Before I had kids, it took a lot to get me riled up. Sure, I’d get angry if someone hurt my feelings or broke my heart. But I rarely raised my voice, and certainly never yelled at the source of my pain in the moment. Instead, I managed my emotions the way anyone who loathes confrontation would: I’d just write in my journal, or draft an email that I’d never send.
Then I became a mother to two small humans with big personalities, and managing all my emotions via the written word just wasn’t a practical solution anymore. Children need to feel loved and secure, but they also need to be parented; they need to learn boundaries and to know what it means to be a contributing member of a family. What they don’t need is a mom who — as her parenting MO — yells all the time. And that’s where I’m afraid this Jewish mama is failing miserably.
It wasn’t so bad when it was just our daughter. She was an easy baby — a good listener who had a good grip on right vs. wrong, even at a young age. I rarely needed to raise my voice at her. But the birth of our son when she was about to turn three changed our family dynamics and tested my parenting skills, and it’s never been the same.
The older they’ve become (they’re 7 and 4 now), the harder it’s gotten for me to control myself in the heat of the moment, and – I’m ashamed to admit — now my rage seems to go from 0 to 180 nearly instantaneously. It could be something as innocent as my son not listening when I ask him to clear his dinner plate or my daughter dilly-dallying in the morning, making me late for work. But it doesn’t matter. If I have to ask them to do something more than two or three times, I blow up. And I hate it.
The worst part of this “Yelling Me” that I’m hyper-aware of it while I’m doing it. Rationally, I know that I can’t control what they are doing — only my reaction to them. Rationally, I know yelling solves nothing — as my husband so kindly notes: When I yell, it’s not exactly like they listen any better. (I hate that he’s right.) Not to mention it hurts my voice, it makes my blood pressure rise, and it makes me feel downright ugly.
And yet it continued to happen, without me really knowing or understanding why. That is, until I came across an essay written by a mother who realized that anxiety was at the root of her rage. It punched me right in the gut.
Oh my God, I thought. She was me. I am not alone!
I could relate to so much of what she said, especially this: “Your heart hurts because you love these kids so much, and you never want to hurt their feelings. But the yelling comes again, and again, and again.”
YES. If you’ve never been there, I can tell you: It feels uncontrollable, and it’s terrifying.
What’s more, reading her words gave me flashbacks to my late 20s/early 30s, when I battled stress-induced disordered eating issues. Back then, chewing and spitting was my coping mechanism of choice for anxiety. At the time, I knew that I shouldn’t do it — that it was wrong, that it was a disgusting behavior, that it was hurting my relationships, and that it was deceitful. But I still did it.
Now here I was, nearly a decade later, and my anxiety was rearing its ugly head once again. Except now, stress was manifesting itself in a new way: rage, in the form of yelling at my kids. The kids I love and adore … and who also manage to bring out the monster in me.
The way I overcame my disordered eating issues back then was traditional cognitive behavioral therapy along with blogging my recovery. While they both helped, what actually got me to stop was a mantra my brother gave me: “Choose pride over guilt.” He was right.
I never felt proud when I chewed and spit. In fact, I pretty much hated myself for it. And so I stopped chewing and spitting one day. I found other healthier ways to cope with my anxiety: writing, exercising, talking things through … though anxiety itself never went away, it was quelled.
I hate myself when I yell at my kids. They need to be disciplined, of course, and I want them to respect me. But they don’t need a rage monster mama, either. They need a mother who chooses pride over guilt, who can discipline her kids without flying off the handle.
Running and writing have helped calm some of my stress-induced anxiety lately, but I still clearly have plenty of work to do. My kids are young, and I know I don’t have to live this way forever. Since reading that article, I’m seriously considering going back to a therapist for a “tune-up.” I know I’m not my best self when I’m in Rage Momnster Mode, and I don’t want yelling to be what my kids remember about me someday. Plus, it’s not healthy for any of us.
One of my friends told me her goal for 2018 was to live more intentionally, and that really stuck with me. To me, choosing pride over guilt is all about being intentional, and it’s what I think will help nip this yelling business in the bud. It’s about thinking before I react; finding different solutions for when they’re not listening (maybe a new behavior chart or something similar?). It’s about finding coping mechanisms for those moments when I want to burst, like walking away and taking a time out for myself when things feel out of hand.
They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. Essentially, that’s what I’ve been doing the past couple of years. Something has to change, and I know it’s me. It’s just good to know I’m not alone in feeling this way – lots of mothers out there share these struggles, even if we didn’t have a name for it.