Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How To Manage Anger As A Parent

Here is an example of a mother who shares her experience about losing her temper with her children on a family vacation: (shared in the May 2011 Good Housekeeping magazine by Julie Taylor)

“My husband, our two kids and I were enjoying an idyllic trip to Hawaii, and taking in the beauty of the cliffs and coastline. And then my son threw a water bottle from the back seat towards my husband who was driving. It hit the windshield and made a ferocious bang. By some miracle we didn’t crash but we did lose control . . . both my husband and I started ranting, raving, screaming, threatening: “Why would you do that. . . don’t you know we could have been killed? Here we are taking you on the vacation of a lifetime, and you throw a water bottle for no reason?” And on and on we went, spewing way more venom that our preschooler could ever deserve or even comprehend for that matter.

Tears began rolling down our son’s cheeks, and his lip quivered as he fought back his sobs. After what seemed like an eternity to him, we calmed down and continued on our way, and I tried to bury the incident in the back of my mind.

I had almost forgotten all about it when, a few weeks later, I replayed our Hawaii-trip video. There I was, recording a waterfall out the window of the car. I tucked the camera into its bag - accidentally leaving it still recording – and then the “water bottle incident” occurred. Though the screen was black, I heard my husband and myself screaming at our son, badgering him, shaming him. Then it was my turn to fight back tears. How could I have freaked out like that in front of my kids? The rant sounded so much more vicious and vile than I remembered its having been, but there it was on tape—proof that I was a bad mom. I may have erased that incident from the vacation video, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to erase it from my memory.”

Like it or not, most of us parents flip out in front of our dear children from time to time. Sometimes the anger is aimed at them, other times not, but it’s almost always a deeply unsettling experience. Fortunately, there are simple, sometimes surprising steps you can take to repair the damage, not to mention steps that can be taken to avoid meltdowns in the future.

The high price of losing it on a regular basis in front of your kids can cause some real damage to their psyches. Kids that live with parents who show a lot of anger end up with less empathetic children. These kids are more aggressive and more depressed than peers from calmer families, and they perform worse in school. Anger has a way of undermining a kid’s ability to adapt to the world. There is research to support that the younger the kid the bigger the impact on the child because of being around intense anger on a regular basis.

However, the occasional, non abusive freak-out is generally much less damaging than regular fireworks, which sends a child the message that he or she is not safe and that there’s something wrong with him. That said, kids can actually learn an important lesson from seeing you lose your temper and then regain your cool. “this provides an opportunity to show kids that we all get angry, but what really counts is how we repair things afterward,” says McKay.

If your anger has boiled over, the most important thing to do now is to own up to what you’ve done wrong. Don’t give into the temptation to blame your child for triggering your outburst. “Say, I am very disappointed at your carelessness, but I shouldn’t have yelled like that. It was wrong for me to lose it in that way, and I am very sorry. Don’t over-do the apology or you can make a kid feel as if he’s truly been victimized. Then promise that you will try your best not to do it again. Comfort your child as needed and then move on.

People who live together get angry sometimes. Sometimes fighting between parents can be destructive. Couples can demonstrate emotional maturity when they take accountability for their conflict and apologize to each other and the kids for yelling. It is helpful if the parents offer reassurance and show forgiveness towards the spouse. It makes the child feel safe in seeing that there can still be love expressed even if there was a conflict. Then commit as a couple to handle other disagreements and fighting somewhere else without the kids. No need to drag kids deeper into your drama.

It is okay to give the reason for your anger, however; not a long list, but at least acknowledge that you were angry and then apologize for the way you expressed it. “Emphasize that you would never want them to act that way.” Also say you are sorry if your outburst scared or embarrassed them. (Let’s face it you probably did). Explain that you let your emotions get the best of you, and that you’ll handle it better next time. And then comes the real challenge: making sure that you do something to improve the way you handle your anger.

In our next post we will identify how to tell if you have an anger management problem and what you can do about it, but for now, know that even parents can be forgiven. We do not have perfect children and we are not perfect parents. We are all learning from our mistakes. In our parenting there are gifts in our imperfection, and we can help our children learn important lessons from seeing parents lose their temper, regain their cool and then work to make things good again.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Generational Patterns Part 3

Some of the generational patterns that have been passed on in families are beliefs about women and mothering. Different cultures, societies, and families have varying definitions about what it means to be a “good mother”. These expectations are linked to cultural and family expectations.

In our society, women link certain aspects of their self-esteem to their role as a woman and as a mother. Oftentimes women in our day and age place certain expectations towards self that are unrealistic. Mothers put a lot of pressure on themselves to be everything to everybody and in doing so, often judge or criticize themselves as women and as mothers, especially if they perceive they are falling short.

These beliefs are so rigid that if we, as women, are not living up to these expectations then we feel that we are failing. Living with this pressure to meet unrealistic expectations can weaken us in our mothering and undermine the work we were born to do as women.

Generational patterns are the spoken and unspoken rules that are modeled to the children that grow up to be parents. Our mother’s patterns of behavior and communication, verbal and non-verbal were modeled to her by her mother. These patterns are linked to cultural and family expectations.

Some unrealistic patterns or beliefs about mothering that become underlying stressors for women are:
• “My house is supposed to always be clean.”
• “Laundry is supposed to have an end.”
• “My body is supposed to look like what is presented in the media.”
• “Good mothers never get mad.”
• “Good mothers never need a break.”
• “Mothers are supposed to make everyone happy.”

Becoming aware of these deep rooted family patterns means we can let go of unrealistic expectations that are no longer useful. It means that we understand that what we are offering as a mother doesn’t have to match those that have gone before us or those presently living. It means that we see our weaknesses and our strengths in our mothering, instead of only seeing our weaknesses. When we can let go of these deep rooted family patterns we begin to notice and appreciate what we are doing that is working and what it is that we do well as mothers. This increases our confidence as a mother and thus our mothering skills improve.

We need benevolence and tolerance towards our self and other mothers as well. All of us are doing the best we can with what we have. Guilt only paralyzes us and causes us to feel powerless with our mothering. Let go of guilt and release what you don’t get done in the day, trusting that the dawn will bring a new start.

We can as mothers work with diligence and be committed to letting go of perfectionism. As we show tolerance and acceptance to ourselves it is then modeled to our children. Acceptance brings self-esteem and confidence. Learning to love ourselves and being patient with our mothering takes practice.