My loud neighbor is a mean mommy, and not in a good way. She’s the type of yeller you can hear through the walls, down the block, and — I’d imagine — right into the next town over. She’s known to wake up the entire neighborhood with an early morning rant as she gets her kids ready for school; nights typically end with demands turned to threats for her two unruly boys to go to bed.
Before you ask: No, she doesn’t seem physically abusive from what I can tell; no, our houses aren’t too close together; and no, I’m certainly not the perfect mother by any stretch of the imagination. But when I moved to the neighborhood, I was pregnant with my first child; it’s been four years and I now have two young sons, just like her. So I’ve spent my entire experience of motherhood living next door to a mom whose screams can rattle bones — and for better or worse, it’s changing the way I parent my kids.
It’s not that I necessarily think she’s a bad mom, per se. Her kids seem well looked after and are dressed and fed and have toys and and friends and activities and seem perfectly healthy and, well, normal. But I’ve so often jumped out my skin and the sound of her voice and the nature of her comments that whenever I get the urge to yell at my own kids, I’ve stopped myself. Countless are the times I’ve spoken sharply to my boys and immediately thought to myself, “Oh my God, do I sound like the lady next door?”
And that’s not necessarily a good thing. Speaking sharply to children is part of disciplining them, which is crucial for teaching right and wrong — in essence, my main job right now. Living so close to a real-life example of what I don’t want to be has made me struggle with who I do want to be as a mom. In fact, I’ve bent so far backwards trying not to become my harsh, shrill, noisy neighbor that I’ve become another mom I never intended to be: the big softie.
I’ve been able to glean —from gently critical comments from grandparents, teachers, and my significant other — that they think my older son is becoming spoiled. I so badly don’t want our house to be a house of yelling that I speak quietly and in low tones, I give my son probably way too many hugs and too much praise throughout the day, and on the rare occasion when I do lose my cool and start yelling, I feel immediately terrible and usually apologize to him right afterward (he’s four). So yes, the well-meaning people in our village have a point; my kid probably has yet to realize that the world does not revolve around him and his whims.
And yet, I still don’t want to turn into a screamer.
Short of moving, I’m not sure what to do next. Get a backbone? Yes. Get firmer with my kids, especially my older son? For sure. But all it will take is one explosive meltdown by the woman next door to send me right back into my fearful world of “nice” mommyhood. I’d never say anything to her; her parenting style is not really any of my business and I’m sure she’d be mortified to know that everyone within a five-mile radius is up-to-speed on her sons’ day-to-day behavior. (Although, could she really not know that we can all hear her?)
I guess I have to settle for doing my best to be strict with my sons, speaking (not yelling) loudly when they need to be scolded, and —oh, yes — perhaps investing in a pair of ear plugs.