My Battle With Anger As a Parent

Modern Parent

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By Sylvia Emokpae

When our son was 4 months old, I was at my peak of sleep deprivation. He was at this point very reliant on the pacifier, and it kept falling out of his mouth, sending him to tears and sending me upstairs to put it back in every 20 minutes or so until I went to bed, exhausted. Nights were a battle, and he would often end up lying on my chest, where he would sleep for a couple of hours at a time, but I sadly would not.

One evening I was so frustrated as I rushed upstairs to put the pacifier back in my son’s mouth that when I did so, I was so angry it showed physically. I shoved the pacifier quite abruptly into my son’s mouth, which caused him to blink and groan out in shock.

I immediately said sorry as I caressed his face, worried I might have hurt him. My feelings of failure to help my child sleep and my own sleep deprivation were so deep-rooted that I couldn’t control my emotions — I had just lashed out at him by impulse.

I left the room to compose myself — I was panicked and trying to contain my tears. I was beating myself up for mindlessly acting out my anger against him. He was completely innocent, and I, as the primary carer of my son, started to question my own ability to be a good mother.

I went back into the room to hold him, cuddle him, and most of all, apologize profusely. I said to myself I would never, ever, take my frustrations out on him again. Andriel was fine, he had stopped crying as soon as I picked him up. Shortly afterward, he fell asleep in my arms. I sat and cuddled him for what seemed like hours before placing him back into his cot and took myself downstairs.

I told my husband what had happened, whose reaction took me by utter surprise. He wasn’t comforting or reassuring. He did not say how sorry he was that I was so sleep deprived. He did not hold my hand and tell me I was doing a great job.

He told me to get a grip on myself.

I was gobsmacked.

And then I saw the look.

The look of a protective father who would do anything to ensure his son’s safety.

I saw the face of a man who had been forced to choose between taking up the role of a supporting husband or a loving father. There was no question which he would be, and if the tables were turned, I know what I would choose too.

He would not tolerate anything that could potentially lead to physical harm to his child, and he let that message pass to me loud and clear.

As he saw me crumble in tears, he softened. He apologised for being so hard on me. Devonte knew I felt guilty, and he also knew how much I understood I could not let my anger show to our son.

He leveled with me to take control of my emotions. He held my hand as he told me that in his eyes, my action to be cold with my son was taking away love, thus making love conditional, which it absolutely is not. He would not let this go lightly.

An abrupt movement here could cause me to lash out physically a little bit stronger next time, and before I know it, I could become a mother who hit her child. The thought of this terrified me. I could never, ever hurt him. The guilt I felt was immense.

In any case — I couldn’t blame my husband for being protective over his son. He was right, and I knew it.

Devonte made a big deal out of this to make sure I understood the gravity of the situation. There is a slippery slope — and not just one where I lash out violently at my son, but one where I become passive-aggressive towards him or angry for little to no reason, all of which could affect our son’s self-esteem and his own ability to cope with anger.

We decided that it was time for us to get in some help to sleep train Andriel, and in turn, I took the opportunity to begin a journey of self-growth and mindfulness.

I needed to learn how to cope with all my feelings, but most of all, my anger.

Getting to the Bottom of Anger

I still get angry, as does everyone. I believe my level of anger is average. I don’t become violent, never have — but I can be impulsive and snappy, and I cannot accept it.

I am learning not to take my anger out on anyone, especially my son. My anger is not his problem, even when I feel the cause of my anger is related to him.

I have learned that, more often than not, my anger has nothing to do with our son, and his actions that lead to my ultimate annoyance are just the tip of the iceberg. It means it is easier to become angry at him than deal with my own issues.

In the same way that happiness comes from within, so does anger.

I have some demons to battle, and they are being confronted one by one, so I can move forward. Only then can I teach my son how to deal with anger.

Recently, I realized that my resentment towards my husband had nothing to do with him. The seeming inequality between us — where he works full time and I run the house, was due to a worldwide view of how mothers are seen today vs. how mothers used to be seen.

My issue was digesting the current dynamics of our household and the constant comparison to society’s expectations. It was a hard pill to swallow that I am jealous of my husband’s freedom.

All of this accumulated anger overwhelmed me to the point it caused me to react quite boldly one day and walk away from my son when we were walking to the beach. This forced my husband, who was a few steps behind us, to put his phone away and catch up to Andriel while I took myself to the beach from the car, a 5-minute walk, on my own, without warning.

Thinking about what I really wanted rather than what society was making me think I wanted was another battle. I absolutely want to do something with my time other than being a mother, but I don’t want to sacrifice any time with my son. The choice I made to quit my job was on me — not on my husband. Writing accommodates that eager feeling to do something but not so much that I feel the stress of a full-time job. When he’s ready, Andriel will go to daycare a morning or two a week, giving me a little bit of the “freedom” I seek.

Learning From Anger

He’s not yet 2, but Andriel shows anger too.

In the same way, I cannot suppress my anger; I cannot let Andriel suppress his — he must show it for us to recognise it and then teach him how to manage it positively.

I watch as Andriel tries to pull his train along the wooden train track, and he gets frustrated when one of the trains falls off. The first time it happens, he gets frustrated and waits for me to fix it eagerly. Shortly afterward, it happens again, and Andriel gets increasingly angry at his lack of ability to pull the train forward gently.

As another train carriage falls off the track, he throws all the carriages, scatters them around the floor, and then proceeds to pull the train track apart. He looks at me and screams with fury.

I am getting annoyed at his reaction. I fight the urge to tell him off. Neither of us is managing our anger well. I am annoyed because I don’t necessarily know how to validate his feelings while reminding him that physical lashing out is not tolerated in this house.

My reaction to him is just as much of a lesson as the rule I have set.

The next time this happens, I am prepared — I have seen it before, and now I know that this is my son’s reaction when he becomes frustrated. As he manages to push the train off the track again, I gently rub his arm as I tell him I need his help to put the train back on the track. I thank him for his input as he passes me each carriage. Andriel is annoyed, but there is no lashing out. Soon, we are playing again.

Andriel attempts to pull the train carriages over the bridge, but the train track breaks apart right underneath the train. I tell him to push the train backward so I can attempt to fix the track. He does so slowly — but in vain — the train falls off the track completely.

Andriel looks at me in shock and yells out, but I tell him, “I’m sorry darling, it’s OK, we can fix it.” He starts to hand me each piece, but I gesture to place the carriages down himself with my guidance. We are back and running a few seconds later.

The next time the train comes off the track, he puts it back on himself independently without prompt and continues playing with a smile on his face.

Andriel is not only practising fine motor skills — using his hands to manage his delicate toy gently — but the art of problem-solving and avoiding anger altogether.

I can use this to help me help him deal with his anger in a different setting.

Takeaway

To this day, I still think about what happened that evening with the pacifier, no matter how small it may seem. However, I don’t consider that as a bad thing — I have forgiven myself for that. The constant reminder of what it could potentially mean to lose control of my feelings means I work that much harder to keep them in check.

Recognising anger as soon as it is felt and constructively doing something about it teaches me (and my son) how to problem-solve and make the best out of a situation.

But it reminds me of something else, too.

To fulfill the role of a good, loving mother, I have to be a good, loving person to myself. And when my son was 4 months old, that meant getting regular good sleep. At the start of the year, it meant dealing with jealousy and resentment.

Today it means a constant state of awareness of my feelings and a deep look at myself and my demons and my dreams.

Looking after myself has never before been so important. If there is anything you can love more than yourself, it is your children. But there is a catch-22 here because to love your children by doing right by them, you can’t not love yourself.

Because when you don’t love yourself, you aren’t living up to your full potential. Your children see it and learn from that. They learn that they too cannot live up to their full potential and pass down the same undealt with feelings, no matter how much you claim to love them.

Don’t pass your demons on to your children, but instead, show them how to beat them.

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