Unfortunately, before I started my original Orange Rhino Challenge to go 365 days straight without yelling at my four boys (then ages 5 and under), the “Not-So-Great” Thanksgiving of 2010 happened. Oh, how I wish that I’d decided to teach myself to “Yell Less, Love More” before that turkey day — for then this story wouldn’t still be stuck in my memory… because it wouldn’t have happened in the first place! Nope, all the lessons I learned in my 520 days straight of not yelling would have come into play and prevented me from ruining that Thanksgiving with my relentless yelling. Sigh. Oh well. Here’s how it went down, literally.
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I don’t like turkey.
Or cranberry sauce.
Or any of the foods that one typically serves on Thanksgiving, for that matter.
Except, well, the white stuff: bread, butter, mashed potatoes, and more butter!
But I love Thanksgiving Day. I love making a big, roaring fire and then cuddling up with my boys to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I love oohing and ahhingover all the floats together and sharing stories with my boys about when I was a kid and couldn’t wait to watch the parade. I love sitting down to eat and first having cranberry juice with rainbow sherbet and telling my boys that this is a tradition passed down from my great-grandmother. I love eating ice cream turkeys with my boys, a tradition passed down by me!
Oh, there is just so much to love on Thanksgiving Day.
And yet, I hated Thanksgiving 2010 because I ruined it.
I ruined it by yelling, big-time. Over a picture. A freakin’ picture. Seriously?! Yes, seriously. As soon as the parade wrapped up, I decided it was the perfect time for the annual “Let’s watch Mom jump up and down and act like a clown to make us smile” holiday card photo shoot. Yes, of course, this moment after James, Edward, and Andrew (then ages 4, 3, and 1) had just been sitting peacefully and quietly for an hour, and only wanted to run outside and play — this was the perfect time to ask them to sit still, again. And smile. And keep their hands to themselves. And try to be patient with my constant requests for, “Just one more picture, please?” I knew at the time that I was pushing my luck, given the circumstances and their ages, but I still pushed.
As expected, given my picture-taking history, my boys whined when I told them it was picture time. As I geared up to corral them into the living room (and to start offering bribes galore), Andrew took off as usual and ran into — of all rooms — the living room. He jumped onto the couch, laughing hysterically as he crashed into the pillows. James and Edward of course followed suit, and all three boys started laughing and tickling each other and having a grand old time. So much so that, when I shouted, “Hey, look at me!” they didn’t realize I had just taken a picture. It was, and still is, one of my favorite pictures in the entire world. The happiness. The love. The joy. The smiles. It melted my heart.
So you’d think I would have stopped right then, right?
No more pictures needed, right?!
I wanted to make sure that I had the best picture. The perfect picture. I wanted to see if I could do better, even though I felt I had just been delivered a miracle. I got greedy, really, really greedy, and I asked, “One more picture, please?” They acquiesced for a few minutes, but understandably soon grew tired of my never-ending demands to sit still and smile. They had behaved wonderfully and cooperatively for so long; now they were done. They had reached their limit and started squirming, whining, pinching each other, and refusing to cooperate. So I started yelling. And I didn’t stop. I didn’t stop because I so badly wanted the perfect picture and I thought that yelling would force them to behave. (I now know better!)
“Sit still!” I barked.
“Just one more! Be good!” I whined.
“WHY CAN’T YOU JUST DO THIS FOR ME?!” I yelled.
And my famous, or rather infamous, Thanksgiving 2010 line: “It’s Thanksgiving, for cripes’ sake! I would be so grateful for just one good picture. PLEASE! Just smile!” I screamed.
The more I yelled, the more they cried. The more they cried, the worse the pictures were, so the more I yelled
Finally, I gave up and said, ever so shamefully and nastily, “That’s it! I have had it. All I wanted was a picture. Thanks for nothing.”
James, Edward, and Andrew then promptly ran out of the room, crying to Daddy and the grandmas. James screamed, “Mommy’s a meanie.” Edward sobbed, “I don’t like her.” Andrew just cried and cried, clearly scared by how loud and nasty my voice had gotten. And I went to the bathroom and also cried and cried, feeling all the same thoughts as my kids. I pouted the rest of the day as I felt so mortified and ashamed that I had screamed at my young children for behaving well — ashamed that I had unnecessarily taken my own problem with perfection out on them.
I couldn’t look any of the other adults in the eye for the rest of the day. I felt so sad that my need for the perfect picture pushed me to lose it so horrifically. My guilt and shame then kept me from enjoying the holiday. Thanksgiving is one of the days where I often feel nothing but love, and yet, that year… that year I couldn’t feel it because I had yelled to the point where all I felt was hatred for myself.
Thanksgiving is one of the days where I often feel nothing but love, and yet, that year… that year I couldn’t feel it because I had yelled to the point where all I felt was hatred for myself.
The sad thing is that Thanksgiving wasn’t the only time I felt such anger at myself for yelling at my kids over trying to get a picture. Nope, it had happened many times before. And while I sit here wanting to write that it’s all just because I am a perfectionist and seek perfection in everything I do, that’s a partial cop-out. It goes deeper than that.
Yes, yes, I seek the perfect picture of all my boys looking at the camera, smiling flawlessly and not picking their noses. But it’s not just because I am a perfectionist; it’s also because I am insecure. Oftentimes in life, I seek comfort, confidence, and reassurance that I am living a happy, good life — that I am doing well at this parenting thing, that I have happy children. And, well, whenever I feel that way, I find that looking at pictures soothes my insecurities and proves to me that I am doing OK.
If I feel frustrated and down and overwhelmed by the challenges of parenting, I can look at that “perfect” picture and look straight into those gorgeous twinkling eyes and remember that it is all worth it, that my kids are happy and it’s worth the work. If I find myself feeling sad that life is passing by too fast, my kids are growing up too fast, and I feel I have missed out, I can look at that “perfect” picture and remember: no, I didn’t miss it, I was right there and it was wonderful. And if I feel stressed about life in general, then looking at pictures of my family having fun, enjoying a special vacation, enjoying a special holiday, enjoying each other helps soothe my negative mood and move me to a more positive, grateful, happy, and definitely less stressed place.
Pictures bring me comfort by helping me feel secure in this world, and, rightly or wrongly, I rely on them for this. That is the real reason I push for perfect pictures. I don’t yell at my kids during picture time because I want the most beautiful picture ever; it’s because I am afraid that if I don’t get that picture, then I won’t have something to look at when I need it most. I yell at them because of me, because of my insecurities, not because of them and their inability to sit still longer than children their age should.
The Orange Rhino Challenge and all the trigger digging I did helped me to see the real reason I yelled. And by default, it helped me let go and chill out during picture time. Now when I find myself struggling to not yell at my kids when I desperately want a picture, I say to myself:
Hey, just relax. You’ll get what you get. Don’t push it or you won’t get a thing except crying kids, an upset you, and therefore a bad picture and a more upset you. It’s not worth it! Yelling doesn’t work, it just makes things worse. Remember, it’s not them you are frustrated with; it’s you. They are doing fine — you are causing the stress. Chill out. Just chill out. Remember, the goal isn’t the perfect picture. It’s enjoying the moment. Don’t ruin it by yelling.
I can happily say that I now enjoy those special moments in my life even more than before because my need for perfection and my instinct to yell aren’t dampening them. Do I still struggle and have to push myself to let go of perfection at times? Yes. Do I still struggle and have to push myself to “Yell Less, Love More” during trying times? Yes. I am the Orange Rhino, but I am not perfect! But I struggle a lot less and for that I will jump up and down, act like a clown, and do all sorts of crazy things to make myself smile and feel good about my progress. Because of all the things I have learned as part of my my Orange Rhino Challenge to Yell Less + L.O.V.E. More, one most definitely is this: the goal is not about perfection, it’s about progress.
And I am making progress — I am yelling less and loving more — and that is what matters to me more than perfection.
This story originally appeared in my book, “Yell Less, Love More: How The Orange Rhino Mom Stopped Yelling at Her Kids–and How You Can too!” Part parenting guide, part memoir, part journal, her book takes you on a 30-day journey full of honest stories, alternatives to yelling and steps to follow so that you too can Yell Less. Find more about her book here.