If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow. ~Chinese proverb
Today was not a good parenting day. This morning I woke up and I was sick. It was the kind of sick that involves curling up in fetal position and not moving much. It was the kind of day that I can’t parent through alone.
The buck often stops with mom even with the support of a coparent. So, I did a fair amount of parenting from the bathroom floor. I tried to divide my attention between what my body was telling me and what my kids were doing. It pushed me beyond my patience many times.
My 7-year-old and my 3-year-old were antagonizing one another throughout the day. My usual tactics of listening, distracting, and the reverse psychology of insisting that they separate weren’t working.
They kept escalating their arguments and I kept damping down the flare-ups, but I could feel it was still smoldering underneath.
They knew my attention wasn’t fully on them and they felt that I was under stress. Finally, I missed an interchange between them and it turned to hitting.
I was sicking up at the time and upon hearing them, became angry. I was furious that I had to hold back my nausea to separate them yet again.
I wasn’t the parent I try to be. I yelled. I threatened punishment. I stomped off to the bathroom. I cooled off.
I resolved to be a better parent. Then the cycle began anew.
Now, if you go back to the top or read to this sentence three of four times, that was the day: I feel sick, I have to shoddily parent anyway, the kids react to my stress and argue, I yell, then I try for a fresh start, I feel sick, I have to shoddily parent anyway, the kids react…
As I listened from the bathroom to them bickering for the umpteenth time, I was wrapped up in my thoughts about the unfairness of it all, until I had to laugh.
I caught myself thinking, “Why are they hitting? Don’t they know I’m sick?” As if any of this was about me at all.
And that is the key to stop screaming and returning to a place of mindfulness. It’s not about me.
It’s not about getting through the day. It’s not even about my kids. Resolving again and again to parent mindfully is all about creating fulfilling connections with those I love.
Once I recalled that, I was able to stop blaming myself, my kids and my partner (oh did I leave him out? I’m sure I yelled at him a few times in that endless spiral.) I was able to get some breathing room and make the changes that I truly wanted.
Step 1: Allow Anger
I reminded myself that it’s okay to feel anger. This is a difficult one for me. I’m afraid of anger and don’t know what to do with it.
Anger is neither a positive nor a negative emotion. It is normal to feel mad when things aren’t going the way I want.
Anger isn’t an emotion I like to act on (which I did above.) I can sit with anger and resist the impulse to vent.
The urge to lash out in frustration becomes less pressing the longer I wait until finally it subsides enough that I think more clearly.
Step 2: Think loving thoughts about my child
I try to be gentle with myself with this step because hitting can be an emotional trigger for me. I may have to go back to step one several times until the anger has resolved.
To aid the process, I try to think of a memory that brings up feelings of love, such as snuggling and reading together. Looking through photos can help, too. If all else fails, I send loving thoughts until all resentment is replaced with a calm feeling of connection.
Most of the time, this step is easy because that anger I was holding on to really isn’t about my child, but rather my reaction to what occurred. I can see this more clearly once I’ve finished step one.
Step 3: Examine Expectations
After I’ve let go of anger and have returned to feeling the connection I have with my child, I can begin to look at what my expectations were before I became angry. My expectations in this case were that my kids would “behave” because I was sick.
When they didn’t meet my arbitrary definition of “behave,” I became resentful that I couldn’t be sick in peace. And when their disagreements escalated to hitting, my expectations were that my kids get along well or that my partner would step in before it occurred. I notice that nowhere did I explain my expectations to anyone.
I didn’t even look at my expectations consciously or I would’ve seen how ludicrous they were. And that word, “behave.” Well, that’s something I made a note of to unpack later because that’s an unconscious label I picked up somewhere that doesn’t make sense.
My kids aren’t bad or misbehaving. They’re simply having trouble managing their big emotions. Once I reconnect that, I replace my false expectations with this reality.
Step 4: Feed the Needs
Once I’ve looked at my expectations, I can identify my needs and figure out how to meet them. Identifying needs is probably the most important part of making better choices.
I learn to clarify what I observe about my anger, what emotions I am feeling, what false expectations I was holding on to, what values I want to live by, and what I want to ask of myself and others.
Identifying my needs means that I no longer have the urge to use the language of blame, judgment or domination. I can experience the deep pleasure of contributing to my family’s connection.
On this particular day, my needs were for peace, a harmonious house, healing, authenticity, and to be understood.
Step 5: Use “I” Statements.
In order to meet the needs that I identified above, I need to communicate them to myself and to my family. Using “I” statements, or sentences that begin with “I feel” or “I need” create a more non-judgmental conversation, free from blame or defensiveness.
I hope that in stating my feelings and needs in this way, I will both feel heard and be able to listen well. I consult this NVC list of needs when I need help.
Today, I said:
- to my partner, “When I am sick and the kids are fighting, I feel stressed. I need peace and quiet so that I can heal my body. Would you be willing to have full responsibility of the kids so that I can rest for a few hours?”
- to my kids, “When I hear everyone arguing, I feel worried that someone will get hurt. I need everyone in the house to feel safe.”
These were good starting places for us to talk and create connection. I felt understood and we all had a clear understanding of expectations after we talked about it.
Step 6: Learn from the experience for next time.
There will be a next time. I am not always successful at curbing my anger and I will yell again. But, I resolve to be a better parent every time.
I learned today that when I’m sick, I tend to set unconscious expectations for myself and for my family. I am faster to react with anger because I am exhausted and don’t feel well.
I already knew that screaming and hitting are big triggers for me. But, I hadn’t realized that I wouldn’t communicate these things clearly until I was able to diffuse the selfish thoughts with amusement.
It is important to remember that I will make mistakes as a parent. Failing and resolving to change is nothing to be ashamed of.
Each mistake is a chance to remember what I already instinctively know about how good it feels to authentically connect to another human being.
What are your parenting resolutions? Do you have some that you work with dynamically, like in this post, and some that are more concrete? I would enjoy hearing from you.
Please visit the rest of the posts on Natural New Years Resolutions by clicking on the linky:
- Are You Asking Me or Telling Me? Identifying our needs first and then parenting
- Transfoming Reactions into Responses by Guest Vibrant Wanderings
- 10 Ways to Be A More Connected Parent Today
- When Your Child Makes You Want To Scream: 10 Steps to Calm (psychologytoday.com)
- My Anger Tree part 2 (mybecomingaware.wordpress.com)
- Children are like clay; we are the sculptors…so let’s make something beautiful! (yellfreelovemorechallenge.wordpress.com)