My beloved car had just blown its engine, pregnancy was making
me crazy, and we had no money in our pockets (or anywhere else).
When I slammed our front door, I knocked the only plant I had
managed to keep alive all season off the windowsill. Just as
the pottery hit the floor and cracked, so did I. I lay face
down in black potting soil and pottery shards and let my Labrador
lick the tears off my dirty face.
by Susie Cortright
That was just before the birth of our first child. Since
then, there have been countless times when I've wanted to
curl up on the carpet and scream, but the ever-watching kids
have made that a luxury I can no longer afford. Now that I
have a two-year-old, I have to struggle to not act like one.
I have to keep my temper under control.
It's more difficult now, too. One of the biggest surprises
of motherhood, many moms agree, is the absolute anger we
can feel in no time - and with very little provocation.
Start with a sleep-deprived parent, throw in a troubled
teenager, a whining child, or a colicky newborn, and even
the coolest cat may lose her mind.
Releasing our anger in the wrong ways can lead to emotional
and physical scars on our kids. When infants are shaken,
even for one heated moment, they can die. And it takes only
a moment to harm their little souls. Weeks ago, I snapped
at my two-year-old. It was an instance that I thought would
be forgotten after a hug and an apology. Until, that is,
the next day when she kept asking, "Mommy, are you mad at
me?" Even today, she can sense irritation in just the set
of my jaw and she'll ask again. It breaks my heart to know
she must remember when mommy was mad. It proves how
sensitive and impressionable she is and how she is always,
always watching her mommy.
As they watch, these young ones are paying particular
attention to the way we handle difficult situations. And
what we model for them will, in large part, determine their
success at controlling their own tempers as they grow up.
So, even in the face of total exasperation, we must stay
calm. For a long time, the advice has been to simply go
away for a moment and count to ten, but, as all moms know,
sometimes that's not so easy. A small child may be
frightened when mommy leaves to take a time-out. Sometimes
counting to ten just doesn't do it, and there's no time
to count to 100.
So here are a few more tips, compiled just for moms, to
help you deal with anger and stay calm with your kids.
The best time to work on staying cool is before you're hot.
*Declare a zero-tolerance policy on the out-of-control temper.*
You must decide, for yourself, that behaving this way is
simply not okay. Remind yourself that it is possible to manage
your emotions. Think back to times when you were successful at
controlling your anger. Perhaps you bit your tongue rather
than hollering at the boss. Or you were just about to let it
fly at your husband when your in-laws called and suddenly you
couldn't believe the sweetness of your own voice. See? We all
have the power to suddenly change our mood.
*Be prepared.* Lots of things can go wrong each day; be ready
for them. For example, if you've got babies, pack a bag with at
least one extra shirt for everyone (even Dad), a complete outfit
for each toddler, and several for the infants. Stow them in the
back of the car with extra diapers and plenty of baby wipes.
*Is there anything specific that triggers your anger?*
Keep a journal for those times when you feel like you're ready to
fly off the handle. Do you notice any patterns--time of day,
hunger level, lack of exercise, a full calendar? Even noise
from a TV or radio can contribute to a feeling of over-stimulation,
which can set off an emotional explosion. Create a nurturing
environment for yourself.
*Take care of yourself.* We're more likely to react to a situation
- rather than to simply act - when we haven't gotten enough
sleep or we haven't been eating right. Start your day with a light
breakfast that includes carbohydrates and protein. Then continue
to eat for energy throughout the day. More Energy for Moms
(http://www.momscape.com/energy.htm ) features information on
how to control your moods with food.
*Daily exercise* provides a physical release to help you control
anxiety and aggression throughout the day. A half-hour of
kickboxing can release tension you didn't even know you had.
I know I'm not the only mom addicted to Tae-Bo tapes. We
kick and punch our way back to sanity every afternoon.
*A regular routine of prayer and meditation* can calm a chaotic
mind. Sit quietly for at least 15 minutes a day. Practice a
few yoga stretches when things get tense.
*Decide how you'll deal with certain situations before they arise.*
What makes you want to blow your top? Whether it's toddler temper
tantrums or the preschooler's occasional whine, determine how you
will handle those things beforehand - while you're calm.
*Understand your child.* Read up on child development and put
yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself: "What's it like to be
two and not have the skills to express what you want?" "What's
it like for a newborn who finds herself with a gut-wrenching
bellyful of gas and doesn't understand why it hurts?" Kids
act the way they do for a reason. Often, there's a developmental
milestone associated with a child's behavior. Understanding the
reasons behind our kids' actions can go a long way in helping
us develop a sense of empathy, compassion and, ultimately,
IN THE HEAT OF THE MOMENT
*Take a few deep breaths.* Diaphragmatic breathing helps reduce
stress. This will also give you a time-out, long enough to make
a rational assessment of the situation and to help you regain a
sense of control.
*Visualize* yourself as the cool, calm, person you strive to be.
Whom do you know who embodies these traits? Imagine this person's
reaction to the situation.
*Stop. Think. Then speak.* Remind yourself of the importance of
keeping yourself under control. If you feel anger building inside,
don't pick up a baby. Ask for help or wait until you are calm.
*Consciously lower your voice.* Yelling will only make a child
angry and defensive, and it can scare a young child. A soft
tone says you're in control.
*Don't catastrophize.* Resist the temptation to blow something
out of proportion. Avoid using the words "always" and "never"
when you talk to yourself and when you talk to other people.
*Distract yourself.* Is there any way you can laugh about the
situation? Ask yourself: what is the real significance of the
situation that triggered your rage? It's more important to
model a healthy approach to stress than it is to win certain
battles. Choose those battles carefully.
Afterwards, reinforce your love for the child and retreat to
assess the way you handled the situation. What did you do
right? What will you do differently next time?
Copyright 2003 Susie Cortright
About the Author
Susie Cortright is the mother of three young children,
the founder of Momscape.com, and the acclaimed author of
two books to help parents triumph over their unique life challenges:
More Energy for Moms
"Create a life of energy, passion, and joy" and Rekindling Your Romance After Kids:
"50 practical ways even for those 'I-don't-feel-sexy' days"