Author’s Note: If you’ve experienced emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. If you’re experiencing domestic violence or emotional abuse, you can also call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
Growing up in an emotionally dysfunctional family, I didn’t learn healthy skills for coping, communication, or relationships. What was modeled for me (and done to me) was screaming, shaming, manipulation, threats, physical violence, and things being thrown and slammed around. Looking back now, I believe I’ve been struggling with anxiety and depression for most of my life, and I have no doubt that “nurture” played a large role in that. Childhood trauma can even alter DNA, so “nurture” could have even impacted “nature”. As my life progressed, loss, abuse, and more unhealthy relationships continued to influence how I dealt with the world, especially when anxious or depressed. ADHD is another contributing factor to my already short fuse and difficulties with emotional self-regulation. As an adult, my depression and anxiety often manifest as irritability, being easily frustrated, and anger. The link between anger and depression/anxiety has been studied quite a bit, but many people are surprised to find that those conditions can manifest in that way.
Being the mom you want to be—a gentle, mindful parent who builds their child up emotionally—is HARD when you’re fighting against your brain chemistry and patterns ingrained in you since childhood. My kids became “easy targets” for yelling, shaming, and rudeness.
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults.” (F. Douglass)
This was heartbreaking to me because I was determined to do better for my kids. I wasn’t the mom I wanted to be. I wasn’t the mom they deserved. I was falling apart. So, I dedicated myself to rebuild and improve my emotional health and skills. I began regularly going to counseling to start working through my issues and learning those healthy skills that I was lacking. I read (and re-read) a great book called, The Mom I Want to Be: Rising Above Your Past to Give Your Kids a Great Future. I’ve heard wonderful things about Giving The Love That Heals but haven’t gotten to that on my reading list yet! Also, a website that I’ve found to be helpful in my efforts to stop yelling is The Orange Rhino.
To help manage my anxiety and depression, I prioritize self-care, including alone time, exercising, and eating healthier. I was on antidepressants for several years but have now been off them for several years for various reasons. Instead of pharmaceuticals, I now focus on proper nutrition, sleep, exercise, and natural, holistic supplements; I feel this is the best choice for me right now.
I’m not “cured”. I’ll always struggle with anger and my reactions to and interactions with my kids. I fail every day, often multiple times. I’m appreciative of my oldest, now in 4th grade, calling me out if I’m unnecessarily harsh. It’s quite humbling to have your firstborn reproachfully say, “Mommy, you don’t need to use that voice with me.” Even my middle son will say, “You didn’t need to get snotty.” So, I keep trying to do better. I talk to them about my struggles with calming my emotions/reactions. When I’m disrespectful towards them or yell, I try to always apologize. I might say something like, “I’m sorry I snapped at you. I didn’t get much sleep last night, so I’m having a hard time today, but I shouldn’t talk to you like that no matter what I have going on.” I’ve even put myself in time out on our little “Time Out” bench (now a “putting-on-shoes” bench)! I’m also working hard to instill “emotional intelligence” in them so that they can express themselves in a healthy way, cope with their emotions, and have healthy relationships.
Want to work on your anger? Here are some things that help me be less of a “Mad Mama”.
- Self-care, especially exercising, is a proven way to improve our stress response. Your coping skills will also dramatically benefit from proper nutrition, enough quality sleep, and regularly doing whatever recharges you (alone time, time with friends, time pursuing a passion/hobby, etc.).
- Have a power word (or short phrase) that you can use to stop yourself when you’re reacting poorly to your kids and getting angry. You’ll say this word in your head (or out loud) as your brain’s “stop sign” when your anger starts revving up. Choose a word that has meaning to you and represents what you desire for your parenting and relationship with your kids. Some ideas: love, respect, kind, gentle. Mine is “respect”.
- Give yourself a moment (or twenty!) to process before you react. Do some deep breathing while you take your mental “time out”. This will help curb explosive, emotionally-charged reactions and allow you to respond more logically and respectfully so that you don’t escalate the situation or wound the other people in the situation with your “in the heat of the moment” anger. You may even need to physically remove yourself from the area to best clear your mind. Getting some quick exercise like a walk or jumping jacks helps, too!
- You’re in charge. You choose how things impact you. You choose your reaction. Making a choice to respond respectfully, instead of reacting with unhinged anger, is HARD, but it is in your control.
- Forgive yourself. Beating yourself up and feeling ashamed accomplishes nothing and won’t help you move toward a healthier relationship with your kids. You’re not a terrible person. You’re not unworthy to be their parent. If your kids are old enough, share a bit with them about the struggles you have with your brain and emotions and how hard you’re trying to not react with anger. Apologize to them when you fail.
I’ll say it again; all of this is HARD. It’s worth every ounce of effort, and the more you try, the more those negative habits and reactions will be replaced by positive, healthy ones. Keep trying. You’re worth the effort, and so are your kids.
(Author’s Note: When you’re angry, if you’re physically violent, emotionally abusive, self-destructive [e.g. binge-eating or abusing substances], or feel like you might become so, I urge you to get mental health support right away.)