Breaking The Cycle Of Parental Rage With My Firstborn

by Alexandra Owens
Originally Published: 
parental rage
Tim Denison / iStock

Sigh. I’m that mom tonight. I actually couldn’t put my oldest to bed. The thought of him starting school tomorrow, all day on his own, brought tears to my eyes. So I traded bedtime with his dad.

Typically these kinds of online posts are the ones I scroll by — those moms crying over their firstborns headed off to school, and I think “not me” and “if only those mothers would let go!”

But here I am — hiding out in his sister’s room as his daddy puts him to bed because I’m an emotional wreck. You see, he was my first teacher. Out of all our littles, this one has experienced all my firsts as a parent. We’ve laughed and cried, and battled some pretty intense demons together.

I grew up in an abusive house. I can say it now without anxiety behind those words, without the fear of my mother and her erratic behavior that left me walking on eggshells most of my life. I endured “rage cleaning” at its finest and spent many hours inspecting the house before she came home in the hopes its cleanliness was enough to not start a “fire.”

Yelling was always followed by smacks or slaps, and to this day, the rattling of drawers when someone is angry flashes back to where the wooden spoons were kept and how they were used. The many times I had to lock myself in our bathroom just to escape her rage banging on the other side of the door isn’t an easy memory to forget. I was sure I wouldn’t inherit these traits, that I would be perfect for my children.

So as I stand over the edge of his bed, I reflect on his first smiles, his first laughs, tickles, and words. But I also reflect on my first rage — the minuscule thing my son did that set off my “fire” inside me, so surprised by this emotion bubbling up that I puked in my mouth, and the hours afterward during which I wept.

I can honestly and truthfully say the rage never overtook me the way it did my mother. I never crossed that line, never became abusive. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t find it there, sitting inside me, deep down, begging to spring forth like a cat. I can’t count the number of times at the beginning when now as an adult, I again choose to lock myself in the bathroom just to ensure nothing escaped and hurt anyone.

Where had this sickness come from? I knew the origin and was disgusted with myself and terribly ashamed. These aren’t the types of stories you share with other moms over afternoon playdates — baby’s first steps, first swim lessons, and “did I tell you about the first time I had to scream into a pillow to ensure I didn’t rage at my kid? No? Hmm.” Where sickness thrives, bad things will follow. I was supposed to be better.

It wasn’t easy. It isn’t easy to this day. But I chose better. My circumstances are different from my mother’s, for sure. I have a husband as my partner and support and friends who stepped in. But more so, I had a choice. I chose my child over my pride, over that voice that says, “I can do this on my own,” and over my sickness — I wasn’t willing to raise a child in fear the way I had been raised, a child who flinched at every movement or worried about their parent’s behavior and reactions each day. I wouldn’t, and thankfully haven’t, cultivated an environment of fear like the one I had grown up in.

I have worked so hard to be in this place with my now 6-year-old. His brothers and sisters have never dealt with more than my slamming of a door or raised voice. They never experienced my crying and weeping over these inner demons that tried to take over. With the strength and tools I learned from my wise counselor and supportive husband, I don’t rage anymore. I inhale and exhale. I sing instead of yell. I create small mantras that I repeat over and over until I can barely speak. But mostly, I dealt with the fear — the fear that sat on my shoulder as a child and just grew up into anger. Once it was dealt with, I could (in the words of Johnny Nash) see clearly. Small things annoyed me, but rage never followed those emotions.

So you can see where my weeping comes in. This one, he’s been my mirror and my reflection and at times my mini-me with his inclusive impulsive personality that brightens up a room. And he’s been my teacher. I was sure I had come to terms with the nightmares I endured as a child. I never bothered to deal with them before parenthood because I thought the pain wasn’t there anymore. Parenthood is funny and horrible that way. It brings up the exact demons you were sure you had outrun when you were younger, and turns around and throws it in your face in the form of a child you carried inside you for nine months.

So I cry, thankful for the gift he’s given me, and I weep as the guilt still sits in the pit of my stomach. I am fairly certain it will always be there. I’m not immune to the fact that I struggled with anger and made mistakes, but I’m hopeful we’ve had a million more happy and memorable times than the dark valleys I pushed through.

I talk openly and vulnerably about my anger, because I refuse to let the sickness go unspoken. Where sickness thrives, bad things follow. I’ve had my lion’s share of bad things and hope to shed light on those with similar stories. If we never talk about these things at our playdates and moms’ nights out, when will we? The women who walk with me and listen to my “anger confessions” are the ones I need, the ones who hold me accountable.

If no one talks about this anger, then we continue to raise another generation of children who walk on eggshells and live in constant fear. And I won’t do that.

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