I once asked my mother—who is one of the most patient, hard-to-rile people I know—if she had ever felt like tossing me out the window when I was a kid. “Yup,” she chirped, “Many times.” I felt so much better.
While I’ve never been placid-tempered, motherhood seems to bring out the worst in me. Sometimes I can’t tell who’s having the more dramatic meltdown—my daughter or me. It came to head on one of those days: breakfast dishes were still piled up in the sink, and it was almost time to prepare dinner; my 2PM deadline zipped by and I wasn’t even close to finishing the article; toys were strewn across the floor in my bedroom and living room and work room—I had already kicked a few blocks under the couch and stepped on a teapot; Raine refused to nap, and hence was a very tired and cranky 2-year old.
I forgot what set me off completely, but I do remember grabbing Raine off the floor, where she was whining non-stop and screaming at her, “What is wrong with you? Can’t you see Mommy’s working? It’s your fault! I told you to take a nap. So get into bed and stay there!” Then I dumped her on the bed. Turning my back on her outstretched arms and entreating “get me, Mommy”, I could feel myself trembling with not just anger, but completely disproportionate rage. My blood was rushing, my heart pounding. I could feel myself flush. My arms and hands were tingling, and I had such a strong urge to strike out at something. At that point I had an inkling of how some mothers can abuse their children. And it scared me.
In a parenting class I attended in our church, one of the speakers said that parental abuse usually isn’t intentional, or at least doesn’t start out that way. She also said that the effects of our out-of-control moments can affect not just our children’s physical wellbeing, but their emotional and spiritual as well.
Expecting never to get angry, however, is unrealistic. But there are ways you can deal with anger. I learned from the speakers at the parenting seminar, and also from this book that I’m reading, She’s Gonna Blow! Real Help for Moms Dealing With Anger by Julie Ann Barnhill. Some of the tips that worked for me are:
- Know your trigger points. What sets you off? I am almost always most likely to blow up when I have a close (or missed!) deadline. So I try to arrange for someone to watch Raine while I work on crucial projects.
- Plan ahead to avoid anger-inducing situations. In my house, 5PM is the witching hour. It’s usually when I should stop working and get cooking. It’s when an un-napped Raine gets cranky (so do I). It’s when I rush around fixing up, so my husband doesn’t come home to the same mess he left (at the very least, comes home to the same mess in a different place). Now I’m learning to preempt the 5PM stress by preparing dinner ingredients when I do lunch, or by performing pick-up-as-I-pass blitzkrieg cleaning.
- Take some time out for yourself. Whether you can afford 5 minutes or 5 hours, get some time out to do something you like, preferably out of your home. As much as possible, I take a “day off” and do some non-Mommy, non-wifey things, like get a haircut or wander around a bookstore, in the adult stacks. I need the time away to recharge.
- Pause. When you know you’re going to lose it, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Count to 10. Go outdoors, to the bathroom or to another room. Allow yourself some time and space to rein in your temper.
- Consciously relax your shoulders, jaws, hands and any body part that may be clenched and tense. Make yourself speak slowly and softly when you are angry. Do something to release all that frustration and energy. I sometimes go out back and give my punching bag a few good whacks.
- Pray. I believe that God honors my growled out, “Father, give me grace and patience right now!” as I struggle to control myself. Sometimes all I can manage is a “Oh Lord oh Lord oh Lord”. But somehow, it helps.
- Learn to distinguish between childishness and willful disobedience. Sometimes I have to remember that Raine’s gross motor skills aren’t all there yet, as I grumble over mopping up her dining table spills. She isn’t disobeying me when I tell her to eat neatly and her spoonful of soup lands on her lap yet again. She just hasn’t mastered the all-important skill of food-on-spoon-goes-straight-in-mouth yet.
- “Honor your child’s bent”. Julie Barnhill says, and all experts agree, that each child is different. What works for one won’t necessarily work for another child. Raine, for example, is more like her Daddy than me when it comes to waking up. They both need time to loll around in bed, stretching, shifting from one position to another before finally, very slowly, rolling out of bed. I on the other hand, am what my husband calls “the zombie summoned”: when I wake I stand quickly and stumble around quite mindlessly, doing the morning chores. So it would save me a lot of frustration if I start getting Raine out of bed at least 10 minutes before I actually expect her to be up.
- Get rid of your image of a perfect mother. I imagine myself sending out all my articles on time (and the editor prints them as is), while cooking healthy meals, according to my pre-planned menu, and then a freshly-scrubbed Raine (who will be homeschooled and reading by age 3) and I will welcome my husband into a neat house wafting with the smell of freshly baked cookies. Never happens. At least not all at the same time. And if I compare my real self with my perfect self, I will only get irritated.
- Find a support group, and a mentor. Sometimes all we need is someone we can rant to. Even better is someone to rant to who has been there before and can give you advice. I’ve found support in the women in my church, and in my childhood friend, who has a son almost Raine’s age.
Anger is a normal part of motherhood. Yet with grace and conscious effort, it doesn’t have to be destructive.