'We all have our triggers, but our anger isn’t always congruent with the actual situation.' Photo: Getty Images
It’s sunny. My husband is at work. The girls and I tootle around at home.
The morning is getting away from us. My three-year-old is chatty and over-excited, and my baby is tired. The baby has missed her morning nap, and is fighting sleep. At last, after a fit of crying, she collapses against my breast in the sling. I read to my older daughter on the day bed. She interrupts to tell her own elaborate story. Using expressive hands, she inadvertently wakes the baby, poking her in the back.
"Argh!" I yell out. "Bloody hell! You woke her! I am so unbelievably mad at you!" I am thundering.
"Stop yelling," she pleads. There are tears in her eyes. I break down. Still in the sling, the baby is of course crying. I hold my older daughter, and muffle sorries into her hair. I am sorry. I am so, so sorry.
My angry outburst weighs on my heart for the rest the day. I feel so guilty about yelling at my daughter, who really wasn’t doing anything wrong. All I want to do is go to bed, or drink wine, or anything to dilute the pain.
These angry episodes have been happening lately. The triggers are minor - a woken baby, a dropped teacup or a misconstrued comment from my husband. I roar at my child, or my husband, or at my reflection in the mirror. Then I feel awful.
Aware Parenting Instructor, Marion Badenoch Rose from Parenting With Presence, says angry responses are common when the mother’s needs are not being fully met, and her resources are taxed. I think of those punitive 5.30am starts, and broken nights. Maybe my sleep bank is in deficit.
We all have our triggers, but our anger isn’t always congruent with the actual situation. Often, it’s coming from a deeper place. "[Children] need a lot from us as parents – things that we weren't often given when we were children, and things which generally aren't taught to us," says Badenoch Rose. "When they ask these things of us, and our own emotional resources are low, our own unmet needs can lead to anger."
"When we express anger to our children, the bond between us is temporarily cut off," says Badenoch Rose. "[The child] feels scared, which can show up either in them withdrawing, going quiet or getting still, which is kind of a ‘freeze’ mechanism to protect themselves. Alternatively, they demonstrate increasingly challenging behaviour including aggression. These behaviours stem from a feeling of disconnection and fear."
It is important for us, as parents, to identify our triggers, and learn strategies which help us manage our anger and frustration towards our children.
Badenoch Rose says that to circumvent angry episodes towards our children, get plenty of emotional support so our needs are met. Venting to compassionate friends is more constructive than off-loading on our children when we are triggered.
Envision emergency strategies you can use when you are home with your children, and your resources are low. Badenoch Rose suggests lying on the floor for a few minutes, until the anger passes. Alternatively, separate yourself from the situation, scream into a pillow, or phone a supportive friend for emergency empathy.
Amy, mother of two boys, says that she tries to remember that this is her kids’ childhood, and they only have one. For her, this is an instant calmer.
The important thing is to reconnect after an emotional incident. Apologise to your child, and explain that it wasn’t their fault you got angry. Reassure your child that even when you are angry, you still love them.
"Most of all," says Badenoch Rose, "have compassion for yourself for those times when you have been angry. The more we listen to ourselves, are compassionate with ourselves, get our feelings heard and our needs met, the more easily we can parent peacefully and with enjoyment."