Holding Forth

Published on March 13th, 2015 | by Richard Black


Why We Yell as Parents (and Why Pestered as Kids)


This poor woman is probably just trying to get her daughter to put on a pair of socks.

It was as I asked my daughter to put on her shoes for the eighth time in two minutes that I came to an epiphany of sorts: both children and parents can be remarkably irritating. If you’re thinking that this is not a profound conclusion you are correct. It was however about as weighty a thought as I could muster before asking Darcy to put on her shoes for a ninth time in a voice slightly quieter than an ear splitting roar.

Before I became a parent I’d always thought that having a child would make me a more patient man and, in some ways, Darcy has made more tolerant. In many other, perhaps many more correct ways, I’m still the same crabby going-on-ninety bastard I’ve always been. It may surprise most of you to know that I’ve never been all that good at dealing with the constant but necessary frustration of living with other people whom, for one reason or another, can’t or won’t cater to my numerous eccentricities.

“I need absolute silence to write this evening,” I remember saying to my wife many years ago as I read from a pad of paper and walked slowly, nay, majestically down the stairs. “From this point onward all shoes will be placed inside the closet and not by the foot of the stairs,” I continued, “You shall not watch television and play on the ipad at one time. Dinner will be served precisely and 6:30. It will consist of two vegetables, one protein and a cannoli.”

I blathered on through six more edicts but Laura wasn’t listening and even though I pestered her into signing a document agreeing to the terms she never really took my rules to heart. The point I’m trying to make is that I’m not generally what one would call “flexible” when it comes to disturbances in my surroundings.  It turns however out that having a child has made me much more tolerant but not in the way I expected. I still become remarkably irritated but I’ve learned to to bury my anger deep inside because it is not socially acceptable to scream “put your fucking shoes on” at a small child no matter how much your left arm tingles.

UF_hippy_bus_031315Small children are stupefyingly infuriating. They possess the same level of focus and direction of an aging hippy after a few thousand trips unless of course it’s a hippy looking for a hit of acid engaged in a conversation about Rush. To bastardize an old adage you can lead a small child to her shoes but you can’t make her put them on without the threat of physical harm.

As a child and, really well into my twenties, I always wondered why adults were so impatient. They always seemed to be yelling and nagging or, to be fair, nagging and then yelling. “I’m almost 7, (or 12 or 15 or 24) I’d think. Shit man you don’t have to yell I heard you the first time. The truth is that I probably hadn’t. In all reality I probably hadn’t even heard them the fifth time they asked me to wash the dishes or put on my pants and just nodded my head before going into the kitchen to microwave a burrito.

At first I thought I thought that anyone my parent’s age was just angry. Now that I’m forty I understand why my parents were so irritable and, in my more introspective moments, I wish that I could travel back in time to give to the 1980’s version of me some advice and a kick in the balls.

“You’re parents are angry because they never get enough sleep,” I’d say to my younger self as he was curled in the fetal position, “they’re also tired of asking you to do the same damn thing fifty times in a row. Clean up your room. Put on some deodorant and by the way if you ever want to feel up Mary Plessinger you’ve got to ditch the mullet. It went out of style five years ago.”

Of course the interesting corollary to the amount of time parents spend nagging their children is the amount of time children spend nagging their parents. Children of most ages have about as much focus as a retarded gnat unless of course they want something in which case they home in on that particular desire with a laserlike focus.

“Can I have a treat?” my daughter will ask.

“How about a banana,” I’ll respond.

“No I want at treat.”

“How about a banana?” I’ll respond, again.

“No, a treat”

“A nice piece of salmon?”

“No, a treat.”

“What about some salmon lips?”

“No I want a treat.”

“I think the house is on fire.”

“Does that mean I can have a treat?”

“Darcy if you ask me for a treat again I’m going to put you in time out and set fire to the house.”


What right minded child would choose chocolate over this?

At this point my daughter will pause for what she believes to be an appropriate amount of time, one she imagines is long enough for me to forget that I will put her in time out, before we begin the entire conversation again. And again. And again every fifteen minutes for six hours until I finally capitulate and give Darcy a piece of chocolate, a latte or a chainsaw so that she JUST STOP’S FUCKING NAGGING ME.

That’s really what it comes down to with parenting; the ability to balance one’s tolerance with the unwavering and mind numbing focus, or lack thereof, of a child. They have youth and unflagging energy on their side but we, as parents, have perspective, wisdom and if need be a clandestine dose or two or even three of cough syrup.

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