When Moms Get Angry
- 2003 5 May
We've all seen other parents "lose it" at times ― at a restaurant, the mall or in the grocery store checkout line. Sometimes we wonder why the parents don't have better control of their emotion (and their kids); other times we're just thankful that it isn't happening to us.
After all, struggling with anger is a battle many parents fight, and almost as many lose. Indeed, you've probably experienced your fair share of emotional meltdowns.
You desperately want a nap, but your 2-year-old won't go down for hers. Your 4-year-old throws a tantrum because you cut his sandwich into quarters instead of halves. Your 9-year-old has taken to rolling her eyes at your every request.
Sound familiar? From "He started it" to "I'm not going" to "You can't make me," you've likely heard them all, and you just can't take it anymore. Pair these challenges with never-ending piles of laundry, dishes and bills and something's got to give! All too often, it ends up being mom's temper.
You may have been calm, cool and collected before kids, but if you're like most parents, having children helped you discover the temper you never knew you had. Many children, it seems, are born with the uncanny ability to transform even the most mild-mannered mom into a screaming maniac.
While experts shower us with parenting books, videos and magazine columns, few can prepare a mother for the force of her own emotions. Yet whether you're prone to frequent explosions or the occasional outburst, Julie Ann Barnhill is here to assure you that you're not alone.
"I wrote the book I needed to read," Barnhill says, explaining the inspiration and motivation behind She's Gonna Blow! Real Help for Moms Dealing With Anger. "I wanted to write about what moms struggle with, but what they will never say out loud."
Judging from sales and the outpouring of response her book has received, Barnhill did just that. Mixing real-life experiences, biblical truths and a hefty dose of humor, Barnhill aims to shed light on this very sensitive topic.
"It's a shameful subject that's easier not to discuss," she says. "You could get a bunch of moms together and start talking about being mad or miffed, but no one wants to talk about anger, rage and the shameful things you do in secret."
Barnhill remembers one particular incident when her anger blew out of control. A combination of financial worries, a husband working long hours, a voracious newborn boy and an energetic 2-year-old girl led to a moment when Barnhill says she "bottomed out on everything."
She had just gotten her children in their beds for a nap and was ready to settle in for a much-needed 20-minute snooze of her own. Before long, the baby started screaming and her toddler walked in, announcing that she couldn't sleep and sporting soiled pants despite a healthy dose of potty training.
That's when she lost it.
Barnhill recalls scooping the little girl into her arms, shaking her and finally tossing her in the general vicinity of her mattress. Instead, her daughter hit the wall. That's when Barnhill broke down.
"Instantly, I wanted to vomit," she recalls. "I stepped toward her and she just cowered. . . . I never imagined that I could act that way!"
Thankfully, her daughter was unhurt, and even though 12 years have passed since that day, the memory still shocks her. Barnhill knew she had gone too far, and she came away from the experience knowing that she needed to deal with her anger.
Common Warning Signs
Sometimes you can see it coming. Money is tight, dirty clothes are piling up, the kids have runny noses and you've just discovered that you're out of milk. So you make what you hope will be a quick trip to the store, only to run into mad traffic and a red light at every corner. You can practically feel your blood pressure rising.
Barnhill says it's often the "little" things in our everyday lives that are the most likely to send us over the edge. Simply being aware of these trigger points is often enough to keep you from exploding.
So, what are some common warning signs that mom is about to lose her cool?
* Tension in hands and jaw; clenched teeth
* Looking/feeling flushed
* Shallow breathing or holding of breath
* Feeling helpless, frustrated or panicked
* Acting out physically quicker than usual
* Using sarcasm or hateful, belittling words
* Experiencing symptoms of PMS
* Workplace issues
* A messy house
"You can wake up in a good mood," Barnhill says, "go downstairs, see the messy kitchen and you're annoyed ― without anyone doing anything!"
Yet it's how you handle these frustrations that really matters. The good news? There are strategies you can use to take control and keep your cool, even when you're on the verge of a meltdown.
Keeping Calm in Heated Moments
Parenting is hard enough without buying into the unrealistic expectations that can plague even the most competent mother. Perhaps you display "model mom" behavior outside of your home ― you'd never lose it within earshot of anyone ― yet you have plenty of experience with private scream-a-thons
But what do you do when the kids are driving you up the wall? Barnhill's book offers plenty of suggestions, including:
* Take back your brain! When you see the symptoms signaling an
outburst, stop and think about what you're doing and saying.
* Learn to defuse energy through relaxation.
* Put a stop to harmful language, be it sarcasm, belittling or blaming.
* Prepare for anger-producing situations and avoid them if possible.
* Take time out for yourself.
* Post a "ther-momma-meter" to subtly inform your husband and children about your cycle and current level of patience.
* If you're set off by visual cues ― piles of laundry for example ― then close the door or have one pile instead of three; anything to make the irritant seem less overwhelming.
Most parents know that barking at their children is not the most effective way to communicate, but even the best-intentioned parents reach the breaking point at times. Barnhill wants moms to know that God can work even in the midst of anger.
When she first started dealing with her anger, Barnhill says her actions got "better and worse and better." Yet the most noticeable transformation took place when she realized she also needed to change spiritually.
Turning Your Anger Around
Barnhill says it's never too late to turn negative behaviors around.
"It's an act of God in your heart," she says, "and when your heart changes, your thinking changes. When your thinking changes, your words change and you see things differently."
Through meetings with a Christian role model, nurturing your relationship with God and learning to ignore minor irritations, Barnhill assures moms everywhere that God's grace will eventually lead to change.
"There is nothing that is unforgivable," she say. "There is nothing so ugly that God will look away from it and never have anything to do with you again. There is healing in your relationships. Children don't remember a whole lot and what they do remember, grace has been able to soften."
Words for a parent to live by.
Carol Steffes is online editor for Broadcast Programming at Focus on the Family.
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