I punched the couch and screamed, “Stop!”
She had been whining all day. All day. From the time she woke up until the time she laid her sweet little head down, she whined. I had controlled myself all day. Each instance, I did just what all the parenting books instructed me to do.
By 6pm the ball was wound up so tight. It didn’t take much to break me in that moment. I don’t even remember what she did before my dramatic reaction. I will never forget my reaction.
She got scared. She started crying. My face was tight. I looked angry. I could feel my eyebrows furrow. My mouth was closed. My hand was throbbing. I had just hit the arm of the couch, and was in considerable pain.
But that wasn’t the pain I had felt most strongly. I felt guilt. So much guilt. Why did I just do this? This wasn’t what I wanted to do. How did I mess up?
That mom guilt could have killed me. It was a feeling I had felt many times before. A feeling I feel just about every day.
Even though I had just terrified James, she ran into my arms to be consoled. Even more guilt. My face softened. Even more guilt. As I came back to reality, I didn’t know what I had just done.
Later, as I was putting James down to bed, I apologized and told her, “mommy shouldn’t have yelled at you and hit the couch”. She said, “mommy should take a big breath”.
She knew I should have taken a big breath. She has seen me tell her to do the same every single day.
Here are some things you can do to control your temper as parents:
1. Breathe. Take a big breath. In fact, take four. Inhale for four counts, hold your breath for seven counts, and breath out for eight. Repeat that four times. Breathe.
2. Squeeze your fists and let them go. Squeeze your toes too. For real. Squeeze them as hard as you can and let them go. Daniel Tiger taught me this trick. He’s sort of a parenting expert that Daniel.
3. Find a pillow and punch away. You are clearly angry, and people like to release their anger physically, so find a pillow and let loose.
4. Go find some space. This is not always an option in the middle of bath time, or when you’re walking home from the park, but as often as available find some space. I recommend this practice before you are wound as tightly as me, but it will also work in the moment. If your partner is available, take a walk outside. If you are all alone, place the babies somewhere safe (that may even be in a locked room) and go take some space for ten minutes. You could even practice some of these other skills while you’re taking your break. I will say that if you are placing your kids in their room for you to find space, this may look like a time out for them, and it may feel that way for them in the moment. But if this action will keep them safe while you cool down, I strongly recommend it. After you’ve gotten your space, communicate to your child that they are not in trouble and that mommy just needed space.
5. Look at baby pictures of them. Whether on your phone or just in your mind, find a cute memory of them. One where you felt so overjoyed and happy. Lean into that moment. Go through that story and another if you have to. Remember the sweetness of that babe even in an unsweet moment.
6. Call a friend, loved one, or partner. Tell them all about why you are so triggered. Allow this person to calm you down.
I have taught my almost four year old all of these techniques by both explicit instruction and modeling. When she is getting upset, you can see her walk away from me in the backyard, or go to her room if we are in the house. When I ask her if she’s ok, she will reply, “I need ‘face’ mommy”.
It’s amazing what kids can learn from us and what we can learn from our kids. I may have taught James these tricks, but once I started modeling them, she started using them way more without being prompted to.
Some parents do not struggle with losing their temper. I am not one of them. My husband has all the patience in the world. I could never imagine him hitting the couch or screaming at our kids. But I have reacted in anger more times than I’d like to count. I’ve also saved myself a lot of mom guilt and apologies by using these techniques before I turn into ‘angry mommy’. So try one or two out today, and let me know how they work!