It’s a serious question.
My parents never shouted at me. They never shouted at each other. I’m not sure I ever heard them raise their voices to each other, at least not in my hearing. I used to wonder as a teenager whether they hid under the bedclothes and screamed at each other, went to the pub for a slanging match or worse of all, just never got cross. Even at a young age I knew there was something wrong with this. While I didn’t want parents who screamed and shouted I felt there was something odd. Did they always agree with each other; did they take it in turns to make the decision?
The words I most dreaded hearing came when my father would say “Come and sit down; we’d just like a little chat with you…” Actually I still dread those words today. They usually meant that I had done something wrong and they wanted to point it out to me or that they wanted to ask me something that I hadn’t volunteered. Either way I would tense up, wonder how long it would take before I could escape, whether I could explain myself well enough to run away faster. I would avoid looking at them and try and retreat into myself where I wouldn’t be prodded and poked.
When I was finally released I would go to my room, pump up the volume on the radio and cry. My mother would often come up afterwards to reassure me that my father wasn’t really cross but they just wanted to know whatever it was. She would be warmer and less confrontational but it confused me that she hadn’t said any of this in front of my father.
I never really felt that they wanted to understand what was going on in my head, just to squash me into fitting into their idea of what should be going on in my head.
On very rare occasions when voices were raised I would be terrified. I remember the first time I heard my father swear, probably when I was about 17 or so. My immediate reaction was that 1sis must be accidentally pregnant as I couldn’t think of anything that could make him so irate.
I try not to shout at my children. I don’t think I ought to have to shout at them, that I should be able to raise them without raising my voice. Whenever I do shout at them, I always apologise some time afterwards, when I’ve calmed down. I tell them I love them, no matter what, that I’m sorry I shouted, but that Mummy finds it very difficult when they…. I try and explain myself to them, just as I do before I shout at them so that they understand that it’s the behaviour I’m cross with, rather than them.
I don’t want to upset them. Not in the sense of giving into them because they’re crying, but I don’t want them to think that my shouting means I don’t love them or that I’m going to start shouting at them for no reason at all. I don’t want them to worry because I shout or to feel that their home isn’t a safe place.
I can see the parallels with my childhood; I’d have to be really dense not to. But that doesn’t answer the question. Can I shout at them? I’m also aware that my heart is really pumping just while writing this.
I’m not comfortable with anger. I consider being angry and shouting as bad behaviour, as not being civilised, not being in control. And being in control is what my parents pride themselves on. Anger can cause pain to the recipient. Maybe my children don’t notice me being angry. It most probably bothers me more than it does them.
Maybe I should ask them.
“Hawling like brooligans” (Genevieve, 1953) – if you haven’t seen it, watch it