“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” Jack Kerouac
I’ve written about anger a couple of times. I grew up in a house where anger was unpredictable and scary. When I was a child I felt that this anger in our household which was directed towards me was often not actually about me – it felt unfair. Yet, I couldn’t fight against it, I couldn’t explain myself or justify my position to an angry adult. I told myself many times that I would not hit my children, or yell at them, or scare them; and that I would listen to them when they wanted to explain their apparent ‘bad’ behaviour. I’ve kept a lot of these promises, but not all of them. Children have a way of forcing you to deal with those issues hidden in the back of your head, and it’s not by controlling their behaviour, it’s by controlling and understanding your own.
I was/am a loved child. A wanted and cared for child. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t handed some of my parent’s own issues that they hadn’t resolved. I’m seeking to resolve my own issues, I’m sure some of them will be handed down. I’m even more sure my kids will develop their own. But I want them to see me taking responsibility for my own actions which affect their lives. That matters to me.
Without further ado, my most recent, but probably not the last article on mental health and trying really hard to be a peaceful parent to tiny weirdo’s on very little sleep 😉
“Our experiences in childhood are still part of our lives, they inform our unconscious reactions and ability to respond to parenting stress. We may think that we’ve left those experiences behind, perhaps through therapy and self-care, perhaps through time and distance. However, there is nothing like raising children to teach you that you really don’t know anything, even about yourself.
Everyone has voices from childhood in their head. Some of them are comforting and speak to us of our strength and bravery. Others shake us to our core and cause us to whisper to our children in fierce voices “I will not do that to you.” Sometimes we do it anyway.
Why? Why do we become the very thing we swore never to become?”
Continue reading psychology stuff and how I chucked a tantrum here –
When one of your greatest fears is hurting your children the way you were hurt, then facing that fear is important. I do this by accepting anger in a way that invites connection instead of dismembers it. When I take responsibility for my feelings – explaining them to my children, and myself; when I bend down and say ‘I’m sorry’ – it means I am not continuing the cycle. I am breaking it. I am smashing it. Previous experiences in life still affect my state of mind. Everyone has echoes of the past in their head, some are comforting and speak to us of our strength and bravery. Others shake us to our core and cause us to whisper to our children in fierce voices ‘I will not do that to you.’
But, sometimes we do it anyway. Or a version thereof.
It’s usually the tiniest thing, something I glide past effortlessly most days. A request for a sandwich in squares instead of already chopped triangles. The ‘Mummy! Mummy! Mummy!’ generally only utilised to make sure I’m aware of my child’s continued existence (I see you child! I see you!) The abandonment of the washing up half way through in order to fix the delicate toy that will undoubtedly break in the next ten seconds; but cannot be thrown out or glued together. Today though, there is no gliding past these things, today – it grates.
So I lose it. Shouting, screaming – the works. Hello Shouty Mummy!
This is when I realise that I’m emotionally done. I have nothing left to meet anybody else’s needs, and finishing the washing up is the most important thing in the universe right now because it means that I finished something I started. And I haven’t finished anything I’ve started in a really long time. All the frustration that I regularly put to the side – out of love and conviction that I’m doing the right thing, and recognition that my tiny people are in fact, tiny, and they are doing the best they can. All of that knowledge can fuck right off because right now, right NOW, I’m done. I’m angry, I’m upset and underneath it all I’m just sad.
Because I thought I’d be better at this. I thought I’d be able to control it.
Sometimes I felt it creeping up, lead inside my bones over the course of a few days. Weighing me down when I glance around the house and decide that yes, living in filth for another day is totally acceptable.
Perhaps I didn’t notice it and felt like Mother Theresa, right up until the moment I said things that Mother Theresa is unlikely to have said. In that moment – all that neglect of my priorities, all the drudgery and exhaustion that is the mainstay of my day – it all explodes.
I used to be scared of anger, getting angry was a failure and it meant that I was that thing I feared – a bad parent. The thing is though, kids can be annoying. It’s kind of their job. They feel their own needs rise up and burn through them and they must be met right NOW! Everything is a potential calamity and a need not met, well that might mean that it could never be met? And me, as Mummy – I am the touchstone for this well of need. I am the repository for all emotions in all circumstances, even the ones that happened hours ago and had nothing to do with me (especially the ones that happened hours ago and had nothing to do with me). Pretending to not feel frustration or anger involved channelling Mary Poppins, who in the book was kind of a jerk. Guess what happened when I pretended to be Mary Poppins? I became kind of a jerk too. But without an awesome outfit. Which is even more sad.
Apologise. If you were a Shouty Mummy, own it. The irony of yelling at a child ‘Stop yelling!’ is fairly evident. Mistakes happen, fixing them is rarer though.
Acknowledge your emotions. They are valid. A fantastic phrase is ‘I’m feeling frustrated, this isn’t working, lets fix it’ rather than ‘Oh my goodness small child what the fuck? What the actual fuck?’ Or say one of them out loud and one in your head. I’ll let you choose.
Let them see you put yourself first. I have a coffee rule. There are to be no shenanigans until I’ve finished my coffee. My children skip around me and peer into my cup, but they wait. The visual of the coffee disappearing helps them understand that they won’t have to wait forever, and seeing me look after myself (those few minutes are gold) teaches them that I’m important too.
Do not become part of your child’s emotions: let them be angry and frustrated without falling into it with them. I tell my children I love them all the time, I don’t say ‘even when you’re angry’ I say ‘I love you when you’re angry.’ Anger is ok now, I can deal with anger. I can see it for what it is, frustration at something not working out the way my child wants it to. It is not aimed at me, or about me. I look at my children in the throes of their anger and I think ‘They are so powerful.’ They pit themselves against the world with determination written on cheeks that are still chubby with babyhood. I wait for the storm to pass and we talk about it: ‘You were so angry! What was happening?’
It works. During a night of infinite wake-ups after a day of stress I put my son back into bed, less lovingly that usual, a gruff Shouty Mummy -‘it’s bedtime!’ ‘Mummy’ said his small voice ‘I love you when your angry.’ I laughed. I laughed because he’d shown me that his childhood was different. Anger wasn’t scary. Anger was just something that people did sometimes when things weren’t going their way, and you loved them through it.
Some feelings and experiences don’t ever truly disappear; they just speak louder and softer at different times. They leave us with different capacities for responding to the needs of our kids. This is ok, it is human. To pretend we don’t have feelings or that they don’t matter is unfair, both to ourselves and our children. We can change the story for our small people. We can talk about Shouty Mummy and what she did wrong, and also what she needs. Name your emotions, put yourself first in whatever tiny ways you can and don’t take on your kids feelings. Shouty Mummy deserves that, and so do you.