open mouthed anger

It wasn’t pretty. Sitting here now I won’t even try to paint rainbows and unicorns over my darkest parenting moments. In the thick of it, my husband was the CEO of a tech startup and I was working to grow my own Sleep Consulting business while caring for our two toddler girls, a tantrum-prone four year old and a fiercely independent two and a half year old. When asked how I was doing, I usually deflected with humor, “I’m doing great, very excited to lovingly prepare yet another well-balanced meal for my children to make a mess of. How are you?” More often than I care to admit, I broke down crying to kind strangers. Some days, I could be heard screaming at my children from two houses down. I tell you, it was not pretty.

I could not seem to control when or how many times a day my anger got the best of me. I felt completely mortified and yet, day after day, I couldn’t seem to change. This brought on particularly messy brand of shame for me: a closet perfectionist. I’m an educator, so I know all the information in the parenting books stacked on my bedside. I’m a yoga instructor, I know all about calming. I’m a doula, I know all about “breathing through the pain”. I’m a sleep specialist, I know all about the importance of self care and rest. With all the knowledge and experience in my head, why was I still silently fuming at my husband for days on end and stuffing my children in their rooms for time outs that never seemed to work?

I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t been given a break. After a brutal day, I curled into the fetal position and declared to my husband that our children deserved a better mother than me. He promptly booked me a remote AirBnB for the next week and reassured me he and the kids would be fine without mom for a few days. He said it nicely, but at the time I took insult to his suggestion to get away into the woods and do some soul searching, “There’s no wifi, unplug. Go read some books and really take some time for you.” I was skeptical. Was this what I really needed to heal; three solid days with no work, no kids, no relationships to manage, no people to please? The answer is YES! It was a gift, and I came back truly changed.

I listened to podcasts on creating boundaries, read up on mindful parenting, wrote in my journal, ate alone in greasy diners, shed plenty of tears, took photographs of the snowy landscape and slept ten to eleven hours each night. When I returned to the real world, these were the mantras that changed my life:

I Allow Myself To Be Supported

It took 40 years for me to finally let the people who love and support me do just that. Why was I so caught up in having every answer and running every errand and baking every birthday cake from scratch? Maybe I thought that people would love me less if I didn’t. I now know this is actually NOT true! Here are some things I’ve shifted since then:

  • Meal planning is now a joint effort, and I only shop once a week. Baking is out of the question.
  • My girls are in childcare for a portion of every weekday, giving me time to work without interruption.  
  • I put my work and electronics away for dinner and bedtimes so that I can listen, play, and actually enjoy these miniature versions of myself.  
  • I created space in my schedule to take yoga classes three days a week, which was not easy. But, guess what? Showering and toenail clipping is NOT soul-feeding “self care” for me, it’s basic hygiene.
  • My husband and I began a weekly “check-in” process to be real about what we’re thinking/feeling. We share successes and challenges and ask how we can support one-another.

I Can See My Triggers and Create Strategies to Manage Them

There were things, many things actually, that my children did every day that caused me to fly into an unexplainable rage in the space of a nanosecond. I hated thinking of them as triggers AND I hated to acknowledge I had them because I always want to present the illusion that I’ve got it all under control. Don’t we all?

Well, as parents, it’s just not possible to have everything under control. I knew that if I was going to survive with my sanity intact I had to reframe my rage and find tools to calm it. The following strategies empowered me to calm my anger more quickly in the moment and eventually to head it off before I was furious.

  • I began taking inventory of the things that caused me to go over the edge.
  • This meant that after my anger had passed I would go back and find the thing, the lightning strike to the center of my being, that caused me to lose it. I would write it on the ever growing list of triggers.
  • Later, when I had some distance between me and the event, I would reflect on WHY those words or actions made me so angry.
  • Eventually I was able to see when I was in a rage and STOP. I would stop walking or lecturing or slamming doors. This was so hard, but it was the beginning of my shift.
  • After stopping, I envisioned a tidal wave coming (and often it seemed like a tidal wave because my children might be fighting, crying hysterically, or juice may be spilling off the counter into a drawer and onto the floor. For me this is trigger number 256).  
  • I would breathe deep and imagine rooting into the sand with my feet to steady myself against the force of my feeling wave, and dig in to my desire to protect my kids from it. This visual helped me plug into what was important in that moment: my breath, my strong foundation of support and my deep unbreakable connection with my children.
  • Lastly, I am working on not judging myself and my anger. It takes serious dedication to see anger coming and head it off at the pass, then stop the normal response and practice creating a new one. Gentleness is key.

There’s a Victor Frankl quote that speaks to this, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

To the parent standing drenched on the beach, still feeling the tidal wave of rage in your bones, I reach out to you with a hug and a towel. You are not alone. Without judgement, I see you. You have your own path ahead of you, and I wonder who or what will help you build your supportive foundation. What caring routines or rituals can you put in place so that you can create the space to empower a new response?

If you can see yourself or another parent in parts of this story, please share it and leave a comment below. Anger can leave us feeling alone because we don’t know who we can trust with this tender, dark side of ourselves. Please add your voice and tell us what’s your biggest take away from this, or if there are other strategies you could contribute.