Many moms of toddlers struggle with anger – and we struggle in silence, feeling the shame of how we treat our children and feeling the shame of struggling with anger as a woman. Our culture often doesn’t connect anger as an emotional response of women. It’s seen more as a “male emotion.” And so that adds a layer of shame to our own struggles with anger as moms. In sharing my struggle openly, I found a few friends to be “go to” friends in the angry moments – meaning friends I could text or call when I felt really angry, or on the verge of anger, who could talk me off the angry ledge. Sometimes, simply interrupting my angry tirade by calling someone else was enough to help the angry feelings to pass – or at least for them to lessen and to give me time to pray. Sometimes I literally walked outside the door to get a breath of fresh air for a moment. Other times, I set my kids up with “Sesame Street” to give myself the mental and emotional break I felt like I needed. Some mornings, when I felt my emotions to be particularly fragile, we arranged a last minute playdate in order to have the accountability and companionship of a fellow mom. If this wasn’t possible, we planned an outing. To anywhere. It really didn’t matter, just as long as we were out of the house. I’ve also found that turning on music can be calming for everyone, both me and my daughters. Anything to give me a chance to calm down, to cry out for help from God (instead of having an angry tirade against him in the guise of parental frustration directed towards my children), and to wait for the Spirit to show up to direct how to discipline, instruct, or care for my child rather than following what my emotions told me to do.
In the category of preventing anger, counseling can be tremendously helpful. Counseling can be either formal or informal. Maybe you could ask an older mom in your life who’s been there to come over weekly or monthly for coffee – or, better yet, ask your husband to watch your kids so that you can go out with this older friend and have uninterrupted conversation. Maybe you could seek a good friend to hold you accountable and to be a fellow struggler with you, a friend who will counsel you and remind you of the gospel and let you do the same. Worship at church weekly is such a refreshment to my heart – like setting “reset” as I remember God’s forgiveness of the past sins and struggles of the previous week and as I ask for new mercies and grace for the yet unknown struggles of the week ahead. It’s been a time for me to be convicted of sin, repent, and be refreshed by the grace of God that covers all my sins – even the heinous anger of a desperate mom against her undeserving children.
It also helps to notice when you are most likely to be angry – to keep checking your emotional “barometer” and notice how you’re processing the demands of each day. I realized that I needed to go to bed earlier at night because I wasn’t getting enough sleep. And that I needed to do less outside of the home. I was most likely to get angry when I felt the pressure of a demanding week, with places to go, commitments and responsibilities outside of our home. Maybe for you it might be the opposite – maybe your anger comes because you feel too isolated and you aren’t getting enough outside connection. The important thing is to know yourself, asking God to make it clear what your tendency is – overscheduling or under-scheduling – and to seek wisdom and strength to know what to cut out or what to add in so that you are able to manage your home, your children, and/or your job while staying emotionally healthy.
I also notice that when I’m trying to process my own complex emotions that I am more likely to take it out on my kids. What can I do to process my own emotions better, separately from my children, so that I don’t have so much background noise/burden? It might be worth it to hire a babysitter regularly simply for the purpose of you getting out alone with a cup of coffee, your journal, and the Bible or a good book to help you process whatever it is that’s weighing on your heart in a given day, week, or season. Find friends who could swap childcare with you so that you’re able to give one another the much needed breaks you need. Communicate clearly to your husband what it is that you want. More than likely, he will be all too happy to cooperate when the end result is a wife and mom who is better able to engage her family. If I’m having a week that’s felt hard or anticipate a particularly difficult week ahead, I request with my husband a morning or afternoon “off” during a weekend simply to do whatever it is I need to do. Sometimes I head to Stella’s with my journal; sometimes I meet a friend for lunch; other times I run errands in the blissful joy of solitude and efficiency. The other benefits to this is that your husband will more fully appreciate what you do every day of the week and your kids get valuable “daddy and me” time. Leave any lingering mom guilt at home with the kids, take your keys, and go!
But none of these strategies alone is enough to get at the heart of your anger. They allow you to clear some space so that you will be able to deal with your heart. Stay posted for part 3 coming in a few days.