Sometimes you need permission from someone else to say the thing that weighs upon you.
A dad I know said he understood how people sometimes hurt their children.
And I understood what he meant.
Sleep deprivation. A lack of time or support. Constant needs of little ones to attend to without your needs being meet. Money worries. The weight of familial responsibility. The unrealistic expectations: the burden not shared. The identity changed. The comparing. The sleep. There are the learned behaviors, the coping skills many of which are learned in your own childhood.
All of that even before the current pandemic.
To be clear, he (nor I) didn’t say we WOULD (and I don’t believe either of us would) ever hurt our children, or that we condoned it in any way. There is a line, and I understand now some of the factors that cause it to be crossed (in a way I could never have understood before becoming a parent).
And I’m grateful that he said it because it allowed me to write this.
Rage. Where to start? Do you feel it? Now? Today? When was the last time?
A winter ago I felt it deeply, often. A coldness within me in the mornings. A desire to spread the pain onto others. To make others responsible for my pain.
There was no real physical reason or justification. There is only life (so much life sometimes). The way sometimes it greets you and you want to snarl back.
I am a bear. I am a tiger. I am also a little child crying inside. If this sounds overly dramatic then maybe it is. Have you ever seen a little one throwing a tantrum? Tell them they’re being dramatic when they’re world is ending, over and over, over the seemingly most insignificant things. Thing is, your rage and mine (and theirs) is an animal in pain, a tantrumming child, crying out to be heard.
With our children, we listen in close to them (or at least we try to), we hold their pain, wipe their tears. All the while holding back our own.
The days are long sometimes, the moments are hard sometimes. The logic is flawed sometimes.
Even as my children call for me, I call for someone else to understand, to allow my rage to be heard.
Why should they be the only ones to let off steam? To hurt. To flail on the ground screaming of injustice.
What about my pain, a distant voice calls? Who will hear my call, witness my rage and love me anyway?
I talked with my husband about our default emotions, the place we go to when under stress. Despair he said was his- and I see this in a quietening, a withdrawing and a pacing. For me, there is anger, an anger that wants out, bursting out into first of rage-cleaning, shouts at the kids, a tightening of the jaw and a momentary closing of the heart. I stop short of full blown adult tantrums, the yell at the kids is over in a second no more.. but there is so much more in there that wants out, that wants to scream and stamp their feet and say vicious and hurtful things. I feel it there; a bubbling under the surface..
Flashes of this have been there all of my life. But with kids it becomes more obvious, more challenging to keep the lid on it.
The kids are both trigger and target sometimes, but there is not such an obvious connection between those two ideas. They can be the target even on the days of work frustrations and communication challenges with my husband. I know I can turn frustrations with him into harsh words to my child.
I thank the writer Anne Lamott for sharing these words that helped me understand this a little better
“What has helped recently was figuring out that when we blow up at our kids, we only think we're going from 0 to 60 in one second. Our surface and persona is so calm that when the problem first begins, we sound in control when we say, "Now, honey, stop that," or "That's enough." But it's only an illusion. Because actually, all day we've been nursing anger toward the boss or boyfriend or mother, but because we can't get mad at non kid people, we stuff it down; we keep going without blowing up because we don't want to lose our jobs or partners or reputations. So when the problem with your kid starts up, you're actually starting at 59, only you're not moving. You're at high idle already, but you are not even aware of how vulnerable and disrespected you already feel”
For a long time I thought I was alone in this. Believing motherhood is soft and compassionate, always patient and kind. A good mother. The one I was not in those difficult moments.
Nothing I heard from other mothers reassured me that they might feel this blind rage too.
A therapist I went to see talked about ‘the rage of motherhood’, so I took the phrase to google I found some solidarity. There was Anne Lamott above, and more from Mina Dubin
“The rage lives in my hands, rolls down my fingers clenching to fists. I want to hurt someone. I am tears and fury and violence. I want to scream and rip open pillows, toss chairs and punch walls. I want to see my destruction — feathers floating, overturned furniture, ragged holes in drywall.”
Reassurance that one can feel great anger and still be a great mother. I believe this to be true.
I also believe we have a responsibility to find ways to manage the anger, to listen to it, and to make sure we stay well away from the line of causing hurt to our children. Some thoughts:
You’re allowed to feel anger. This is a normal human emotion.
Choose to make friends with the anger. Get curious about it. Anger may be trying to tell you something. A boundary that has been crossed, moving you in the direction of an action you need to take. Maybe you just need a break, some help? Maybe you can get that now. Maybe you need to step outside a take a few deep breaths to see what the anger is trying to communicate to you.
Acknowledge it. Some people find journaling helps to express on paper what you cannot say in speech. Label the feeling. Maybe there’s a good friend, or even better, a professional you can talk to.
Be aware of how it feels physically in the body. Maybe notice the place where anger sits or tightens something and use the breath to soften that spot, or just focus on slow breathing to take the edge off. This is not about burying the anger back down, but coming back into the body, grounding yourself so you can bring about a helpful response, rather than an unhelpful reaction.
Often, shame comes on top of anger, or we direct the anger back onto ourselves. But what would you tell your kids about anger? You might tell them it’s ok to feel anger, that it doesn’t make them a bad person (but not ok to hit their sister for example). Same applies to you- it’s OK to be angry, it does not make you a bad person.
Find a physical release – we store a lot of tension from stress anger in our bodies and it needs an ‘out’. This can be different things for different people. Exercise, dancing, shaking it off, find what works for you.
Find things to tend to your selfcare and mood in general- the longer-term stuff- go easy on yourself at that time of your monthly cycle. Eat well. Exercise. Spend less time on social media and more time doing things that nourish you.
You are allowed to feel anger. But you are an adult and you have the power to choose how you respond to it. The key is finding that space between your action and your reaction. The sweet spot.
My course 'Calm in the Chaos' starts Feb 13th and includes mindfulness, yoga, and journaling tools designed to reduce stress and give you more ways to handle what life throws at you. Find out more here