Care and Feeding

Don’t Take That Tone With Me

I can’t bear to have my husband yell at our child, because I’m scarred from being yelled at as a kid.

A woman yells through a megaphone at her daughter.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I both were raised in households where our dads yelled. While my husband had (and still has) a great relationship with his dad despite this—and sees him as a good role model—I did not have a good relationship with mine. What I mostly remember is trying my best to stay out of his way and walking on eggshells to keep from annoying or antagonizing him.

My husband and I very rarely get into arguments in which he raises his voice, but from time to time it does happen, and I have to ask him not to yell at me. I do not think it’s a stretch to say that he will at some point in the future yell at our daughter. (She’s only 9 months old now.) I don’t like the idea of this at all. It brings back a lot of bad memories and feelings from my childhood. Am I unreasonable to not want my husband to yell at our daughter at all, ever? Am I confusing my own complicated feelings with some kind of standard for how things should be, when in actuality yelling from time to time would not damage our daughter?

—Keep Your Voice Down

Dear KYVD,

I so feel you. I hate yelling too. It makes me anxious and upset even when it’s directed to someone I don’t know by someone I don’t know who happens to be in earshot. I am firmly in the camp of children should never be yelled at. However, here’s what I’ve learned over the years: Yellers gonna yell. When people who are inclined to yell (is this an inherited trait? I swear I sometimes think there must be a yelling gene) get angry or frustrated enough, they will yell. There’s nothing you can do to stop them.

I’ve heard yellers (OK, maybe it’s not inherited—maybe it’s just a deep-rooted personality trait) justify their inclination to yell as a perfectly reasonable expression of feeling, harmless and honest venting, and/or a necessary thing where children are concerned. I frankly don’t buy any of it. But that’s because I am not a yeller. Try as I may, I can’t get my head around the idea that it’s ever a good thing. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have yelled in my entire life (two) and those were really dire situations. I never once raised my voice to my daughter, and not because I worked hard to “control myself” (though I very much admire people who do that!) but because that’s just not the way I express what I’m feeling.

But here’s the thing: Obviously, that’s not the case for everyone. Maybe it’s not even the case for anyone but me. (This has indeed been suggested to me, though I know there are other nonyellers out there.) You might be able to get your husband to think twice—to count to 10, to take some deep breaths that’ll send some extra oxygen into his brain and calm him down—before he gives in to the impulse you believe he’s bound to have, but I doubt you will be able to keep him from ever yelling at your daughter. And—as much as I hate to say this—I’m not sure you should.

This is not the first time I’ve addressed the idea that we can’t—and shouldn’t—try to make our partners be exactly the same sort of parents we are ourselves. You will be the parent who never yells; he will be the one who sometimes does. The occasional yelling may pain you (as it would me), but it will be wise to keep in mind something else I often speak of in this column: Your child isn’t you. She will experience her father’s yelling differently than you experienced yours (yes, and even differently than you will experience it in the moment, because for you it stirs up some very unpleasant things). If your husband and daughter have a good relationship—as your husband and his father had—then a little of the yelling you’re predicting won’t do her any harm, especially if you don’t overreact to it.

If you missed Friday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

When can I unfriend a friend on Facebook who dropped me like a hot potato over a (perceived) slight? Some time ago, I was texting her about organizing an excursion (and surprise birthday lunch) for her with several of our friends when I mentioned that my 11-year-old might not join us. I was aware that she was bringing her 11-year-old, but I honestly did not see that as an issue—I was just imagining how much easier and more fun the day would be if I wasn’t dragging along an uninterested child. My (now-former?) friend responded that it wouldn’t be fun for her child if mine weren’t there, at which point I apologized, backtracked, and promised her that I’d bring my child after all. I sent multiple texts to this effect. I left phone messages. But for two days she did not respond, and when she finally did, she said only that since it sounded like my child didn’t want to be there, then never mind. I canceled the plans with the other adults and stewed for days, wondering if this incident really could have broken a long friendship. A mutual friend confirmed that it had—that my (former, I guess) friend was very angry with me.

And that was the end of it. My feelings were hurt (I still can’t believe that one careless comment could have negated an entire relationship), she remained angry, and we’ve had no contact since then. I think the reality is that we both feel like the aggrieved party. So, back to my question. I am active on Facebook. (My family has moved a lot and Facebook allows me to stay in touch with friends all over the world.) Since this incident, this person who had once been my friend has not responded to any of my Facebook posts, not even to acknowledge my child’s birthday—a post that generated responses from friends far and wide and every one of our mutual friends. Can I unfriend her? Is that petty? She will really be my former friend if I do.

—Should I Drop Her?

Dear SIDH,

She has already dropped you, so what you are asking is whether you should align the virtual with the real. I don’t think it much matters. If you don’t want her to be your former friend, the thing to do is to forget about Facebook and reach out to her and tell her you miss her, love her, wish very much to reconnect with her (that is, if any of these are true!). She may not respond, but at least you will have made the effort, one last time, before throwing up your hands.

It’s possible she’s just too raw over whatever it is that happened between you. And what did happen? The one thing I know for sure is that it was not “this incident” that broke your friendship. Sure, it would have been more thoughtful to have said, “I know Alice is going to be with us, but Sarah gets so cranky at adult gatherings, and I would love to spend time with you and our friends without having to deal with her—I hope you won’t mind if I leave her at home.” And perhaps you should have known, without asking, that she would mind. Either way, no one gets that angry and stays that angry over the kind of exchange you’ve described. It seems to me there are two possibilities. One is that in itself it wasn’t such a big deal, but it was the one that broke the camel’s back (and if you have no idea what was already piled up on that overloaded camel, that suggests that you and she have never communicated very well). The other possibility is that the two of you had very different ideas about what your relationship was, that the bond between you was so weak that it took almost nothing to snap it.

In any case, sure, you can unfriend her in the virtual world if it will make you feel better. There’s not much point in demonstrating “friendship” on Facebook at a time when there is no longer a corresponding IRL friendship, is there?

Dear Care and Feeding,

I need help with a script. I don’t drive, and every time I mention this to other parents, I get the hairy eyeball. This isn’t just me thinking I see it—I’ve been asked point-blank by more than one parent about DUIs and when I lost my license. Anyone who notices that I’ve got a state ID and not a driver’s license thinks nothing of asking me why.

If I say I don’t drive for medical reasons, or that I simply choose not to, they resort to a game of 20 questions to try to puzzle out “the truth.” One day I finally snapped and said: “Epilepsy is a bitch. I haven’t had a seizure in years and could legally drive if I wanted to, but it’s just not worth the risk.” The response to that was alarm about whether her child was “safe” to be left with me, driving or no driving! We don’t speak now. I know I shouldn’t have snapped at her (and I responded pretty angrily to her implication that I was putting my own child at risk), but I’m so tired of this sort of thing and I know there’s no end in sight—my daughter’s not even in kindergarten yet. Thoughts? (And can you reinforce to your readers that there are a lot of reasons people can’t or choose not to drive?)

—Not a Drunk Driver

Dear NaDD,

The script you are looking for, in response to the incredulous “You don’t drive?” or the more direct (nosier) “Why don’t you drive?” is “I prefer not to.” Then change the subject.

If your polite answer and your efforts to turn the conversation toward the charms of your children’s preschool or the loveliness (or dreadfulness) of the weather are met with a further inquiry or a remark about drunk driving and license-losing, instead of a script, I shall offer some of my favorite stage directions for any time you are asked a question no one should be asking: Look utterly confused. (I like to squint and tip my head to one side, giving it a little shake, in such a way that clearly communicates,: “What a bizarre question! Why on earth would you be asking it?”) And if your interlocutors are ill-mannered enough to repeat themselves, my favorite rejoinder is a gentle but firm “I don’t understand what you’re talking about.” (Yes, it would be more efficient to say, “That is absolutely none of your business.” But I am not a fan of fighting rudeness with rudeness.)

I should mention, I suppose, that there is a school of thought that offers “Why do you ask?” as a polite but pointed response to a rude question (“Um, so is this a planned pregnancy?”). But I’ve tried that. What I’ve learned is that rather than leading to the intended revelation (Why did I ask? This is actually none of my business!), it will often lead down a rabbit hole of prolonged conversation about something you really don’t want to talk about.

The bottom line: Your status as a nondriver is nobody’s business but your own. (I stand in solidarity, by the way, as I was a nondriver myself for many years and would give up driving in a heartbeat now if I lived in a place that had good public transportation or made bike riding a genuinely safe and viable alternative to driving.) We should all be grateful to nondrivers for their gracious failure to contribute to global warming and the poisonous air we breathe, the misery of our overcrowded roadways, and our conspicuous fuel consumption.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Before I had a child—and even when my son was still a baby—I felt very strongly that parents should never lie to their children. But I have started lying to my toddler every night because I don’t know what else to do. Here’s what happens nightly. After our bedtime routine, I lie down on the bed with him and pat his back for 10 to 15 minutes. Then I get up and leave because I want my grown-up time, and also because I know from experience that he will never, ever fall asleep if I’m still there. Obviously, he wants me to stay and pat his back some more. So I have resorted to saying: “OK, I’ll come back soon. I love you.” And I’m out the door. Within five to 10 minutes, he’s asleep.

Does this count as lying to your kid? I feel so guilty about it! But if I leave him without saying this, he starts sobbing and then gets out of bed and sits by the door screaming for me. Are there better alternatives I haven’t considered? By his bedtime, I am desperate for some alone time.

—Lying Mother?

Dear LM,

Congratulations on your problem-solving skills and also on your code of ethics (with which I am totally on board). But “I’ll come back soon” is not a lie. “Soon” is a relative term that can mean 10 minutes or 10 hours. Enjoy your alone time.


More Advice From Slate

My wife and I fight a lot. We try to keep perspective. For instance, it’s hard to imagine that any couple with two stressful full-time jobs, little kids, and limited resources wouldn’t be fighting a bunch. Is yelling in front of our kids really that bad?