hubs describes me) “too liberal” with rules.
  • Daughter had crying jags every day for at least an hour.

How did I deal with all the stress?


I yelled. A lot. I cursed a couple times. I cried in desperation. I begged the kids to make things less stressful. I bribed them. I threatened them. I grounded them. I even spanked my oldest son for the 3rd time in his 10 years.

I grew up in a home where my Dad yelled, hit, beat, slapped, mocked and terrified us with his mercurial rage. I swore at a very early age that I would never subject my kids to any of that. I would never spank or belittle. I voluntarily went to therapy as soon as I left home to try and undo some of the patterns. No one could accuse me of being lazy in this pursuit of betterment. I was in my mid-30’s before I had kids and had lots of time to work on myself. The work was slow and heartbreaking, but I kept at it.

I have my father’s temper in many ways. I am notoriously impatient and have high expectations. I get angry quickly and loudly and then like a summer storm…it is gone. I taught myself to recognize when I was building up frustration and how to deescalate and wait out dangerous moods.

In the face of single parenting for 12 days, every bit of my hard work proved to be useless. I told my friend that it felt like I was a spring that was constantly primed. I woke up frustrated and exhausted. And because the yelling started almost immediately every day, I was stewing in shame about it all.

It is hard for me to be fair to myself. So I do what I always tell others to do – pretend “I” am a friend – how would I respond to her? With judgement? Would I attack and lecture? No. But that is what was happening in my head. An internal barrage of complaint. I knew I was pushed too far, that I allowed myself to be pushed. I had no available stress relief. I didn’t even have a glass of wine because I was angry with myself and didn’t feel I deserved any kind of reward.

I joked about all of it on Facebook and Twitter. Truthfully, my digital community was an amazing resource and support for me. I complained to anyone that would listen. I also took TERRIBLE care of myself in a time when I needed me to come through.

Hubs came back Monday night (a day ago). I finally got a full night’s sleep. I apologized profusely to the kids and have been hoping they won’t remember the way Mommy acted. Then this morning, I saw two articles about yelling. Guess what? It is ineffective and harmful. The Slate article points out (rightly) that most parents don’t want to yell at their kids and feel guilty about it afterwards. It also reports (true to my own experience) that all tactics can be ineffective and harmful.

During one particularly awful spat of screaming…all three kids were crying/yelling/screaming, (and so was I) they were supposed to be cleaning their rooms. My ten year old got quiet and said, “Mommy, can I tell you something? It might make you more mad though.” I said, “Just say it.” He replied, “When you yell at me it doesn’t motivate me to clean my room. It makes me want to yell back.” Now, this sounds reasonable (and it is) but in that moment, this made me insanely angry. In my mind I was saying, “little smartass thinks he knows everything…how DARE he say this to me!” I just left the room because I could feel my rage peaking.

After a little while, it occurred to me that what he said was absolutely correct. I knew it when I was a kid, but would have never dared speak it. So even though my guilt was telling me that I had turned into my Daddy, I was struck by the realization that in many ways I had created a much less terrible home for my kids. Yes, I was handling it all badly. Yes, I was justifiably irritated. Yes, I was verbally abusive at times. But I am so rarely that stressed, and so the “yell-y mommy” was a shock to them. They knew a lot was on me. The fact that they could voice their hurt and anger to me directly was the result of creating an environment where kids matter.

All the other days I didn’t lose it made a space for when I did.

When I asked them (on the way to the airport) if they had a terrible time while Dad was away, they all said no. They had “fun.” Apparently they aren’t as traumatized as I imagined — it was me who was traumatized. Paralyzed with guilt and shame and reliving lots of yuck memories.

1392086_660001694031242_567176741_nToday is the first day I feel remotely like myself. I just scheduled a massage. I made plans with friends. I wrote this. I feel better. I sincerely appreciate and respect parents who are doing it alone. I don’t know that I could without losing myself.

I want to say to all parents: of course you shouldn’t yell, scream, threaten, hit, slam, belittle, call names, curse — but you likely will anyway. It probably won’t work. You will feel like a monster. You will be convinced you’ve given birth to monsters. You will feel justified and then consumed with remorse. This is all normal. No one comes out ready to parent.

The lessons are coming fast and furious.  Find levity when and where you can. Prioritize what matters and fuck everything else. Ask someone you trust to help you watch out for yourself. Don’t hesitate to accept help when it is offered. Use all supports available to you. If there isn’t enough, create some. CTFD. If you can’t, separate yourself until you can. Once you are calm, talk to your kids about rage and frustration. About saying things to hurt others. About guilt. About making things right. About being better than you were yesterday. Apologize. Process. Mend.

And remember, you are not your worst moments. At least not entirely. You are as your children are — human. Forgive yourself your terrible times and forgive the same in others.

And for the love of all things holy…have the glass of wine. Or six.

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About Kristen Chapman Gibbons

Loosely connected facts: Storyteller. Curator of a Better Internet. Lifelong Politico. Social Media Maven. Creativity and Empathy Evangelist. Performer. Creator of Content Worth Sharing. Digital Strategist. Former Social Worker. Decade teaching in Higher Ed. Master's Degree in Theology. Married to an Irishman. 3 darling kiddos. Preacher's kid. Appalachian. Music maker. Music devour-er. ENTP. Bohemian. Geeky. Obsessed with thrift stores and all things vintage. Lover of species.

View all posts by Kristen Chapman Gibbons

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2 Comments on “A Yell-y Mommy’s Lament; the I’m a Horrible Mother Edition”

  1. ibex67 Says:

    You have all the wisdom you need. You just need to keep practicing the self-compassion, Our children will survive us and they will thrive. xoxo




  1. Small House with Kids: Shame Inducing Comparisons | Sisters Under the Trees - November 14, 2013

    […] A Yell-y Mommy’s Lament; the I’m a Horrible Mother Edition (kchapmangibbons.wordpress.com) […]


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