After the birth of my first child I made a surprising choice to stop working and stay home fulltime with my son. Not in a million years would I ever have expected to be a stay-at-home mom. I wasn’t one of those girls who yearned to raise a family. I didn’t wear dresses, my hair didn’t flow, and I didn’t aspire to keep a clean house or be a wife who blossomed into a nurturing, calm, neatly-dressed, cookie baking, forgiving mother. I wanted to work and work hard. My work defined me, and I immersed myself in my career. I loved and lived to work. Oliver was born on Martin Luther King Day, the day that President Obama was inaugurated as our 44th President. It was a history-making occasion for our nation and a life-changing one in our house. After what seemed like an interminably long (20 or so hours) natural labor, I gave birth to my baby. When I gazed into his big grayish blue eyes for the first time, I felt something inside of me shift.
At first I didn’t want to admit it to anyone. Before I became a mom, my opinion of women who were only moms was pretty low—I saw them as lazy and out of touch with the real world, with nothing better to do than stroll around and drink coffee. I had become soft. To offset this, I vowed to maintain my hard-working persona by being available to my coworkers, the entire time I was out on maternity leave. I even completed projects on my Blackberry while nursing my son. They needed me, I assured myself! After all, I was a highly ranked salesperson at a company with national prestige. I began to view the end of my maternity leave as a defining moment. I had a huge decision to make: Would I separate from my son and return to my cut-throat career (which I felt disconnected from despite working during maternity leave) or devote my time to my son and become the epitome of the perfect stay-at-home mom?
After much anxiety, self-doubt, and a brief attempt at working from home, I resigned. What unfolded in my home looked nothing like the images of familial perfection I saw on the pages of popular parenting magazines. Craft projects garnered little interest from my son or me, and ended up strewn about the dining room floor. Well-intended meals took forever to make, were cooked under a serenade of tears—his and mine—and were eaten standing up. And playgroups made me uncomfortable. As the months passed and I spent my days with my son, who was growing into a beautiful doing, talking, mess-making being, I noticed a horrifying pattern: I was yelling with impressive volume and great frequency. Instead of crying, as the saying goes, I yelled when he spilled milk, when he threw toys, and even when he made the dogs bark. This yelling was almost always followed by a dark period of self-loathing, when I felt out of control and worthless. I carried deep shame for exposing my child to my wrath and hated that I couldn’t stop. I also believed I was passing on a yelling torch, one which had been lit and cultivated for generations. I began to harbor a strong resentment toward my parents for passing the torch along to me. I was miserable—I needed to be “fixed”, to get help.
I got relief by intensifying my meditation practice. I sought private sessions with the founder of the institute where I study and attended retreats, and completed an intensive secular Buddhist studies program. Through all of this, I was petrified. I knew that at some point, if I wanted to embark upon a path of change, I’d have to share my dreadfulness. I wanted to run from my yelling inner self, not face it. The shift didn’t happen all at once, and it lacked the mountains of recognition I expected from those around me, but slowly change appeared. As domestic infractions arose, I started to notice something earth shattering: I wasn’t getting hoarse from sorting them out. My time with myself taught me the thing I least wanted to confront: In order to heal, I first had to accept myself as I am. This was almost impossible to hear, let alone put into action. It upset my belief that a teacher, therapist, or some external source “out there” knew the solution to my problems, and instead reminded me of something all the great teachers know. The answers have to come from within. Nobody could fix me because I wasn’t broken. I was, however, the only person who
could figure out the real reason I was yelling. The anger, my anger, was a symptom of something else – in my case, a much deeper sadness – that needed my attention and resolution. I was using my self-loathing and doubt to distract myself from the deeper pain that caused me to yell in the first place. It also masked fear stemming from my belief that I was a proven failure, as a mother and as a successful career woman.
I wish I could say that I instantly stopped yelling the second I understood how deeply I needed to express this pain. Instead, I’m still working with my sorrow and fear, trying to make a regular daily practice of stopping and listening patiently to the source of this pain. I know it is the cause of my yelling. I’m also beginning to recognize, with the help of my teachers, that although I am an adult, I’m still carrying around feelings of unworthiness and not being heard from my
childhood. Through those eyes, I also try—before I yell—to look non-judgmentally at my children, myself, and everyone I encounter. After all, don’t we want the same thing: acceptance and love? Now, when I slip up and yell about misguided tongues or muddy shoes, I accept my humanness — yelling was on autopilot for me until I had my own child—and try to handle the next situation with quieter tones, less dramatic hand mannerisms (read: ‘Italian arms’), and more patience.