The One I Said I Had to Write Before I Could Write Anything Else

(This post might not make much sense to some people. It might seem like a rambling, self-indulgent mess. I understand this but I’m publishing it anyway because it’s therapeutic for me, and because someone else out there might be struggling in a similar fashion with this particular challenge of parenthood and hey, there’s strength in numbers. However, I’m choosing not to publish the first few paragraphs I wrote for this post, which described in detail a recent incident that illustrates my current problem. I decided I don’t want my kids to read such a harsh memory sometime down the line when they stumble upon Mom’s blog — which will probably be way sooner than I presently imagine.)

I always thought I was a laid-back person; my whole life people have said that. “God, you’re so laid-back.” “Everything just rolls right off your back. Do you ever get mad?” I used to answer, “Not really; it takes a lot for me to get mad,” but I can’t say that anymore.

Because now that I’m a mom, I seem to get angry at the drop of a hat.

I know it’s not reasonable to believe I should never get mad at my kids. I know this because they're kids, which means they’re going to yank on the dog’s tail for the millionth time after I told them not to. They’re not always going to be quiet when I want them to, or stay still for a diaper change. At some point just about every day, they’re going to piss me off. What I have trouble with is how assertive — and loud — I get when I’m angry.

I’m ashamed at how often I suddenly reach the end of my fuse and lash out at my two little ones. I do not physically harm them (and sometimes that takes a fair amount of control on my part), but I know my rage hurts them. I know my tone of voice, my shouting, my “I don’t care about you right now” body language, and my twisted angry face hurt them. And each time it fills me with remorse because, obviously, I do care about them, more than anything in this world, and I have no idea why I can’t demonstrate that love all the time.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying I don’t think you should ever yell at your kids, or reprimand them, or send them to Time Out. I think discipline is healthy for kids, limits are necessary, and trust is gained when the child knows implicitly that the parent is in charge. But I’m not talking about discipline. I’m talking about unnecessary, unhealthy anger and intimidation.

When I heard that old “Being a parent is hard work” cliche before I had children, I assumed it was referring to the physically demanding aspects of parenting — the fact that someone is constantly needing something from you, whether it be a diaper change or a bottle of milk or a hug or a tickle or a sock put back on a bare foot or a clean sheet or clean spoon or clean slate from his last tantrum over absolutely nothing. (Whew!) I had no idea that the “hard work” might actually be mental and emotional work a parent does on oneself, striving to make oneself a better person and, therefore, a better parent. More open. Centered. Balanced. Creative. Spiritual. And the hardest of all, for me — more patient.

I know people without kids also work to improve themselves. I’m just sayin’ there’s this weird inner spotlight that’s clicked on when you have a child since you are from that moment on not only an individual but also An Example. Along with your new baby you get a white-hot light that beams directly on you, shining its light in the darkest crevices of your psyche for the rest of your life. Instantly you become the star of The Parent Show, and you have a captive audience All The Freakin’ Time in the form of a pint-sized human being who’s using way more brain power than you are to soak up everything you do and say like a sponge. (Break a leg!)

This aspect of parenthood has delighted and frightened me. I’ve been trying diligently to embrace more positivity in my life. I’ve worked on judging less and accepting more. I’ve strengthened my relationship with God. But I am having a really unexpectedly difficult time building up my patience reserves. And on my worst days, I fear I’m losing Kostyn to my stress and my temper. Every moment that I react to him with anger instead of understanding, his identity and self-worth are molded and reshaped. And every day I hate myself a little bit more for not being sane enough to count to 10 like other parents, for not forcing myself to go into another room and scream into a pillow when I want to scream at him.

I could pick a dozen excuses for why my stress levels are fraying the edges of my nerves, making me prone to flying off the handle when my kids’ behavior doesn’t match my expectations or desires. I could say I’m overtired and sleep-deprived. I could whine that I’m alone with them too much. I don’t have a hobby or any type of outlet outside the home to offer a little space between me and my boys now and then. I could even point out that I haven’t been physically healthy in awhile.

While those may be contributing factors, I still have the intelligence to choose a reaction to a situation rather than let it choose me. In fact, it’s my job as a parent to do just that. I can’t be the 2-year-old who throws a fit when something doesn’t go my way, because I have to be the mother of a 2-year-old who throws a fit when something doesn’t go his way.

Through a lot of reflection, study and prayer, at least I have a grasp on the problem. I realize I have trouble accepting the *feeling* of anger, of disempowerment, without needing to bring someone down in order to lift myself back up to the power position. Now I must find the strength in a heated moment to validate that feeling of anger -- since feelings aren’t bad or good, they just are -- without needing to turn it into any form of negative action (unless one is truly called for, of course).

So I’m working on asserting my patience to control the situation instead of my raised voice. I’m working on redirecting bad behavior calmly, or just allowing the moment to move forward peacefully. This might seem like second nature to many, but to me it’s hard work. It’s also extremely rewarding.

Sometimes I fail and sometimes I succeed, but I keep trying. It feels very powerful to choose one’s reaction rather than to be a slave to one’s struggling ego. And while I work on it, I wonder. I wonder if there are other parents out there like me. Or if all parents are like me. Part of me hopes so, and part of me hopes not.

One thing’s for sure, though: Being a parent is hard work.

[Postscript: Interesting that this article on yelling parents was published today, right after my post. Made me feel even worse for having this problem. But again, I'm working on it.]


Heather said...

Oh my goodness Robyn its like you are writing about my life, my trials and tribulations as a parent. I struggle with patience on a daily basis. I find myself snapping constantly. Every time I snap I find myself apologizing and telling myself I need to work on it, and to no avail, it seems like the next day is just more of the same.Like you its nothing physical, but I find myself getting loud and saying hurtful things, even at times telling her to leave me alone. It's refreshing to know that this is probably more common than we think, and I hate to say it, but I find comfort in knowing that a woman who I admire (you) struggles with it as well.

Please let me know if you find something that works well for you, as maybe it will help me. Bill leaves Monday for a month, and I worry about how frayed I will be by the time he comes back.

All this rambling just to say that I feel ya, I relate, and thank you for letting me know that I am not alone. Hopefully we can help each other through this.

Heather said...

WOW! Are you reading my mind?

Today, Griffin was actually "being good" (is a 2-month-old anything else?) but I'm trying to meet a tight deadline. And even though I know his routine, I still got angry with him for fussing when I knew he would fuss! I got angry with a baby?! What's wrong with me?

When I was a kid, I used to get so mad at my brother, I would punch my mom's throw pillows with all of my strength. I started doing that again. It helps. A lot. But it doesn't help the tremendous amount of guilt I feel for even needing to channel my anger and frustration.

Thanks for letting me know I'm not alone.

Robyn said...

Thanks, guys. It's really very comforting to know I'm not alone.

Lyn said...

Ironically, I read this just after having spent some time "working on myself". I am currently in the middle of a holistic health program that I started with the goal of losing weight in mind. Interestingly, I have found more and more often that my personal problem is anger. Before I read this, I had just finished writing a visualiation about what a day in my perfect life would be. In two pages of writing, I only mentioned my weight once but more than a half a dozen times I mentioned my attitude.

For me, it seems that as long as I can hold the anger at bay, everything is fine. But when I allow it to unleash, WATCH OUT. The intensity is high and it will be for the rest of the day and anyone around me had better run for cover. Just last night, I was cleaning paint off of our kitchen floor. Ryan was sitting in the living room clicking away on the computer. I said, with disdain dripping from each word "Well, THAT's helpful"! His response was "History has taught me to leave you alone when you are angry". I hate it when he is right!

The part about it that bothers me the most is how much I resemble my mother in those moments. Despite my valiant attempts, I have become her in more ways than I care to admit.

Although I am sure it was hard to share, I believe that your kids will appreciate reading this post one day....and it will probably mean different things to them at different times. I wish I had something like this to read from my mom...

And just one more said something about being intelligent and being able to make a choice about how to behave in any given moment. Well...I think that is the reason God put us here. To work toward being "better"...not best, but just better. Emotions and actions and feelings are sometimes as involuntary as breathing. Ever read "Blink" my Malcolm Gladwell? In it he talks about "rapid cognition"..."When you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking of buying, or read the first few sentences of a book, your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions. Well, "Blink" is a book about those two seconds, because I think those instant conclusions that we reach are really powerful and really important and, occasionally, really good" (from For me, it was an affirmation that I am not always capable of stopping before I act...sometimes the mind just does for us...

Anonymous said...

Even though I read this post from the perspective of a dad of a 2-year old and a 7-week old, both boys, I can totally relate. First, the things you mentioned are not excuses, but they do contribute to us being stressed and stretched to our limits. And since we are human, something has to give somewhere. We can only handle so much. But last night as I was administering the umpteenth nebulizer treatment to get our 2-year old's asthma under control, I started thinking about this issue and came up with this analogy - "snapping" at our kids is like a scraped knee. We don't like to see it happen and we even may feel guilty about it for a few minutes. But the kid cries, gets a hug and some kisses, maybe a few minutes in mom or dad's arms sitting on the couch, and within a few minutes it's back to normal playtime. No long-term harm done. Yelling at children is normal (albeit not enjoyable or proud) behavior. But as long as you don't stay mad at them or cause physical harm and quickly sit them down and explain what happened and why and that we still love them, it's ok. Kids are remarkably resilient and quickly forget these "episodes." And from what I have read on your blog, you are not a bad parent and are doing nothing different then anyone else who is trying to figure this out as we go. While still trying to balance work, maintaining a home, dealing with Grandmas who know it all, worrying about the economy, etc. It doesn't mean we all shouldn't try to be better but I don't believe we should beat ourselves up over it either.

Steve C.

Robyn said...

Thanks, Lyn and Steve, for sharing your insights. After I read the NYT article I added in the postscript last night, I felt like crap all over again for dealing with this issue. At least I know I'm in good company. :)

(Steve - Congrats on the new baby!)