Welcome to the July 2013 Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival: Anger

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival hosted by Authentic Parenting and Living Peacefully with Children. This month our participants have written about anger. We hope you enjoy this month’s posts and consider joining us next month when we share about breastfeeding.

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Every (conscious) parent has regretted something they’ve said or done to their child in a moment of anger. We don’t normally talk openly about these incidents probably because we feel such shame, revulsion, and hurt that we lost control while in the throes of anger and behaved in an unloving, hurtful, or frightening way toward our child. Does this mean we’re abusive parents in such moments? At some level, yes. More importantly, however, it means that we’re all human and capable of doing things that don’t reflect who we really are and what we truly want for our children. That’s the bad news. The good news is that we have the power to deal with our pent up anger so that we don’t spill it out on our children (or others).

Allowing anger without abusive behavior

Growing up, I was punished for being resistant to situations or events I didn’t like. Yelling, having a “tantrum,” biting, or otherwise making my “hell no!” clearly visible was not okay with my parents (or other adults). I mention this not to blame my parents, but to explain my early/formative personal experience with anger.

While harming another person (which I occasionally did when I bit someone) isn’t an action to condone, it is essential that we honor our children’s autonomy and authority over their own lives. Giving them the space to say “NO!” or “I don’t like that.” or “Johnny is a jerk!” helps them vent real frustrations with things that happen in their lives. Being angry is as natural as being happy or being sad; the emotion of anger is something we all feel. Our kids — and we as adults — need to know that anger itself is normal and not something to squelch (in ourselves or others).

Giving anger a safe outlet

From my years of self-development work, I know that most of my anger has nothing to do with my daughter even if she might contribute to my emotional state. Even though she’s not the cause of my anger, she (my husband and any other person who happens to cross my path at the “wrong” time will sometimes be the unfortunate object of my anger-fueled behavior. Thus, here’s what I’m working with to (a) retrain myself to be okay with my own anger, (b) safely release my anger, and (c) help my daughter have a healthy relationship with her own and others’ anger.

  1. Tell the truth to myself and others. Though verbalizing my anger is still very difficult for me and perhaps sometimes hard for others to hear, “I’m mad/pissed/angry!” are words worth speaking. Refusing to express my anger doesn’t make it go away; if anything, repressing emotions makes them stronger when they do get expressed (which they will). I can’t really hide my anger anyway (though I kid myself that I can), so acting as if I’m really fine when I’m not is a futile endeavor.
  2. Pay attention to my energy. For me, the moments of regret happen right after I “blew my fuse.” My irritation, frustration, resentment, or anger had been building, but I kept ignoring my flashing internal signals that an “explosion” was imminent. If I can safely release some anger (like a pressure valve) early on, it’s less likely that I’ll ultimately behave in an abusive way toward others.
  3. Make anger — the visible expression of it — okay by everyone in our family. While this might get tricky at times (e.g., was that angry display “okay” or was it harmful in some way), I want our family to honor the full range of emotions. I want my daughter to be as comfortable yelling in frustration as she is in jumping for joy or crying for grief. For me this means not rushing to “make things okay” when a family member is upset or otherwise stifling their own emotional expression. It also means that my husband and I are free to safely express our emotions both for our own mental health as well as modeling for our daughter the “okay-ness” of giving voice to all our emotional states.
  4. Give my “NO!” a safe and regular release. Whether it’s a horrific news story I read, a painful event from my own past or present, or something else that pokes my sense of fairness/justice, I do get mad; madder than mad, in fact. My inclination is to ride over my feelings of anger, horror, outrage and settle right into the more comfortable emotions of sadness, despair, and grief. The problem is that underneath that sadness, my anger is still real — and waiting to be claimed. Stamping out my anger as I run trails and growl under my breath (or sometimes shout into the forest) lets my anger go without hurting anyone (though it may scare the squirrels). Nonetheless, my biggest challenge with this step is to notice my anger in the first place.
  5. Own my shortcomings and ask for forgiveness. Though I’m committed to improving the way I deal with my anger, I’m quite certain that there still will be plenty of times when I lose control and behave in a less-than-kind way to my daughter. What I do now is talk to my daughter after I’ve treated her in an unloving or hurtful way. I do my best to clarify for her what I was actually angry about and take responsibility for my behavior, instead of blaming her or life or someone else. I then clearly state the truth and affirm her steadfast lovability (since in my angry moments what I say and do often sends her the message that she’s “wrong”). I then ask for her forgiveness and redouble my efforts at expressing my anger without unintentionally doing harm to anyone else, especially her, in the process.

Fully human, in all ways

Being a parent has given me glimpses into myself that have sometimes been hard to stomach. Even though I love my daughter more than anyone else in this world and she truly is easy to be with at nearly all times, when my anger occasionally explodes, I behave in ways I deeply regret. I’ve been ashamed to hear the judgmental tone of voice or the mean-spirited words I say when I launch into a tirade. I’ve been horrified when I’ve shoved a toy into my daughter’s hands as I vented my irritation at her repeated “whiny” requests. I’ve been shocked to feel a desire to scream at her or otherwise “make her” stop doing whatever I feel so annoyed about. I’m not a child abuser, yet I have behaved in ways that are not acceptable to me. While I want to honor my humanity and have the space to be angry, I don’t believe it’s okay for my behavior to be harmful — emotionally or physically — to anyone else, and certainly not to the person I love more than any other human being.

Before earning the title of “mommy,” I considered myself a “good” person and thought that being seen as “nice” was a great compliment. Truthfully, however, I now know we all have “good” and “bad” within us and we are not exclusively one or the other. We are human — light and dark, strong and weak, noble and wicked. One upside of this discovery is that I’m now more accepting of others and am becoming gentler with myself. I’m more willing to be self-revealing even when I’d prefer to keep my “warts” hidden. I’m less likely to either put myself on a pedestal for my “laudable” behavior or mentally beat myself up for “despicable” conduct.

Though I wish I had gained this wisdom without such dark moments, the truth is that seeing my shadow has awakened me to who I really am and reinforced my intention to behave in a loving, peaceful way with my daughter and all others. “Good” and “nice,” still hold a lot of allure for me, but I’m starting to feel comfortable with the humble title of “Human Being.”

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APBC - Authentic Parenting

Visit Living Peacefully with Children and Authentic Parenting to find out how you can participate in next month’s Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival, when we discuss breastfeeding!

 

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon July 27 with all the carnival links.)

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