Photo by Miranda Murdock
My parents used to say things like, "There was a lot of yelling happening at our house when you were little. We're so sorry! You'll probably have some issues when you're older." That seemed laughable at the time. I got TONS of love and attention, and I generally have great memories of my childhood. But then my dad would follow it up with, "You never think you have anger issues until you have little kids." Still, I was sure that was definitely not me.
Well, here I am in my mid-30s, and I am so sad to find they were more right than I thought.
My mom was visiting last month to help me run everything while Josh was out of town…the whole week went great, and then on the last day, I lost it when a kid refused to take the bus. My mom called me out. "That's not ok." "I see all of the wonderful things too, but they can't carry the weight of your anger." I was embarrassed, humiliated, wanted to hide, cry, and give up. It made me not trust me.
But, I'm glad she said it. I needed to hear it. With the weight of a millstone, it made it clear to me that I need to make a change.
Here’s the thing…I love my kids, more than life itself. I care about raising them, and parenting them, and investing in them more than anything. It's my main priority. I consciously purpose to be patient and calm…and a lot of times I am! Actually most of the time! But things build up. I'm fine. I'm fine. I'm fine. And then I'M NOT FINE. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed, like it's all starting to spin out of control, and my voice comes out like a ROAR…Then huge regret.
Where do you even start with making a change? After I got feedback from my mom, I realized I might not have an accurate understanding of what is normal and ok. First, I needed to take stock of honestly how often it's happening. Also, I needed to do some research to understand more. When does it cross the line? And how can I possibly change?
Cue Googling things you don't even want to say out loud like "angry mom help" and "how to stop yelling." I found this course online called, "Momma's Anger Management." While I don't even want to put myself in this category or raise my hand for needing help on this particular issue, here we are! After some grief, the best I can do is be honest about where I am at and embrace my reality. Let's do this!
So I signed up right away. And it is THE BEST. It is answering all of my questions, helping me to understand where the struggle is coming from, and most importantly showing me a way out.
Here are 3 of my top takeaways.
(1) There is a difference between “mom voice” and rage.
She breaks it down into 4 different levels — mom voice, a spurt of yelling, anger venting, and ranting/raving. What level of anger is okay? There can be a bit of a gray area. Think about it, pray about it, draw a line, and set a personal boundary on what is too much. Set a goal not get to that level.
(2) Recognize my triggers.
What specifically gets me angry and pushes me over the edge? After thinking about it, it was so helpful to notice that there is a pattern. Recognize danger zones. For me? Things like…
- 4pm (#amiright!?!?)
- A crying baby (I just can’t even think straight)
- Volume level (kid chaos escalating)
- No sleep (things feel more aggravating than normal)
- Overwhelm (hours in front of me without help)
(3) How I react as a parent is directly connected to how I am doing emotionally.
I am kidding myself if I think I can run on E and then still be awesome with my kids. Maybe this should have been more obvious to me? Taking this class was kind of like pulling a thread that started unraveling a sweater. It’s not just that I need to try harder and have better self-control, I need to move some big rocks in my life if I don’t want to be an angry mom. So this was just the beginning; the tipping point that triggered more changes.
There are some funny things too. We included the whole family in this. I think its good for the kids to see that there are things I am also still working on. We made a sticker reward chart for Mom. At the end of the day, they get to give me a star if I did well keeping my cool. THEY LOVE THAT PART. They decided I should get a “coffee and massage” as a reward. And they are actually more generous in their estimation of me than I would have thought.
Overall, if you are struggling with yelling, you are not alone. I am learning that if you grew up in a yelling home, it will be a natural impulse for you to yell at your kids too (even if you love them and try not to). But, good news, there are things you can learn, and you can change! If you find yourself in the same place I was in, check out Momma's Anger Management
Feel free to reach out. I would love to offer my support.
Expert Weigh-In with Counselor Gwen Felten
When clients come in and state they have “anger issues” I begin to help them gain a better understanding of anger. Often clients have the misconception that anger is bad or wrong and they almost seem like they want to eradicate anger from their lives. I encourage clients to shift their thoughts.
There are two parts to anger: the emotion, and then the behavior carried out when one experiences the emotion. All too often the behavior carried out in anger is the issue, not anger itself. We then discuss ways to safely express anger in their lives.
Some rules I have for anger:
- We don’t harm others or ourselves physically or verbally when we are angry. Name-calling and put-downs are a way we hurt others. So those are out.
- We can safely express anger by saying, "I feel angry when _______." We may even have a tone in our voice.
- Families should openly talk about what's an acceptable, appropriate expression of anger in the family (ideally have the conversation when no one is angry). Every family has a different level of tolerance for anger behaviors. For example, some families may tolerate crossed arms or grimaces while others may not.
I believe it's important for moms to express anger toward children appropriately and to teach children to express anger with parents appropriately. It shows them how to express anger safely.
I remember once when my daughter was 9 she growled at me. A bystander said, "Your daughter just growled at you, and you are ok with that?" I didn't respond. I didn't see it as an act of defiance, and I knew she was trying to tell me she was mad. It was in my window of tolerance for her angry behaviors. Today my children are 14 and 17. I have to say they both are fairly good at appropriately telling me when they are mad.
I also have to say I haven't always been perfect over the years. Being a parent and a therapist does not make me perfect. I think we all can lose our cool. When I've been over the top, I've used that as an opportunity to repair.
If you are concerned by the display of anger in your house or have questions, give me a call. A counselor can help guide you in setting rules for your house on healthy expressions of anger. If behaviors are violent or abusive, definitely seek help.
Northwest Counseling Center, LLC
Gwen Felten MA, LCPC, PC