I’m ready to admit it: I’ve started reading a book on how to manage my anger.
It begins: “Anger is a part of life.” Unfortunately for this mom, anger is all too often a part of my daily life. My kids, especially my 5-year-old, push buttons that I didn’t even know I had.
When N was first born, I couldn’t imagine ever getting angry with her. I don’t think I ever raised my voice with her until she was three years old – around the time she really started having her own opinion, expressing a headstrong will and resisting our authority, especially at bedtime. Bedtime was the absolute worst; she simply did not want to stay in bed or be left alone. Our battle of wills could go on for an hour or more, during which time she’d get increasingly tired and hysterical.
And finally I realized just how angry my daughter could make me.
For the past couple of years, I’ve struggled to handle my parental anger. No one who knows me would think that I’m an angry person – I’m generally happy and friendly and quick with a smile. I don’t get easily offended, and I’m not a “road rager” – in fact, when another driver is being a jerk, I always let it roll off my back and give him the right-of-way.
But when N is refusing to eat her dinner, talking back, being disrespectful or ignoring my instructions, I transform from a mild-mannered, patient, fun mom into a totally different person –an angry Frankenmom, or Ms. Hyde. I yell, slam doors and act in ways that I’m embarrassed to admit later. I know that I am not setting a good example for either of my daughters on how to handle their most intense emotions.
So I’m reading an anger management book, which is a difficult admission for me to make. When I hear the words “anger management,” I think of angry old men who sit around their houses in their “wifebeater” t-shirts, yelling at the TV and their kids and at their wives to go get them another beer. Needless to say, I don’t care to be lumped into that category.
But I need to change. I must change, for the sake of my girls. I don’t want my anger to dominate or overshadow my entire relationship with my daughters. I don’t want them to be experience negative ramifications from my anger, on their confidence or sense of well-being. And I do not want to set a poor example for how they should handle their feelings. I want them to grow up to be strong, resilient young women who can handle anything that life throws at them with their equilibrium intact.
So I’m reading Anger Management for Dummies, which is helping me to develop strategies for managing the intensely emotional situations that seem to crop up on a near-daily basis. I wrote down and personalized steps that N and I can both follow:
- Take a break. When we’re upset with each other, we both need a time-out, apart. Walking away and removing ourselves from the immediate situation is the best way to begin the process of calming down.
- Assess your anger. Why did you get angry? What is the intensity level from 1 to 10? Putting words and labels on your anger can help you feel slightly more in control of your emotions.
- Calm down. Try taking 10 deep breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Stop yelling and be quiet, and leave each other alone for a few minutes. Repeat a calming mantra; mine is “she’s only 5, she loves and respects you, you are not your father.” N likes kicking her legs on her bed, which I encourage, since physical activity can help the anger to dissipate.
- Once we’re calm, we need to come back and talk, not yell. We need to listen to each other and work it out. At this point, humor can be a great tool to help us both start feeling better.
These are my own steps, adapted from the book, which has helped me tremendously since I started reading it – not only in an intense situation, but in preventing situations from spiraling out of control in the first place. I’m learning to be more aware of my anger when I first feel it, usually as a mild feeling of annoyance or irritation. If I can calm myself down at that point, many times I can prevent it from escalating into anger.
N and I both have intense emotions, and we’re both sensitive. I can see us having these charged emotional interactions for our entire lives. So the smarter we can be about handling them, the better.
Already N has shown a lot of emotional intelligence, even when she’s experiencing really strong feelings that are tough for a little kid to handle. She’ll tell me, “When I cry one time, it’s easier for me to cry a second time, so go easy on me!” or, “I need some time alone in my room!” I do try to listen to her and respect her emotional needs.
Sometimes, when we’re starting to get really upset with each other, she’ll suddenly make a funny face and we both laugh, which immediately defuses the situation.
Unfortunately, last night I had one of my angry episodes that we weren’t able to defuse before it got intense. Thankfully, those episodes are becoming fewer and farther between, now that I’m investing time and energy into managing my anger. But yesterday N was especially touchy after a rough day at school (her teacher yelled at her and her friends weren’t very nice). She was feeling moody and sad at every little thing and getting cranky, and it took everything I had to stay calm and patient and let things go.
Finally at bedtime, after hours of keeping my cool, I snapped. N wasn’t listening to me, and the hour was getting later. I was feeling the pressure to get her in bed — if she’s not in bed at the right time, her emotions can really take a dive off the deep end. As she got loopy and stopped listening to me, my annoyance blew up into anger. Enter Frankenmom.
Thankfully, after only a few minutes, I remembered my steps and went to our bedroom to calm down. Before long, N and I were both much calmer, and she was cuddling with me on my lap.
Still, during my brief, intense outburst, I really disappointed myself. I acted in ways that do not reflect the person or the mom I want to be. Holding N in my lap and drawing her close, I started to cry a little.
“Mom, don’t cry,” N pleaded. “You’re going to make me cry!”
“Okay, honey,” I said, sniffling.
“You didn’t do anything wrong,” she said sweetly, turning to hold my face in her hands. “When I was feeling sad after school because of Mrs. B., you took me to get a donut, and that made me feel better. You don’t have anything to cry about.”
Sweet girl! I hope that’s the “emotional intelligence” that the experts talk about.
Now I just need to continue trying to develop my own “E.I.” – so that I can finally stop turning into Frankenmom, and instead, be the parent I want to be.