Years ago as a brand new mom to a little boy I couldn’t possibly love more I had my first experience with the kind of parenting anger that scared me.
I can’t remember the circumstances leading up to that moment or what exactly it was that ignited me, but I will never forget the fire I felt searing me from the inside and the violent, ugly thoughts that flashed through my mind.
The darkness frightened me.
No doubt there was a spectacular concoction of sleep deprivation and overwhelm that paved the way for me to lose it. (This is, of course, on top of the upheaval that children naturally bring to a home once accustomed to regular sleep ins and the luxury of a relatively easy weekly laundry rotation.) There were also other factors undermining my explosive emotions—financial pressures, a strained relationship with a friend, friction surrounding my role at work.
But the fact that I visualized throwing my adorable toddler into the wall terrified me. (Yes, I really did just admit that: I visualized shoving my toddler against the wall. Ugh.)
Who was this woman? Was this really me—the Christian mother committed to gentle discipline and intentional parenting? The wife who had never even yelled at my husband?
In that moment I suddenly realized how people could snap right in two and do unthinkable things they regret for the rest of their lives.
Never before had I possessed an ounce of sympathy for someone known to abuse a child, but in that moment I was faced with the dark side of my own humanity and this is what I saw: I was capable of anything. Yes, even toward the tiniest person whom I loved with the most giant of loves. I was that person—the abuser—not in action or words but in the temptation of my heart.
To be clear, I wasn’t afraid I would actually inflict physical harm to my son. As angry as I was, I knew I had the self control to not act on what I felt. What most frightened me was the content of my own heart. Simply having the idea jet through my mind at all was enough to leave me shaking and scared and ashamed.
With trembling hands and a heart pounding my insides to a pulp, I called my husband and said, “I’m not okay.” I described how angry I was and confessed the darkness I had seen exposed in my heart. I told him I didn’t trust myself to be alone with our little one until I could figure out how to cool down.
A few minutes later he was home, hugging me while I sobbed all of my inadequacies out into the safety of his chest. He talked me off the ledge. He reminded me what kind of mother I am and he affirmed my commitment to invite Jesus into the deepest places of fear and inadequacy in my soul. (After all, the anger was only an indicator of the real things causing me pain.)
He also sent me to take a nap while he finished his last few hours of work from home with our son toddling around his feet, happy for some new company.
Several years later I can think of two or three instances I’ve been similarly angry and had to call my husband or a trusted friend for help. Always it’s been during times in my life where I’m severely sleep deprived. (I’m convinced chronic fatigue wreaks havoc on an otherwise stable person. I truly don’t think this can be overstated. It’s not an excuse, but it’s certainly not something to be ignored.) And it’s often been during times where other things are very much running at full throttle in the background: while grieving a miscarriage, while under a stressful deadline, while wondering how to make ends meet that month, and so forth.
As I’ve learned to crawl out from under the shame of my own meltdowns, I’ve realized that anger is a common thread running through most mothers’ lives. For most of us it rears its ugly head now and then in ways we’re not excited to admit and aren’t well equipped to deal with. We’re caught off guard because we thought we were “better” than that. We’ve bought into the faulty notion that love and anger can’t coexist within motherhood—that somehow our kids deserve a mom that’s more divine than human.
If you struggle with ongoing parenting anger management issues then by all means, please consider getting some external help working that through with a professional—this is not the type of anger I’m talking about. But if yours is the type that springs up now and then catching you by surprise, consider now how to set yourself up to manage how you’ll respond.
How to Respond When Feeling Anger
1. Anger is a normal human emotion and you are not a bad person (or bad mother) for experiencing parenting anger.
2. If you need to, remove yourself from the heat of the moment. Put the baby somewhere safe like his crib and take a few minutes to walk away and do some deep breathing. Tell your older kids you’re sending yourself to your room for a 10 minute time out. (Then use that time to actually do what you need to do—deep breathing, prayer, a phone call, etc.)