I feel more than a little qualified to write this, not because I do it perfectly every time, but because I don’t. I’ve had a lot of practice. Raising twelve children, five of whom come from hard places, will do that for you. Give you lots of practice, that is, not make you perfect. If anything, it will convince you more than anything that perfect is just not in the cards. I left the ideal of perfection by the side of road quite some time ago.
While I have yet to completely do away with the angry mom inside of me, all that practice has helped me to control that angry mom a bit better. Along the way I’ve learned a few things, and my head doesn’t explode quite as often as it used to. At least I hope it doesn’t.
The first thing to do is take a serious look at what is making you angry.
Finding the cause puts you well along the path to reducing its power. In my experience, when I am angry with a child, and heading perilously close to plummeting over the edge, it is actually fear that is driving me, and anger is just how it comes out. Why won’t this child listen to me? (This child is never going to listen to me. This child will make all the mistakes I don’t want them to experience, and ruin their life in the process.) Why don’t people help clean up around the house? (I am taken for granted, nothing is ever going to change, and I have failed as a mother in training my children.) Why did my child do that? (Oh my goodness, if nothing changes, I can see myself having to visit this child in prison!) Why can’t my child just do _______ and be done with it? (This child is going to become a troll in my basement, never get a job, and never be a contributing member of society.) Why won’t my child go to sleep? (This child is never going to sleep. I will never sleep, ever again. This is how life is going to be forever.)
Maybe it’s just me, but I am great at either jumping to the worst case scenario or assuming that the state we’re in is where we’ll always be. Neither of these assumptions has ever proven accurate, but that doesn’t stop my mind from jumping to them faster than my dog eats a dog treat. They are scary places, these imaginings. They are places I don’t want to be and I don’t want my child to be. The thought of being there makes me both scared, and yes, angry. It’s not how I envisioned my life looking. If you stop and think about it, the emotions kind of make sense. The trouble is, these emotions, fear masquerading as anger, are not really helpful, nor are they a result of accurate thinking. Realizing what you are actually experiencing can go a long way towards getting out-of-control emotions in check.
While this is useful, and can be helpful to examine in quiet and calm moments, it is not overly helpful in the moment, when your head is exploding. Parents also need a well-stocked bag of tricks, not only to help their child in angry moments, but to help themselves. I will share what I (try to) do when emotions start to overwhelm me. These are starting from still being in a rational state of mind, moving to every increasing escalation.
- Breathe. If I find myself getting a little edgy, stopping and taking some deep breaths can often put my brain back in rational thinking mode. Even better, if I can catch myself in time, I’ll do some thinking during those deep breaths about what is really upsetting me.
- Go to the bathroom. Sometimes removing myself from a situation is needed. I don’t usually need to actually use the bathroom, but it is a quiet room with a lock where my children aren’t likely to follow me. (Can you tell I don’t have toddlers anymore?) Just sitting quietly and breathing, or distracting myself with the book I keep in there, can put me back in my right mind.
- Take a walk. This is like hiding in the bathroom, but also has the benefit of movement, which is great for regulation. If your children are younger and you can’t just leave them, drag them along. The movement and change will be good for them as well.
- Call a friend. Sometimes you just need to talk to another adult. Sometimes you just need to organize a spontaneous playdate at someone else’s house. If you don’t have friends who can either be a sympathetic ear or an instant playdate host, keep working on that. We’ve just moved, and I am having to rebuild all of my social collateral. It can be a tough spot to be in.
- Change the scene for everyone. There have been times that instead of all of us becoming increasingly upset with each other, I have put everyone in the van and taken a spur-of-the-moment field trip. Parks, forest preserves, museums . . . anything that people generally enjoy and get people in a different frame of mind will work.
- Practice forgiveness. And sometimes, things have reached such a point where my head does explode. I’m not proud of it, I instantly regret it, and usually need to go cry afterwards somewhere by myself. It happens. We’re all human. Be willing to extend yourself grace and remember tomorrow is a new day. Also it is a chance to model what it looks like when you mess up for your children. Go to them and apologize for exploding, and assure them that you love them.
There is one other thing to remember if this is an area of struggle for you. In reality, the moment of getting angry is often too late. The time to address anger is at other times. If I have gotten adequate sleep; if I have a decent handle on household jobs; if I have had time to get a break where I am not interacting with children; if I have had a chance to do something that I enjoy and relaxes me, then I am much, much less likely to blow my top.
Practicing self-care is absolutely necessary to being able to keep your cool. Anger can often be the result of running for too long with too little margin. We all have days or weeks where life feels a little out of control, but if this is your normal, and you are dealing with anger, you need to rethink how you have organized your life, both for you and your family. We all need time to regroup and rest. It is so important, especially if you are parenting children who stretch your patience and resources, that it should become a top priority in your life.
Don’t assume that anger is a given. It’s not. Pay close attention to what you are actually feeling, how you best regain rationality, and what refreshes you. Anger is a symptom of other things in your life. Sort them out, and the anger will diminish as an issue.