I would never have thought of myself as an angry person. Anyone who knows me would probably describe me as even-keel, relaxed and easy-going. I don’t necessarily “wear my emotions on my sleeve” – all I usually need is my journal, which is where I let off steam or express excitement.
But then I had kids.
And this side of me came out that shocked me. Being a mom has pushed me to limits that I didn’t know existed. Some moments parenthood overwhelms me and takes everything out of me, and other days it fills me right back up again and my heart seems to burst with love.
But there are times (please tell me you have them too?) that I am so frustrated and “done” with my kids that the easiest response toward them is anger.
A recent example…
My 3-year old was refusing to let me change his diaper. We had been out and about and I told him in advance that once we got home, we had to go straight to the change table. Once we were inside, he of course got distracted by a couple of toys, and when I said no, we’re getting rid of your stinky diaper before playing, let’s just say he was not a happy camper.
This little scenario escalated into a power-struggle…me saying “we’ve got to do this NOW” and him kicking and screaming and refusing to cooperate. I ended up raising my voice and practically pinning him down to keep him still for a minute so I could change his diaper, and by the end of the ordeal, we were both frustrated and emotionally drained.
Now, I’ve already learned a lesson or two as a mother about how important it is to set an example for our kids and, as parents, be the ones to initiate restoration when something is troubling our relationship. So my son and I cuddled for a minute afterward and I told him, “Buddy, I’m sorry for hurting you. I always tell you to ‘use your words’ when you’re frustrated, and I should have done that too.” I asked him if he would forgive me, and he nodded.
But in the back of my mind, I was SO tempted to justify my actions. “Sorry but….I was frustrated that you weren’t obeying.” Or “Sorry but…Mama didn’t like that you were kicking against my pregnant belly.” Or, “If you would have cooperated, I wouldn’t have needed to get upset….”
Perhaps one of the hardest lessons to learn in parenthood is that the actions of our children do not, in fact, dictate our own emotions or responses.
How often have we either heard or uttered expressions such as the following:
- “You are driving me crazy!”
- “You’re making me so angry right now.”
- “You drive me up the wall!” (My brother and I always giggled when my mom said that to us, as in our little imaginations we pictured her literally driving up a wall.)
But fellow Mama, can I just be honest with you for a minute? Although our children may know how to push our buttons like no one else in the universe can, their misbehavior is NEVER an excuse for our behavior.
[bctt tweet=”Our kids’ misbehavior is NEVER an excuse for our behavior.” username=””]
We alone are responsible for our words and actions. We always have the CHOICE to either simply react to a situation or take the time to respond to it.
A child screaming at us doesn’t mean we have to scream back.
A toddler’s kicks don’t mean we have to fight back.
Siblings squabbling doesn’t mean we have to raise our voice.
Even if our child is irritating us, disobeying us, or simply not acting the way we want them to, they are never controlling us. We are the only ones who can actually manage our own emotions and choose what our response to a person or situation will be.
Anger – a common emotion for both parents and children – is like a fire. There are dozens of situations in a normal mom-day that can set off something in us, tempting us to react in frustration. Sibling squabbles, toddler defiance, complaints about food or chores, a never-ending laundry pile, not enough time to ourselves, etc. Facing so many little situations day in and day out adds fuel to the flame.
Anger in and of itself is not wrong, but it is a flame which, if we’re not careful, can grow into a big fire that potentially causes damage to us and our relationships with our kids. The Bible says “In your anger do not sin.”
In order to control the fire that at times threatens to overtake me, I am trying to implement what I’ve called the “Stop, Drop & Roll Method.”
When I was a kid we were taught that if we (or a piece of clothing, etc.) ever caught on fire, we were to immediately STOP, DROP and ROLL. This would douse the flames and in turn, save us. How? Because the easiest way to keep a fire from doing damage is to stop it from getting big and spreading in the first place. One or two flames may be hot, but they are not necessarily dangerous. In fact, fire can be very positive, especially if it is flames coming from a candle or fireplace. But the bigger a fire gets, the more difficult it is to control it.
The good news is, our own “firey emotions” CAN be contained as we learn to manage them well. Here are some ways how:
- STOP what you are doing. I often find myself half-heartedly intervening in a situation because I am multitasking. “Jael, please don’t climb up that chair…” I warn as I am standing at the stove. “Caleb please don’t bang the hammer on the table” I shout from the other room as I am vacuuming. If I am not fully engaged, my kids usually keep doing whatever they’re doing until it annoys me to the point of bursting in anger. To help control the flame, simply stop what you are doing in order to address your child and their wrong behavior. Turn off the stove, shut off your phone, put down the laundry basket.
- DROP to your child’s level and engage with them. Sometimes as I am helping my 20-month old clean up and pointing to the bin where the toys belong, I realize my finger is a meter above her head and she can’t even tell where I’m pointing! Getting down to their level is so important. Make eye contact, take their hands in yours.
If they are misbehaving, communicate with them and try to figure out why they are acting out before simply punishing them. Depending on their age it may help to give them options to choose from: “Are you sad? Do you feel frustrated? Do you need Mama’s help?” My kids are learning to put their emotions into words as they watch me do the same. When my son starts playing with the flour and making a mess while we’re baking muffins together, I say, “Mama is getting frustrated when you act silly, because everything is getting messy. The flour needs to go in the bowl and not on the counter. I would like you to keep helping me but please obey…”
Communication and physical touch are two tools that can quickly douse the flames of anger. Many a temper tantrum in our home has been resolved simply through cuddling.
- Either ROLL WITH IT, or ROLL OUT OF IT. Last of all, I’m learning to “go with the flow” and pick my battles. Is whatever I am upset about really worth being upset at? Does it matter if my son refuses to pick up his toys now; couldn’t I try asking him again in 5 minutes with a calmer tone of voice? The typical saying, “Don’t cry over spilled milk” rings true. Accidents happen, and I can choose to not be upset and adjust my plans accordingly. If I can’t roll with the situation, then I need to get out before I blow up. I’ve given myself a time-out a few times 🙂
Learning to control our anger is an important lesson not just for us, but for our kids. If we don’t set a good example for them in how to appropriately handle our emotions, where are they supposed to learn how to manage their own fears and frustrations? If they don’t experience us responding to difficult situations with self-controlled, thought-out emotions, then it will only be natural for them to hit, shout, etc. when a sibling “causes” them to by acting in a way they don’t like.
Remember, Mama, that you have the power over your own emotions.
If your home is like mine, you will face dozens of potentially infuriating moments today. How are you going to respond?