Sometimes I have a hard time not losing my temper with my kids. In my case, that usually means getting fed up, irritated, overwhelmed and then saying something that I wish I hadn’t. It’s one thing when that comes from something frustrating, irritating, rude or just plain annoying that the kids are actually doing, but I have found, so often, that the root cause of my bad mood comes from something or somewhere or someone else, and it just comes out in the direction of my kids. And I find that unacceptable — there’s no reason I ought to use my kids as a place to vent my bad temper. I am not proud of it, and, in fact, I’ve spent a lot of energy since becoming a parent trying to figure out how not to do it. I’ve improved a lot, but I still stray over the line from constructive discipline to throwing a bit of a tantrum myself sometimes.
I’ve learned about the kinds of things that give me a short fuse: not getting enough sleep, getting too hungry, not showering, not using the bathroom when I need to. Basically, if I don’t take care of myself, it’s hard for me to take care of my kids. Being in a bad state myself means I can’t handle normal kid stuff in a good parent kind of way. So, I make that a priority. But that isn’t the whole picture. I snap at my kids more often when I’m angry at someone else — Dan, the landlord, someone who was rude to me on the bus — it could be anyone. Being angry at another adult, and not addressing it, puts me in a prime situation to lose my temper with my kids (which is totally not cool).
I don’t want to be a mom that can’t handle her own emotions like a grown up. I don’t want to be a mom that says something too harsh or too critical, and who says it too loudly or too angrily. When I do, I feel terrible. It hurts my kids. I apologize, and I know that helps, but it doesn’t erase it. And, when I lose my temper, it negates any reasonable consequence I might have imposed for a legitimately inappropriate behavior on their part — the focus becomes on my anger instead of on what they’re doing. And then, not only am I being a crappy mom in that moment, no one is learning anything.
I’m working on it. I’m all about self-improvement. But I’ve had a surprisingly difficult time getting helpful advice on this. It’s hard to talk about. There isn’t really a good time to say, “You know, my kids make me crazy, but it’s not always really my kids. Sometimes I’m just tired or overwhelmed and I snap at the kids and it makes us all feel terrible” during a playdate. I’m ashamed and embarrassed that I get angry with my kids. And, I have to assume that other people feel the same way, because I don’t think I’m the only mom who struggles with this, and no one else is talking about it, either. I think that normal, reasonable, generally kind moms don’t like to admit that they lose their temper (in whatever way it manifests for them) with their kids. But I’m a good mom, and I do, so I figure other good moms do, too. Since it’s hard for me to admit, it’s something I don’t really talk about, and I just try, really hard, not to do it. (Which doesn’t seem to be working all that well.)
I don’t think I have to be a “perfect” parent — I think there are always going to be things that kids do to inspire frustration, irritation or anger in their parents. And I actually think that’s a good thing — sometimes, when you do something you shouldn’t, people get mad. Life is like that. And I even think it’s ok for the kids to see the process of a parent being inappropriately upset, recognizing it, apologizing for it and correcting it — that’s how they’ll learn to manage those situations themselves. But I lose my cool too often about the wrong things for the wrong reasons, and I want to do better.
A few days ago, I read an essay that a friend linked to on Facebook. And it struck a nerve. I’m not a yeller — I rarely raise my voice with my kids (except when one of them is doing something dangerous, in which case I do tend to shriek a bit, but that doesn’t actually bother me). I doubt that the kind of anger I have would result in my kids being afraid of me (but I can’t guarantee it). I think, instead, that the kind of overwhelmed, “That’s it! I’ve had it! I just don’t care! I can’t do this!” kind of moments that I have could hurt their self-esteem, make them feel responsible for taking care of me, and undermine their confidence that I will take care of them. And I don’t want that. What she said gave me hope, because she used to yell at her kids, and she learned not to. I want to learn to improve myself, too, I just don’t know how. At the end of her article, the author linked to The Orange Rhino. And I started reading. She sounds a lot like me. And she felt just as crappy about losing her temper with her kids as I do. And, most importantly, she made a committment to herself and her kids to not yell for an entire year . . . and she did it.
And I want to do it, too. I can only imagine the kind of example I could set for my kids, and the kind of comfort and confidence I could give them if, in the next year, I only got upset about reasonable things and only at a reasonable level. Besides, I would feel great. I would actually *love* to have a bad day that didn’t end with me being a big meanie. How great would that be? How much better would we ALL feel? She’s just a mom that wanted to do better for her kids, and I am too. And after reading a bunch of pages on her site, I thought, “Oh, if she can do that, I totally can too” and I went away, feeling inspired. And 24 hours later, I lost my temper again. (We were taking Bailey outside, and Benjamin was leaning on a grumpy neighbors car, and I kind of freaked out about it — “What are you doing? Come over here! Right now! Don’t do that!” when I could have just said, “Oops! No touching other people’s cars. Let’s go over here . . . “)
And so I went back to the site, feeling less arrogant and more humble, looking for more advice and inspiration. And I saw that she’s redoing a month long “yell less” project for moms who want to parent better. And, perfect timing — it starts next week.
So, I signed up. It starts Monday. So, just in case there are any other good moms out there who sometimes lose their tempers with their kids and wish that they didn’t, you’re not alone. And I have no idea if this will help, but I’m willing to give anything a try.