Why I Want My Kids to Witness My Anger

I don’t really love writing about the super vulnerable parts of parenthood, like the brokenness and shame I felt after six months with my colicky first baby or the inexplicable rage and sadness I felt shortly after my second baby was born. But even more scary than baring my soul on the internet is the idea that other mamas might not see these parts of parenthood represented on this platform and wrongly assume that nobody else feels the way they feel. For me as a stay-at-home-mama isolation has always been the hardest part about parenthood these past 3.5 years and my goal is to talk about even / especially the hard stuff in order to help break down those barriers and make other mamas feel less alone.

So let’s talk about anger. I’m sure that none of us love it when we break down and yell at our kids. It happens in our house really, really rarely but of course there are days when I’ve been tested and depleted for days or weeks and something trivial pushes me over the edge. Growing up I assumed it was a parent’s job to keep their composure all the time but I know now that of course that’s not true. It was never our job to not have, or to hide all of our emotions. Since children learn how to regulate big emotions from their primary caregivers it’s actually extra important that they are able to see how we de-escalate from those big emotions of anger and exasperation that they will inevitably feel as well (this is also why we don’t do isolated time-outs in our house, but that’s probably a whole other post for another day).

Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that while I communicate well I have a tendency to shut down and walk away when things get too overwhelming. This has led me to leave the room and take some time alone when my anger or frustration get the better of me, especially if I know that the kids are safe for a few minutes or if Tom’s off work and available to pick up the slack. I’m an introvert and need alone time, but it’s so, so hard to come by in these early years of motherhood when my kids’ emotional and physical needs are so high and unrelenting. So I’ve been focusing on staying in the room when I lose my composure. I make a point of talking through what I’m feeling so the kids can see why I’m upset and watch as I calm myself down; it’s important to me that they know that the big emotions they feel are valid, that everyone feels them, and that’s it’s possible to have self control when we’re ready to calm down again.

What does this look like in practice?

Last week after I had a rough, anxious, lonely week I yelled at Wells at dinner (don’t bother shaming me because you couldn’t possible make me feel more guilt and shame than I put on myself for it already). I had fiiiinally been feeling well enough to make a really nice meal and Wells threw the entire bowl on the ground as soon as we sat down. I shouted, dropped an expletive, and both Hen and Wells started to cry (my sensitive babies are not used to seeing their mama have an outburst). I instantly reined myself back and said “I’m sorry kiddos, I shouldn’t have yelled but mama is just feeling really frustrated today and I’m having a hard time. I’m gonna take a few big deep breaths and calm myself down, okay?” I took some deep breaths (while tearfully locking eyes with Tom) and Hennie breathed along with me. Then I repeated that I was upset but I shouldn’t have yelled, and I apologized again. Hennie kept telling me through her tears that it was “not nice to say dat mummy!” which broke my heart a little but two minutes later the kids were fine and eating their dinners (except for Wells, whose rice, salmon, and veggies remained on the floor). 

I know that this approach may not seem super revolutionary but I’m hoping that in the long run it leads to me kids being comfortable with their big emotions and not thinking that anger, sadness, and frustration are “bad” and should be hidden. My goal is to raise kids that feel comfortable coming to us with their emotions and I figure they won’t feel that way if they learn from us to run into another room and feel them alone.

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