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MOM MATTERS

THE ORANGE RHINO CHALLENGE:

Could You Go Without Yelling at Your Kids for 30 Days?

Newton native Shelia McCraith has been there, yelled that, and written the book. On Jan. 20, 2012, a handyman working on McCraith’s house walked in unannounced and caught the sleep-deprived mother screaming (her word) at her four boys, then between the ages of 6 months and 5 years old. She never dreamed she’d turn into a yelling parent, but there she was. “I was super sleep deprived, I was stressed. [Four boys] was a whole new ballgame and everything just started coming to a head,” she says. “It got tough, not that it wasn’t tough before, but it was a whole new ballgame.” What she first viewed as a “personal disaster” quickly became an opportunity. Unhappy with the amount of yelling in her home and the effect it was having on her children — and herself — that initial mortification led to a vow, a blog (The Orange Rhino Challenge) and now a book, Yell Less, Love More: How The Orange Rhino Mom Stopped Yelling at Her Kids — and How You Can Too! She pledged to go 365 days straight without yelling at her children. No yelling. At all. For a year. Her friends’ and family’s reaction to the decision was, she says, “mixed.” “A lot of it was, ‘You are crazy because there’s no way you’re going to do it and because that’s just a ridiculous promise to make,’” she says. “And then the second thing that immediately followed was, ‘Good for you I’m going to support you.’” McCraith went public with her quest — first to her personal support network and eventually to the world with her blog — striking upon a unique symbol of her journey, the Orange Rhino. While Gray Rhinos 30 FEBRUARY2015 31

are naturally peaceful animals that display aggressive behavior when provoked, McCraith’s Orange Rhino was her visual representation of a person who would remain loving, calm and warm (hence the color orange) when provoked or triggered. Avowed to change, McCraith set off on the 365-day journey and lasted…8 days. “I was trying so hard to be good, I put so much pressure on myself I crumbled,” she recalls. “I would yell [and then think] You’re awful, you can’t do this. And I’d get down on myself, which I think a lot of us do

I started being nicer to myself. I started thinking about the moments I did succeed, and thought, You can do this. as parents or just as women.” It took McCraith eight more tries before she made it 365 days, her personal record extending to 520 days. While there were many keys to reaching her goal — all outlined in the book — McCraith says an essential element to keeping her streak alive was lightening up on herself. “One morning I woke up and was, like, Hey, it’s OK, just chill out, and I made it through that day. I started being nicer to myself,” she says. “I

started thinking about the moments I did succeed, and thought, You can do this. [There was] a whole mental shift and it made it easier. My initial goal was to go 365 days straight. Having the absolute goal and working to celebrate that forced me to change because I couldn’t let myself off the hook. But the minute I celebrated those small moments as I kept the big goal in mind, I was able to get the confidence to make it toward that goal.” Based on responses to her blog posts and her online community, McCraith, who now lives in New Jersey, says the major response from fellow parents is: “Thank God I’m not alone.” “You don’t go to a playdate and talk about how much you lost it,” she says. “It was a relief for people to know they aren’t alone, they’re not the only one feeling like they’re screwing up. [Yelling] is very taboo. There’s things in parenting you just don’t talk about and I think this is one of those big, hidden secrets that everyone struggles with but no one dares to talk about. At least for me, actually talking about it made it easier to not yell because I wasn’t carrying that burden anymore.” A pledge to not yell at her children didn’t mean McCraith’s home turned into Lord of the Flies. She was the mother, still in charge, but found ways to parent her boys without raising her voice, emotionally exhausting herself or, worst of all, scaring her children. “My expectations of my kids were way too high,” she notes, looking back at her yelling days. “I was so overly controlling. I tried to control everything. You can’t control your kids’ actions. That was a huge eyeopener for me: the fact that I realized how grumpy I was, how stressed out I was. I kind of forgot my kids are people. ‘I’m the parent, you’re the

kid and you are small so you must not have feelings.’ Not that I really think that, but sometimes with my actions, I treated them as someone smaller than me.” She says the Orange Rhino lifestyle has forced her to become more empathetic toward her children. “Of course they’re revolting, you’re saying, ‘It’s my way or the highway. We’re gonna do exactly what I want today.’ But what about them? It’s their day, too,” she notes. “It’s a hot topic in the parenting world: ‘You’re still the parent.’ ‘Because I said so is how it should be.’ ‘The parent should have all the power.’ Yes, they should respect their elders, they should respect authority, but part of respect is earning it. You can’t just tell someone to respect you. If I’m treating them like their opinions and feelings don’t matter, they’re not going to respect me. It’s the frustration of life, it manifests itself with the easiest target, which is our kids — they’re not going to yell back.” While McCraith has her opinions on yelling and its place in parenting, she doesn’t claim to be an expert, noting she only speaks to her own experience. “There are no stats in the book,” she notes. “I’m not going to tell you yelling is wrong, not only do I not have that authority to say it, but it’s not really what the book is about. It’s about me, my own feelings, and what I feel like when I yell.” Instead, the book is filled with 30 days of small steps a parent can take to yell less and love more. “Every moment you have with your kids is an opportunity,” she says. “It would be great if I never yelled because that would be wonderful. But if my kids looked back and they remembered there were 900 loving moments and 10 yelling, then I’ve won. That’s what matters.”

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