Picture this: You have a full basket of unfolded laundry and you are attempting to fold it while watching the kids. You get a couple pieces folded when one child asks for help pulling down a puzzle. The other child grabs your neatly folded pile and drags it to another room. The puzzle-piecing child finds a biscuit and crumbles it on the floor. Laundry child starts playing a song on the door stopper (which hasn’t proved to be your favorite tune) while you grab the broom. As you dump the crumbs in the garbage, you notice that Puzzle kid is really quiet and you find him with that box of stamps making ink designs all over the floor.
Pull back: where are you emotionally? I’ll be honest, these situations take me to a boiling point all too often and I am called to my toughest part of parenting – controlling my anger. I feel my heart starting to pound, that knot growing in my chest or belly, and I would love to throw on a pair of sneakers and run the anxiety off but there’s that minding the kids part. And so I stick it out. Sometimes I keep that level head and pull through, but sometimes I yell and I know that isn’t good for anyone.
Since I started this grand parenting adventure, I’ve paid attention when someone else’s story resonates with me so I can dig into this anger and find out how to cool it down before it explodes.
The first was a Super Nanny episode about a single mother with three kids. She was pretty open about spanking her children and had really lost any sort of control over their behavior. Physical punishment was diverting the kids’ actions temporarily, but not gaining her any respect or leadership in the moment. She talked about how often she was spanked as a child, “This is what I know.” And Super Nanny swooped in telling her each and every person has picked up something unsavory from their elders and caregivers along the way…but that being an adult meant having the power and obligation to be aware of those destructive patterns and changing them. Kapow!
I can empathize with this mother. Three kids are not leaving her many quiet moments to decompress, and if all three of them are misbehaving then that would take a high level of patience and a significant amount of time to really address their actions effectively. As a single parent, she might not have another person around to be that “check and balance” to tell her to step back, cool down, and return to an effective disciplining moment.
I have a very supportive partner, but when the kids and I have been indoors for days on end because we’ve been sick and I am premenstrual and they just want to play while I just want to clean up the stinking house, it all builds into a perfect storm. So what is there to do when you are in that heated moment?
One nugget I remember from a parenting book – the author said that after all her years of raising five children and offering parenting advice to others, she still had those moments where she lost it. Accept that sometimes you will make the wrong decision as a parent. She followed, however, with an important point – those moments after you yell at your child are critical. Explain what happened to you emotionally, apologize, and ask your children for forgiveness. This gives our youth an awareness of the more complicated emotions and how to work through the toughest moments. What good is it to tell kids that they need to say sorry if we are not modeling this ourselves?
I have been trying multiple ways to dissipate my anger. For me, pin-pointing the underlying emotion or circumstance that leads to the anger is key. Am I frustrated over not having a clean house? (Then I am better served by asking my husband to take the kids out of the house to play so I can clean without distraction.) Have I been indoors for too long? (Walk around the block rain or shine. The kids and I will all feel better.) As busy parents, I think we all tend to wait a little too long to address things. Then we just get closer to that crisis point.
I am not a parent who can meditate with my children around, but I have felt profound effects from letting go alone or in a small group. I find that “time outs for mom” are more practical for helping me regulate my emotions in the moment. I like my children to see that there are some situations I can talk through with them, but other moments when I need space to cool down and re-approach things. “I need space!” is an immortalized phrase around our house, and we respect when another person says it.
I have to mind my general stress levels. Little stresses can add up so quickly to create an overwhelming sense of sinking. I default to sticking it out even when I do have support (caregiving, shoulder to lean on, etc.) and that is a big weakness of mine. Take a break or better yet, schedule a weekly time when you are without kids and have the freedom to do something that feeds your soul. My Tai Chi practice is as much about having “me time” and grown up conversations as it is in enjoying the challenges of the form itself. If you don’t have a hobby that delights you, indulge in the process of finding it. Not only will you have fun but you’ll be more interesting to your children.
Lastly, hug your children. Hug them often. Physical touch feels good and is equally beneficial for child and parent. I have dissolved many angry moments by getting over my need to feel right or validated, and simply coming down to my child’s level and giving him or her a hug.
There are many other ways to calm oneself down in those angry moments. What works for you?