What will the neighbors think?

A couple weeks ago, I was out chatting with my neighbor, a very friendly woman who’s a parent herself. When she asked what I’d been up to lately, I shared that I am writing a book.

“Oh really? What’s it about?” she asked.

“Uh, well, it’s a book about how to be a happier mom…” I responded. And inwardly, I cringed a little.

After all, we live on narrow city lots, the sort where neighbors really know each other’s business. My house has a bank of windows facing her large yard. The other side of our house is even more dangerous. That’s where you’ll find the bedroom windows, a mere 15 feet or so from our neighbors’ windows. I leave my windows open a lot. And I sometimes wonder, if my neighbors judged the happiness of our home only by what carries out of those windows and makes it to their ears, what would they think about our family?

I tend toward being a yeller, even when I’m not angry about anything. I holler from the kitchen to the living room to tell the kids their X-Box time is up or get more information about a squabble when I’m in the middle of cooking dinner.  I shout to be heard above the din of a busy house–especially when the din grows into a roar. And yes, sometimes when I’m tired and frustrated and just want the kids to stop what they’re doing and listen to me LIKE RIGHT NOW I yell the worst kind of yell, the angry yell.

It’s a useful exercise, wondering what our home must sound like to those who live closest to us. Of course they aren’t privvy to the murmured “I love you’s” and nighttime tuck-ins, or the stories or shared jokes or laughs or civil dinnertime conversations. But even if they were, would those quiet, peaceful moments outweigh all the yelly-ness?

Would somebody who stood outside my window all day believe me if I told them that I was a happy mom?

And if they wouldn’t, would I believe it? Would my children?

While yelling is one example of something I know I do more than I should, that’s not the only thing that gets in the way between my ideals and my actions sometimes. Recently Sara of Self-Made Mom coined a most excellent term–Comissermom–to describe the sort of one-upswomanship via complaining that is so tempting for moms to partake in. In her post Sara wrote:

I’m constantly fascinated and saddened by the collective misery of motherhood. In many ways, the internet brings out the raw truth of what we are going through, the mindless days, the never-ending little wars with little ones, and the exhaustion that it brings. It’s nice to know that when my child goes completely limp in the middle of Whole Foods in protest, I’m not the only one….


We are bashful about bragging about our parenting successes, so instead we turn into negative little mom-bots trying to get a word in edgewise about how sucky things got. I never want to win the battle of the highest thermometer reading.

Wise words from Sara. I wrote here about venting, whether it really helps moms cope, and how to balance telling the truth with writing our own realities a few months ago. But what didn’t occur to me until I read Sara’s post and thought about it in context with the neighbor experience is that commisermom-ming doesn’t just affect us. Our kids know. They listen. And even if they don’t know exactly what we’re talking about or we mostly shield them from complaining, just expending that much energy on complaining about motherhood colors how we experience it.

Perception is reality. If we constantly reinforce (to ourselves, our kids, or one another) the belief that we’ve got it hard, that motherhood is frustrating and tiresome and boring and burdensome, it will affect how we engage with our kids and the rest of the world. Yelling does this to me. The more I yell, the louder the house seems (gee, I wonder why), and the more I want to yell. Even the urge to shout can be traced back to a cause, most of the time.  I know that on the days I face with a clear purpose of having a productive, peaceful, happy family life, I am much less likely to yell at the kids. It’s the days when I try to bulldoze through my to-do list, viewing my children as just another roadblock in a long line of obstacles, that I turn into The Holler-iest Mom.

No mother is perfect and no family is always happy.  I don’t expect that I’ll never find anything to complain about again, or that I’ll never raise my voice at (or simply around) my kids. But I can be mindful about it, make a conscious effort to live the ideals that I’ll admit sometimes don’t make it outside my head. Make a conscious effort to give off a happy vibe outwardly, not just here in my blog, and in my own thoughts.

I don’t owe my neighbors a certain image of our household, or of myself as a happy mom. But I do owe it to my kids. And myself.

If I were my future self, or one of my kids, listening at the window–what would I want to hear?

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