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My Anger Isn't My Child's Responsibility

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Several years ago, I’d just returned from a trip where I had the lovely experience of staying in an AirBnB with bedbugs. It was a rough time in my life. I was recently divorced, and less than a year out from grieving the loss of my best friend to ovarian cancer.

I was a hot mess.

I took all of the clothes from the trip and double bagged them in garbage bags, which I put in the garage. It was one of my kids’ jobs to take out the trash, which they responsibly did. That bag held clothes that were my best friend’s. One of the t-shirts even still smelled like her. I hadn’t ever washed it.

As I walked into the garage and realized what happened, I broke into sobs. I called the kids down, and started screaming at them.

“Where did the bag go?!?!? The one with my clothes?!?”

“Mom,” my then 10 year old son said quietly (they were already terrified) “I thought it was trash. I took it out to the curb this morning.”

I laid into them with the mother of all hysterical guilt trips, culminating with throwing myself on the stairs in dramatic fashion and breaking down completely. My rage was making a mess and scaring the bejesus out of my kids.

Our most shameful parenting moments are born of anger.

I wish I could say that was the only time something like this happened, but it’s not. There was the time my ex-husband showed up unexpectedly at an event I was at with the kids, and I left in anger, leaving them feeling abandoned. There was the time I yelled at my son, who was having a panic attack, to “pull it together.”

I’m not proud to share these things, but my hope is to normalize our worst moments and give you hope that we don’t need to be the victim of, or make our children the victim of our anger. When we keep our worst moments locked behind closed doors, we make our children complicit in the secret truth of our worst proclivities.

We slam doors.

We yell in their faces. We take away their favorite toy or don’t let them go to their friend’s house.

We call them names. We shame them.

We tell them that we are leaving, or we demand that they leave, seething with disgust.

And then… we feel shame. Deep, potent, crumbling shame. And… so do they.

Anger is the six-pack abs of parent coaching. Meaning, it’s the thing that most people want to resolve immediately when they work with our coaches at The Jai Institute for Parenting.

Anger is complex. It has so many tendrils and defenses. It hides underneath the surface, where it bubbles and brews, like a steaming tea kettle, until the pressure becomes too great, and the lid blows off.

One of our coaches shared a story of working with a client that hired her specifically because she wanted to control her anger. Wanting to give this mom what she came for, she jumped right into this piece of our process. But the mom was so defended. There was no access point to actual transformation.

Every time the coach tried to offer tools, she touched a nerve. Without the prior work, she was met with justifications, yeah buts, and blaming others. She wisely went back to the beginning of our work.

Without the foundations of emotional awareness, defined values, and communication, we can’t truly transform our relationship with and to anger, because anger scares us. It can feel like a force that is uncontrollable. Anger turns us into a person we hardly recognize and are embarrassed to acknowledge. Most of us were conditioned to control our anger, so we don’t have a positive model to handle it.

For many of us, our anger is so defended, that there’s not a tip or trick or strategy to deal with our anger the way we were taught.

Remember the line in Beauty and the Beast, where Belle demands of the beast: “You MUST control your temper!!”?

It may have worked in a Disney cartoon, but here in real life, controlling anger is as futile as controlling the wind. And so, we get to create a new, healthy and empowered relationship with anger. Because anger is actually one of the most powerful tools of awareness, truth and safety that we have as human beings.

Actually, you must *NOT* control your temper

Repressed anger hurts us and others. When we don’t acknowledge our own anger, or we don’t allow it in others, we are essentially trapping a toxic bath of neuro-chemicals inside of our body.

We are disavowing ourselves of a vital component of our experiences from the past and in the present. Resentments build. We become the very thing we hate to see in others. Bitter, resigned, and cynical.

We start treating the people we love most poorly. We become overly critical of ourselves and others. We speak to our loved ones with contempt. We avoid conflict, and shut down conversations. We make our anger other people’s fault: “You made me (insert unhealthy expression of anger here).”

No wonder we don’t want to feel our anger!

We’ve been hurting others and being hurt by others through unhealthy expressions of anger for a really long time.

Here’s a hard truth to swallow: when we’ve been holding our anger in for a lifetime, the easiest targets for its wrath are our children. They are smaller than us, they can’t abandon us, and they won’t fight back and win.

It is often the safest and most reliable relationships that we have that receive the brunt of our anger.

There's no easy fix when it comes to unhealthy expressions of anger. This is why I believe it is vital that parents do the work of personal growth and development. This is best done with a parenting coach or a mental health professional. Because you can't use willpower to control the way you do anger.

Not because you're not a good person... not because you don't have enough discipline... not because you're not capable or that you aren't a good parent. But because this is how brains work. It takes time.

But learning to not yell, shame, stonewall or blame our kids? I believe with all my heart that it is beyond worth it.

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