Reader Question: 

Any suggestions on how to repair the anger you expressed with your kids after it's happened?




Answer: 

Welcome to my wheelhouse, mama. 



Tell me if this sounds familiar:

Me: OK my darling! Time to get our shoes on and get in the car!

Chicken: (Silently darts out the back door)

Me: WOW CHICKEN I CAN SEE YOU DON'T WANT TO PUT YOUR SHOES ON YET!

Chicken: (Dives under the porch, burrows into leaves)

Me: Chicken, you look like a mouse! We should play under the porch more often. It looks really fun under there. But right now it's time to get our shoes on, or we'll be late for school.

Chicken: NO! I don't WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL!

Me: I can see that, but I think that once you get to school-- (Chicken throws a fistful of under-the-porch leaves and God knows what else in my face. There are probably spider eggs in my hair now that will hatch tonight while I'm sleeping. #DontLetTheBrownReclusesBite)

Me: (Fuck!) Uh oh, I don't like that at all, Chicken.

Chicken: (Grabs another fistful of leaves and winds up)

Me: (I don't think so, buddy) (grabs his wrist and pulls him out from under the porch)

Chicken: (Drops to the ground and tries to scramble back under the porch)

Me: (Hauls him up to hold him in my arms like a baby) Wow, kiddo, you're having some big feelings about this transition right now.

Chicken: (Blows a raspberry in my face)

Me: (Channels effort to keep hands soft and gentle) Hm. Yeah, I don't like spitting in my face.

Chicken: (Blows another raspberry in my face, laughs)

Me: (Deep breath) OK, I'm going to take you to the car, and we'll put your shoes on when we get to school.

Chicken: WE'LL SEE ABOUT THAT! (pinches my armpit skin)

Me: OW!

Chicken: (Laughs)

Me: Chicken, I won't let you hurt my body.

Chicken: You are a poopy, poopy Mommy.

Me: (Forcing levity) Am I? Oh no! Will you check my diaper?

Chicken: No because I hate you.

Me: Well, that's fine, but we're still going to school. (Puts him in the car)

Chicken: (Wiggles out of his seat, dives into front seat, hits "door lock" and looks at me, giggling, through the driver's side window.)

Me: (Very deep breath) (Pulse racing) (Stay calm stay calm stay calm) Unlock the doors please.

Chicken: HA HA! YOU CAN'T GET IN!

Me: (Oh my God, fuck you so much) One.

Chicken: Two?

Me: (Bellowing) DAMN IT, OPEN THE DOOR RIGHT NOW, CHICKEN. NOW. NOW. NOW. NOW. NOW.

Chicken: (Licks window)

Me: (Mind goes blank) OK fine, good-bye. (Walks away) (I'm gonna scare this little jerk so he sees what happens when you push someone past all their limits.)

Chicken: (Starts screaming) Don't leave me! Don't leave me! Mommy! Mommy! Come back!

Me: (I am a monster.)

#ThisMorning
___

it's an electric burner
turned up to high

i was looking for a visual metaphor
also it kind of looks like
a hot brain
so
i'm fine with it
i mean it's not
groundbreaking
but it's fine


Raise your hand if your first response to the feeling of anger is "push it down," or "stay calm" or "take a deep breath."

Raise your hand if you simmer silently, but visibly, until you eventually explode.

Raise your hand if you remember being confused or worried about this kind of behavior in adults when you were a child.

Raise your hand if you feel like there was a lesson you missed at some point in your life: "Expressing Anger 101: How To Be Mad Without Feeling Like a Monster."

There is so much to unpack when it comes to parental anger, and especially maternal anger. We refuse to feel it until it consumes us.

We MUST be nice. We MUST be patient. We MUST be good. But we can only be pushed so far.

We fight the good fight, stay on the high road, model patience and respect for as long as we can, and then one more fucking thing happens and the dam just breaks.

What that looked like this morning:

Kid
Mom
Runs
Talks Kindly
Throws
Observes Feelings
Spits
Empathizes
Pinches
Breathes
Calls Names
Remains Playful
Locks Her Out Of Car
Says Please Unlock The Door
Says the word “two”
FREAKS THE FUCK OUT


Of course, after we freak the fuck out, regret and shame consume us faster than the 2 minutes flat in which we polished off a slab of Safeway cheesecake with the maraschino cherry syrup in the parking lot at 11 pm the night before Thanksgiving.

The shame spiral is real and it's a doozy.

What is wrong with me
Why can't I be better
I'm terrible
I have no idea what I'm doing
I'm sorry

The hard part for me is that I have warring compasses in my head, each of which points due north in a different direction. 

There's the compass my mother gave me, which tells me that people lose their temper and it's okay for kids to see that.

There's the compass I bought with all my progressive parenting books, which tells me that kids need calm, comfort, and constancy, especially when they're being little assholes (paraphrased), and that anger is harmful to young children.

There's the deeply-rooted compass I've followed my whole life, that tells me when something feels uncomfortable it must be bad, and that it's always most important to be kind.

And there's the compass I've been building since the day I became a parent, that tells me it's okay to question my instincts because like it or not, I was raised in a flawed world by flawed people, and sometimes things that make me uncomfortable might actually be okay, and sometimes things that feel like home are not who I want to be anymore. 

So which one is right? Which one do we follow? What do we DO when we've yelled, walked away, frightened our children or scared them into sullen withdrawal? How do we come back?

___

1. Repeat after me: I am mad, and I am okay.

This is as important for you to hear as it is for your kids to hear: You can be mad without destroying your child. You can demonstrate anger without traumatizing the person you love the most. You can yell, stomp, slam a door, punch a pillow, and you will still be okay, and so will your child. 

As long as you're not physically harming your child, bullying him, degrading him, abusing him, as long as you're just being a person who is mad without being violent (physically or emotionally), you can be mad, and your family will be okay. 

Hiding your anger teaches your kids that anger is something that we need to be protected from, and I have not found that to be true if your anger is expressed in a nonviolent way.

In fact, since I've started demonstrating my anger in nonviolent ways: yelling, punching a pillow, stomping my foot, and declaring my feelings ("I am so mad right now!"), I've noticed that both Chicken and Buster are expressing their anger more readily, and recovering from their anger more quickly. 

When I stopped protecting him from my anger, he stopped seeing anger as something he needed to be protected from. When I stopped fighting back the monster, he stopped seeing it as a monster. And so did I.

I get mad. And I am okay.


2. Take up some space to calm down.

Don't rush back to calmness. You can be mad for as long as you need to be mad. Nothing will break between you and your child in the next half-hour.

Give your kid some space, and take some space of your own. 

Do what helps you calm down - lie on the floor breathing deeply, drink a glass of water (or whatever,) listen to or sing along with a song that you love. 

Here are my go-to's:

Sam Cooke - Bring it On Home to Me

Old Crow Medicine Show - Wagon Wheel


It's okay to let your kid watch you calm down - in fact, it's great if you can do that.

But if you're too mad to be around your kid, it's okay to calm down by yourself, too. The most important thing is not that you model rapid calm, it's that you BE genuinely calm. 

Not the mask of calm that we can slip on terrifyingly quickly when we sense that we've transgressed. 

The real calm. That takes some time.

3. When you're ready to talk, a well-placed "whew!" is a winning kickoff.

"Whew! I was mad."

"Whew! I really yelled loud!"

"Whew! That was an intense morning, huh?"

There's something about the "whew!" that both acknowledges the intensity of the situation, and promises that it's over. 

"Whew!" means we're past it. 

"Whew!" is an invitation to share a smile, and maybe a quick laugh of relief. 

"Whew!" tells your child that he wasn't the only one who was overwhelmed or freaked out by the episode. 

My formula is "Whew!" plus an honest observation of what happened. So for the example from this morning, that conversation in the car started like this: 

Whew!
+
I was really mad when we got in the car.


4. Explain what happened - but keep it short and sweet.

Seriously, 2 sentences MAX. Your feelings are complex and deserve to be fully articulated, but that's why you have friends and partners and siblings and bloggers to email about it. With your kid, your goal is to summarize the events of the incident and your feelings as briefly as possible. Why? Because best-case scenario they're over it and don't care, and worst-case scenario, they're still unsettled and don't want to go there. 

For the example of this morning: 

Whew! 
+
I was really mad when we got in the car.
+
I was trying to get us in the car to go to school, and you did not want to go. 
I yelled and walked away from the car, and I think that really scared you.

And then wait to see what your kid says. 

He might say something. He might say nothing. 

Either one is okay. Neither silence nor speech means good or bad, right or wrong. Shift your focus away from building the cathedral, and toward setting this one brick, just right. If this conversation does nothing else, it demonstrates to your child that you saw the same thing he did (Mom was mad) and defines the events that led up to that feeling. If you do nothing else, you've validated the experience and demonstrated empathy. That's a WIN.


5. Apologize if you did something wrong, and know your central thesis.

Apologize if you did something wrong

Let me be clear: If getting mad when your kid is throwing shit at you, pinching you, spitting at you, and locking you out of the car is wrong, then I don't wanna be right. 

It's okay to just leave the offering as: "Whew" + Observation + Summary of Events, and see what your kid says. 

Now, in the event that you, ahem, walked away from your kid with the mean-spirited intention to scare him into obedience, and you kind of feel like that was a dick move, well, you might want to apologize for that. 

No need to grovel. No need to beat yourself to death. Simple and short:

Whew! 
+
I was really mad when we got in the car.
+
I was trying to get us in the car to go to school, and you did not want to go. 
I yelled and walked away from the car, and I think that really scared you.
+
I understand why that was scary.
I'm really sorry I scared you.

Resist the urge to go on in excruciating detail about the many ways you are terrible. It might feel true and cathartic, but for your child it will also be scary and confusing to hear Mommy talking serious shit about herself. 

Now, if you DIDN'T do something that you feel you need to apologize for - if you got mad and WERE OKAY - if you yelled, or stomped, or punched a pillow AND WERE STILL FINE - then you can go straight to your central thesis. 

Your central thesis is the core takeaway that you want your child to remember if he remembers nothing else from this whole episode. 


Whew! 
+
I was really mad when we got in the car.
+
I was trying to get us in the car to go to school, and you did not want to go. 
I yelled and walked away from the car, and I think that really scared you.
+
I understand why that was scary.
I'm really sorry I scared you.
+
No matter how mad I get,
I will always
ALWAYS
take care of you.


___

There are a lot of other things we need to do.

We need to go back to when we were little girls and tell them: You don't have to be nice all the time. You will still be a good person if you get mad. You can be mad and still be okay. 

We need to increase our awareness and acceptance of growing anger and find ways to demonstrate our anger as it's on its way up to "Freak the Fuck Out." 

We need to help our kids understand that it wasn't the word "two" that turned Mommy into the Hulk - it was the whole hour leading up to that. 

In fact, it started last night. 

IN FACT, it started 5 years ago this June. Parents have long memories and frustration and fear don't heal like boo-boos under a Doc McStuffins Band-Aid.

We need to raise our daughters to accept and express their anger. We need to raise our sons to be responsible for their own feelings.

Also we need to help the bees.

But those are, like, long-term goals that you can work toward.
#WithProfessionalHelp 
#TheProfessionalImReferringToIsASommelier

But tonight, right now, in the moments after the blow-up, that's my answer:

1. "I am mad and I am okay."
2. Calm Down.
3. Whew!
4. SHORT Recap.
5. SHORT Apology.
6. Thesis of Unconditional Love.

Oh!

7. Treat. You've earned it.


Love,
Katie

PS - 

If you feel yourself going off the rails and you need a reset, it's TOTALLY OKAY to say:

"Wait, stop, I need to rewind and try again." 

It is NOT, however, okay to make the cassette tape rewind noise because our children are growing up in a world in which the sound of "rewind" is ::soundless compression of button:: and they will be alarmed if you start making a bubbly seal noise while spinning your finger backward through the air.


If you enjoyed this post or really any of my posts, please consider supporting my blog through Patreon

$2 or $5 a month helps me grow my blog, write more stuff for you, and treat this work like, well, my job. 

Thanks for reading! xoxo

WHAT IS STRESSING ME OUT TODAY:

(Fair warning, this old lady just learned how to do gifs in her blog! 
THIS IS GONNA BE A THING, Y'ALL.)

- My phone memory is almost full.

- Am I enjoying this beer TOO much?

- Chicken told me that he made a promise to be best friends forever with the kid who taught him the expressions "Shut up," "Ex-ca-yuuuuse you," "I don't care," and "Oh wow cool story."



- The kids are watching another movie. That's okay, right? Guys?

- It's a good thing Chicken's boots are waterproof because they are full of muddy water and by tomorrow one of two things is going to have happened:

a) They will still be full of water like the little boot-shaped tupperwares they are and they will NEVER AGAIN have that new-boot smell of rubber and baby foot sweat;

b) We will have created the host site of the first reported epidemic of Pacific Northwest malaria.


- The take-and-bake pizza place gave me 2 meat pizzas instead of a meat and a veggie. I haven't eaten meat since I was 10. I called the pizza place back and they were like, "OK cool, just bring us the wrong one back and we'll get it sorted out," and I was like



- I dreamed a dream about the state of my kitchen in the new house...





 ... and THAT DREAM IS NOT COMING TRUE.



- The new house noises, you guys. These noises aren't like, "Oh! So THAT'S what the new oven timer sounds like! It's almost melodic!" No, dude, these noises are alarming.

Number one, the oven timer keeps beeping until you turn off the timer, like you can't just open the door and turn off the oven, it keeps beeping until you push the TIMER OFF button, so I'll be juggling a casserole in oven mitts, using my butt to block my kids from running into the open oven door and scalding half their faces like Harvey Two Face, and trying to prevent them from spending the rest of their lives speaking at middle school assemblies about the dangers of running into ovens like:


And the whole time the oven timer's like ME ME ME ME ME ME ME and I'm like YOU ARE SO SELFISH OVEN TIMER JUST WAIT YOUR DAMN TURN.

Also, when the heat kicks on, it sounds like someone is opening the front door. I am not handling it well. As soon as the house temp drops below 67 I'm like:




- I would like a slice of cake approximately 4% less than I would like my children to live long and herpes-free lives. If a genie came out of a lamp and was like "I can grant you one slice of cake right now, but in return your sons will have herpes," I would be like:

which kind of herpes?
and I mean they're boys
so
they'll probably
like
never even know

nobody has to know


- No matter how many times I open the fridge there is no cake there. Wait, let me go check again.

nope
just
salad


- This conversation happened in my son's preschool class today:

Steve-O: I like soccer!

Pauly D: Me too! I'm gonna do soccer camp this summer.

Steve-O: Cool, I wanna do soccer camp!

Chicken: I wanna find an evolution class for kids!

Pan around the table like:

Chicken:


Steve-O:


Pauly D:

Chicken: Yeah! I wanna find a class about evolution so I can become an expert in how things change over long time, like how some of the dinosaurs evolved into birds?

I'm stressed because honestly that is fucking awesome that my kid asked me to find an evolution camp for kids. I can't help but blog about it like, "I have the coolest kid."

But the Venn diagram of "My mom thought I was cool" and "I barely survived high school," is a circle.

Also in that circle: "I attended evolution camp as a 5-year-old."


- Why is it "damn scared" but "damned excited." How do people even learn ENGLISH EVER?

- This "leader" doing what he calls:



- Every time I use white strips or whitening gel or any over-the-counter whitening aid I get huge sores on my gums a week later. Every time. And then I throw the $26 whitening gel away less a single dose and I say, "My teeth are white enough, I don't need this crap." And then three months later I see a photo of myself and I'm like GAH no wonder people have been asking if I'm dressing as Shrek for Halloween! How do people even look at me without developing an inexplicable craving for corn on the cob? And back to the pharmacy I go, and every time I'm like, "THIS TIME WILL BE DIFFERENT," and a week later I'm talking like Joan Cusack and SAYING NO TO PIZZA and that's how you know IT WAS NOT DIFFERENT.



- I'm pretty sure that everything I care about in terms of my parenting is meaningless except for ONE THING, and if I could just stop doing all the other meaningless bullshit I'd have enough free time to get my teeth professionally whitened with lasers that don't cause mouth sores... but the problem is that I have no idea which ONE THING it is.

God, just tell me. Is it table manners? It's table manners, right?

Or, wait, is it "checking in" with a friend after you run over their toes with your balance bike?

It's one of those that's the THING, right?

Fuck it, I'm just gonna keep doing all of them and drinking too much coffee.


 I thought I was doing everything right. 

Our library is stocked with kickass woman picture books about Amelia Earhart, Malala, Lucille Ball, Rosie Revere, and the Paper Bag Princess.


and wonder woman
obviously
although it's pretty tough to find a female superhero
that doesn't look like she's wearing
the flirty halloween costume version
of a real superhero outfit




I never force my children to hug or kiss anyone.

I encourage my kids to explore lots of toys, clothes, and interests, not just “boy” things. Buster’s favorite outfit is a jazzy little workout set in pink and turquoise. Chicken gets regular mani-pedis in our home “salon,” complete with cucumber water in a sippy cup.

My husband and I consciously subvert traditional gender roles - he cooks, cleans, kisses boo-boos, and yearns for a room of his own. I sit in an armchair by the fire with a scotch and the evening paper and bark at the children to “Pipe down, ya mongrels.” Because feminism.

I educate myself about how to limit their exposure to dudebro dirtbaggery and magnify feminist heroism. 

Sexist soccer coaches, gendered Legos, parents of other kids who tell their sons that “big boys don’t cry,” I was ready to take on all that BS.

I had great ideas about how to protect my kids against the damage that the world will try to do to them.


But what I didn’t remember, what was far harder and far more painful to consider, was how to protect my kids against the damage that the world has already done to me.

___

I reminded Buster to grab his water bottle. He shook his head, sighed, and muttered, “so stupid,” on his way back to the counter.


I didn't have to ask where he heard that kind of talk. 

I said it. 

I say it almost every day. 

Not about him, of course. 

About myself.

When I finally get all the kids and backpacks and rain boots out the door to the car, and I reach into my pocket for the keys and realize I left them on the counter…  (sigh) so stupid.

When I leave my sunglasses on the roof of the car. Nice one, dummy.

When I lose my shit and scream at the kids about which color cheese sticks I packed in their lunch. Ugh, I’m crazy.

When I decide to read a book or watch TV instead of matching the kids’ socks and the next day I have to spelunk in the sock hamper for mismatched socks (again). I was lazy last night.

I hear moms everywhere I go using words like this – dumb, silly, crazy, stupid – not about their children (we would never say things like that to our children!) but about themselves.  

The problem is that the words we use around our children become their words, too. The way we talk to them, and to ourselves, is the way they will talk to others. And themselves.

___

I’ve been a parent for about 5 years. I’ve been a girl for 32.

I am a feminist, but I was born and raised behind enemy lines. My underlying chromosomal makeup can’t compete with 32 years of hardcore, unrelenting conditioning that has taught me that my chromosomal makeup and its physical expression is at best second-class, inconsequential, and strange, and at worst a weapon, a weakness, a tawdry distraction to these good men just trying to do the Lord's work over here.

Equality, respect, and safety for women are in my best interests, yet STILL I catch myself  disliking “abrasive” or “chilly” female CEOs for reasons that I don’t stop to question, and swooning whenever a famous man recites the line fed to him by his publicist, that "women are people too."

#OhMyGodHesSoNice 
#HeThinksImAPerson 
#WhatACatch
#ThatIsHumiliating
#LetsRaiseTheBarPeople

My conscious mind wants to smash the patriarchy; my unconscious habits snuggle comfortably at his slippered feet.

The day I heard my not-yet-3-year-old call himself stupid, something he learned by listening to me, was the day I started to notice how much I talk shit about myself.

That was the day I realized there was a fox in my hen house.

___

Meet The Fox.

He’s been in my head for as long as I can remember.

He told me that I should wear flimsy slick-bottomed ballet flats that looked like Cinderella’s, that made me slip on the hillside when I chased after the boys in their rugged-soled boots.

He crooned, “See? Wasn’t that easier?” when I smiled prettily and agreed with the loudest voice in the room.

He told me I was fat when I was 11.

He shook his head when I lost my temper and everyone said I was crazy or bleeding from wherever.

I live every minute of every day with a fat-mouth, fat-head, bag-a-dicks fox in my hen house, and he never stops telling me that I’m not good enough, and I’ve spent most of my life agreeing with him because he is the loudest voice in that room.

When I veto the Batman DVD for movie night because it’s too violent: You are such a silly little girl.

When I remember to call the cable company: Wow, slow clap for you. It took you a week and a half to make one phone call. Are you even an adult? Would you even have a functioning life if you didn’t have a husband to take care of the REAL stuff?

When I'm white-knuckling the steering wheel as I attempt to negotiate peace between one kid who wants to listen to Disney Storybook Favorites and the other kid who wants Frog and Toad:  Get a grip, crazy lady. It’s not like you’re curing cancer here.

If The Fox had a central thesis, it would look something like this: 

It is important for you to understand that no matter what you do or how hard you work, you can never take pride in your accomplishments or feel valuable or competent. 

I will take every opportunity to remind you that your work doesn't matter; that your mistakes are proof that you will never be a worthwhile person; that your thoughts, opinions, and feelings are less important than mine and based in silly irrational nonsense; that you do not deserve to have time, space, or a voice; and that your only value lies in the pleasant feelings you can give me by being nice and pretty, and the work you can do to support me.

___


There’s a fine line we have to be aware of – the line between inviting women to recognize that they deserve good treatment, and blaming women for their own poor treatment.

I am doing the first one. Not the second one.

I am saying that when I called myself stupid, lazy, or worthless, I was talking to myself in a voice that was not my own.

I’m not telling you how to be or how to talk. You are already great.

I am telling The Fox, the one who calls you a stupid, lazy, dumb, crazy, inconsequential, worthless, silly, hot mess, train wreck, boring, pathetic loser, to sit down and shut up.

It's our turn to talk.

___

I began to practice positive self-talk in front of my kids. 

You might hear me walking the canned bean aisle at the grocery store, declaring in the voice of the Yia-Yia Sisterhood, "I MAKE THOUGHTFUL CHOICES ABOUT NUTRITION BECAUSE I AM SMART AND STRONG. THIS WEEK, WE BUY KIDNEY BEANS."

You might see me screech to a stop in the parking lot, get out of the car, and pull down my iced coffee from where I left it on the roof, and pronounce in a voice stentorian with years of theatre training, "I REMEMBERED MY ICED COFFEE. I REMEMBER MANY IMPORTANT THINGS."

I say good things about myself.

Because before I do anything else to raise my kids to be feminists, I have to identify and address the way The Fox demands that I try to reach unreachable standards for women's beauty, silence, and virtue, and then makes me feel shitty for falling short, being too loud or messy or ambitious or mean, demanding more space, wearing clunky sneakers, or chewing my hair.*

I have to see how the world has damaged me first.

Because I don't hear women say good things about themselves very much. Because a child could take that to mean that women can't think of anything good to say about themselves.

Because the voice we use to talk to our kids (and to ourselves) will become the voice in their heads.

Because I wouldn’t let a sexist soccer coach talk like that to my kids. I wouldn’t let a teacher, babysitter, uncle, or friend talk like that to my kids.

Because I won't let my sons learn how to talk to themselves, or to any person, like a Fox.

___

The Fox tells you that you can’t do anything right.

Let me flip a switch for you.

Every day you pick up 400 objects from where you left them the night before, and you start to juggle them again.

All of the objects are different sizes, shapes, weights. They all require your constant touch to keep them in motion. They all require a different touch.

You juggle a feather, a soup pot, and a belt.

You juggle nutrition, empathy, and trash day.

You juggle a single piece of paper that you need to sign and return today, that flutters and swoops unpredictably, that falls to the ground.

The Fox says, “You are so stupid.”

I say, “Look at you. You are a marvel, an athlete, an X-woman. Look at the way you keep the world spinning for your family. Look at the way you can pick that up again. It shouldn’t be possible for a person to do all that at the same time, but you do it, and you make it look easy. You are amazing."

You are amazing. Tell your kids. Tell yourself. You are amazing.

___

*PS*

OK, The Fox, well played. 
You get that one. 

Chewing my hair WAS super gross. 
I can’t even defend it by saying I was trying to subvert misogynistic standards of female beauty. 

I had a single damp, shiny dreadlock that smelled like Johnson's baby shampoo and morning breath. It hung next to my right ear until my mother cut my hair so short I couldn't chew it anymore. 

I can still remember the way single strands of hair would get stuck between my teeth as I bit the clump of hair flat, gnawing on it as happily and absently as a puppy on a rope knot. 


___


If you enjoyed this post or really any of my posts, please consider supporting my blog through Patreon


$2 or $5 a month helps me grow my blog, write more stuff for you, and treat this work like, well, my job. 

Thanks for reading! xoxo