My Anger Got Out Of Hand, And Now I'm Repairing My Relationship With My Kids

by Karen Johnson
Originally Published: 
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In many ways, I’m exactly the parent I anticipated I would be. I’ve always liked things done a certain way, according to plan, and it’s hard for me when my kids deviate from the path (as kids like to do). No surprise there.

I play with my kids, but my husband is the fun parent. While I might engage in a 10-minute Nerf gun battle, he’ll declare all out war, build fortresses, and fight until all of our 9,000 darts are gone. He’ll wrestle; I prefer board games. So yeah, I’m pretty sure I knew years ago that I’d be a games-at-the-table mom who sticks to a schedule more than a fort-building mom who rolls around on the floor for fun.

One thing I did not see coming, however, was my temper. I had no idea how much these small people I had created, grown, birthed, nursed, and would die for without question would push me to the brink. Would anger me. And would cause me to lose my shit, slam doors, and yell until I my throat was hoarse.

But that’s the mom I am some days. I’m willing to admit that.

And it sucks.

With my first couple of kids, I was an occasional yeller, like when they took every single toy out of the closet and put not a single one away, or wore every single item of clothing they owned in one solitary day and dropped it all into the laundry bin.

I lost my cool now and then when we’d be trying to actually go somewhere and not arrive 20 minutes late FOR ONCE, yet my sweet cherub children were still sitting on the couch watching YouTube in their pajamas as I started the car.

Or when they smeared toothpaste all over the sink, cabinet, floor, floor mat, shower curtain (how TF does that even happen) 10 minutes after I cleaned the bathroom.

You know, standard mom stuff.

But recently my routine “yelling outbursts” took a turn. For the worst. To be honest, I was depleted—zero patience left. I had no tolerance in my reserves for children who needed to “just finish this level” in Minecraft AGAIN, or who snuck candy despite having been told no, or who played with Sharpies at the table when we have buckets of washable markers everywhere.

I was done. Like really really done. And my kids knew it, as they felt a wrath they hadn’t seen before.

I’m not a parent who spanks, nor do I use any other form of corporal punishment. However, after losing my cool as harshly as I did recently, I asked myself—is screaming at them at that decibel really a whole lot different? Is towering over them as I rain anger down upon them “good parenting?” What must my face look like in that moment? What do they see? What do they hear? I don’t really know the answers to those questions, as I’ve lost control of my ability to speak calmly and rationally, and my kids suffer for it.

Especially my youngest.

My youngest is the only one of my kids who struggles in school to behave, sit still, follow directions, etc. At five years old, the rigor and structure of a full day of kindergarten is something he’s still adjusting to. Recently he received a report in his daily folder that comes home—and not a good one. He had struggled that day to listen to his teacher and do his best work. So she wrote me a note about it.

The worst part was not that my kid got into trouble with his teacher. The worst part was that he was afraid to tell me.

Having just had a full-on grownup tantrum a couple days before, the cut was still fresh in his mind. So when he came home and knew I’d check his folder, my child was scared to tell his own mom. He was scared of my wrath.

And that broke me.

Because the truth is, I want my kids to respect me. I want them to give a shit and care about being good, well-behaved kids. But to fear me to such a degree? To be scared to tell his mom that he did what any normal 5-year-old would do in kindergarten—struggle to follow directions—that’s not okay. I knew in that moment that I had fucked up and I had to make it right. I felt horrible, but it was an eye-opening moment for me.

As I watched my child break down into tears and cry, “I’m sorry Mommy! I’ll never get a bad report again!” my heart shattered. I took him into my arms and held him close, rocking him until he calmed down. I whispered, “It’s okay, it’s okay” saying it mostly to him, but also to myself.

And I vowed in that moment to do better.

I took the time that day to speak to each of my kids individually. To apologize for my temper. To tell them that it’s going to be okay if they make mistakes. And that no matter what, I would always forgive them and always love them.

I talked to them about why I get mad—most of the time it’s because I don’t feel like I am being heard, and that hurts my feelings and makes me feel unappreciated. We talked about the things they can do better, and the things I am going to do better.

I also attended a parenting workshop on “restorative practices” in parenting that addressed better, more effective ways to discipline than the rage-machine method I’d been using. The speaker suggested communication strategies such as teaching our kids empathy, that what they do affects others, and also the importance of waiting and disciplining once I’ve calmed down and I’m thinking more rationally.

Another important piece of restorative practices is teaching kids that they can right their wrongs and that messing up doesn’t mean they are bad people. An article in ParentToday addresses this, saying, “Sometimes you’re just devastated that a child would make that choice, and you’re focused on the negative. Restorative justice gives that child a mechanism to do something positive with it — to fix it and look back and say to themselves, ‘I was willing to put in the time to make that right, and that’s who I really am.’”

And guess who else is putting in the time to make things right around here? Me.

I also read articles like this one on Fatherly that explains the detrimental effect of losing my shit on my kids—how it erodes their ability to trust me and does not actually get them to listen better.

“There is a clear difference between listening and hearing,” the article says. “When a parent yells, their kid will probably hear them, but it’s unlikely they’ll be doing much listening. True, a kid might stop what they’re doing out of fear, but they’re not actually absorbing information.”

The article goes on to say that yelling doesn’t make your children listen better, but instead, just teaches them to fear you. And while some might think that’s a good thing because your kids are showing respect and seeing you as the authority, it actually does damage to your relationship because fear erodes trust.

And what parent doesn’t want their kid to trust them?

Because the truth is, my 5-year-old is going to get another negative report at school at some point. That’s just who he is. He’s a kind boy, but yes, sitting and writing and reading are not easy for him and he might act out. And you know what? My other perfectly behaved kids are going to mess up too. I know that because I was a perfectly behaved kid, and I messed up too.

As a parent, it’s my job to make sure my kids know I have their back, no matter what. Even if I’m angry or disappointed for frustrated or feel unappreciated, they are my babies and should know they can come to me—for love, for forgiveness, and for support.

And that they should never ever be afraid to tell me anything.

I’m going to be honest. I may still yell at my kids once in a while. I’m human. I get upset. And parenting is fucking hard. I don’t think getting yelled at occasionally will screw up a kid for life. However, I am going to check myself when I can feel the anger overtake me. I am going to remember the fear in my son’s face when he had to tell me that he was less than perfect one day at school. I’m going to instill that moment, that memory, in my brain and in my heart. And I’m going to try to do better.

Because whether I like it or not, I’m the parent here. And I need to take that job—the most important job in the world—seriously.

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