Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Mother's Rage: Diffusing Our Anger and Disciplining Ourselves

In a recent article for BabbleLiane Kupferberg Carter writes about "that irate moment no one can adequately warn you about, when hostility and sarcasm shove aside reason and patience, and you suddenly sense your own terrifying rage."

"Does anyone else get this mad?" she asks.

My answer?

Hell yes.

Raising children isn't for the faint of heart.  We come into it with high ideals, expectations of hugs and kisses and angelic faces that look to us with nothing but adoration and a loving desire to do exactly as we say.

Does that happen in your house?

Mine either.

We have our moments, when I get told that I'm the best mom in the world and my two children fight over my lap.  When I look at them and can't imagine my life without them and wonder how it's possible to love two little people with such fierce intensity.

More often, it seems, we have other moments.

Moments when an argument over a doll or a dump truck suddenly escalates into World War III. 

Moments when a six year-old's desperate attempt to play a video game far beyond her capabilities ends in a full-fledged temper tantrum of over-reaction and a cascade of self-loathing and self-doubt. 

Moments when dinner gets burned because a two year-old is clawing at my leg and just can't wait

Moments when my sanity is in question and I have to be the grown-up even when I don't feel like a grown-up and at the same time am desperately wishing there were another grown-up in the room with me.

And I get mad. 

Actually, I go way beyond mad.   

I can feel the rage bubbling up inside of me, as if I'm a volcano on the verge of explosion.  I want to lose my temper.  I want to verbally unleash.  I want to hit.  I want to run and lock myself in my bedroom and hide. 

I think about the mom who left her kids with her husband in the middle of the night and ran off to Utah.

There.  I said it.  Out loud. 

Yes, sometimes, I get that angry too.  So angry that it scares me.  And Carter is right.  That kind of rage can be terrifying.

But, here's the important thing:  I don't act on it.  Sure, there have been times when I've lost my temper and yelled and said things that shouldn't have been said.  I'm human.  But I don't hit.  I don't run and hide. 

And I would never, ever actually take off and leave my children behind, as enticing as that fantasy might occasionally be.

How do I manage this?


Not for my kids.  For me.

I noticed a long time ago that when I get mad at one of my children and have a desire to yell or hit, it's more often about me and my emotions than it is about my child's behavior.  It's usually because I haven't gotten enough sleep, or because I have stress in other areas of my life that has nothing to do with my kids. 

Or because I'm trying too hard to control their behavior and make them do what I want, instead of listening to them as individuals and guiding them when they need to find a better way.

It's because I haven't taken the time to breathe, to step back and look at the bigger picture.

In our country, the word discipline usually has negative connotations.  It is most often associated with punishments such as spanking or time-outs.  But I prefer to think of discipline as a method of teaching and self-improvement.  And I can't expect to teach this to my children if I don't lead by example.

So when the drama and the screaming begin, I let myself feel the anger.  Because anger is a real and legitimate response to a difficult situation.  The daily grind of raising children can be overwhelming, particularly when it's coupled with the other stresses of our everyday lives.

I don't think that feeling anger, or even rage occasionally, is either bad or unnaural. 

I tend to think the opposite is true, that it would be unnatural if you didn't sometimes experience these emotions.

Anger and rage, like physical pain, can be taken as a sign that something is not right.  If we use our anger in this way, we can use a very negative emotion to achieve a positive outcome. 

If we are angry at our children for not playing as we would like, we need to figure out how to teach them a better way to play.  If we are angry because we feel out of control, we need to either take control or learn to relinquish our desire for control. 

A mother's rage doesn't have to be a bad thing.  Sure, if we can't get it under control, or if it continually  appears in response to the tiniest of infractions, or if we act on that rage in a way that hurts our children, rage can become a real and serious problem. 

But occasional feelings of anger and even rage can also help us to see that things aren't working as they are.  It can help us to find a better way.

When I took childbirth education classes in the Bradley method, I learned how physically tensing the body can actually intensify pain.  It's funny, but those classes have helped me a lot more post-baby than they did in the delivery room. 

When my kids get loud and crazy and upset, I may yell for a minute or two.  But then I get remarkably calm.  I might be inwardly seething -- much like the way I was writhing in pain through the contractions of labor -- but on the outside, I look calm.  I breathe slowly.  I speak slowly.  And softly.  I don't yell, no matter how much I might want to.  I remember to breathe slowly, and slowly, miraculously, my anger dissipates.

I look at my children and really see them.  I see how little they are, and how much they need me to help them cope with life.  I remember how fiercely I love them.  I apologize for being angry.

And, together, we find a better way.            

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