Okay, you got me. I will be the first to admit that I am guilty, from time to time, of losing my temper and yelling at my kids. Okay, fine. Screaming at my kids, actually. I hate that I do it, it sucks when it happens, and I feel guilty for days following. Miserable, I tell you. Just miserable. Feeling this terrible about a behavior begs the question, “why don’t you just stop?” Well, just go ahead and make me sound like an addict, why don’t ya? Actually, maybe you’re onto something here….
Addicted to screaming? Addicted to yelling? Addicted to wanting to feel in control? Okay, maybe so, yes. Ugh. That doesn’t sound so good. When you break it down, screaming at my kids when they don’t do what I want does certainly sound like being a control freak, or one who is addicted to feeling in control. (Notice how I say feel in control instead of be in control? Because we never are truly in control, it’s more of an illusion than anything). But, back to what I was saying….there seems to be a link between losing control, i.e. screaming, and trying to be in control. When I don’t get what I want, I regress to tantrum like behavior until I finally break the little people around me and get my way. Ugh again. Double ugh.
I’ve learned that telling myself I’m not going to yell or scream anymore is not good enough. It’s not that easy. That’s like an alcoholic saying, I’m just going to quit drinking. Sounds doable until a stressful moment arises and your sucked right back into your habit. Just as with a true addict, you’ve got to go deeper, get to the source of the problem, and find new methods for coping. You don’t just quit.
So, I ask myself: what are my triggers? As I said before it’s when I want to be in control, feel that I need to be in control, and when my kids challenge that with their determination to have their own mind and their own will. How dare they! I also now know about myself that I am especially prone to screaming when I feel out of control in other areas of my life. Other areas? Now, we’re onto something…
Let’s take for example my husband and I are facing some financial struggles. I’m feeling stressed, preoccupied, and scared of this very common household strain. I’m thinking continuously about how to budget, what adjustments to make, and how to avoid another argument with my husband. Sounds stressful, doesn’t it? Now throw in a 2 year old who’s also having her share of excruciating stress this morning – her brother (my son) has just taken her favorite purse away, again, and her mom (me) won’t let her wear her her watermelon dress for the 4th day in a row! High stress in toddler town.
Flash back to me trying with all my limited might to breathe deep, stay calm, and get everyone dressed and out the door before I’m late to my cycle class, again. I call to my two hoodlums to get their shoes on, now! and, big shocker, they don’t. Again. I hear one more bellowed scream from my daughter and bam! I lose it. “THAT’S EEEENOUGGGHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! GET DOWN HERE NOOOOOOWWW!!!!!!!!!!!!! YOU’RE BOTH IN TIME OUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! NO FUN FOR YOU FOREVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” You get the gist.
Well, just like alcohol soothes alcoholic’s anxiety and tension, momentarily I get my way and feel some release of tension. That is until the guilt sets in and the fear of what damage I’ve just incurred on my little one’s psyche. There has to be a better way.
Now I’m not going to tell you the solution is to take deep breathes, scream in your pillow, or take a mommy time-out. These coping strategies have their place and they can be useful but they are not solutions. They do not engage us in going to the source of the problem. They help us survive while we seek out the source. So use them up, but don’t stop there.
3 steps to regaining self control and letting go of “being in control”.
1. The first thing to do when you’re facing a mommy meltdown is to recognize and acknowledge what’s really happening. What’s going on for you that’s driving your patience level from 0 to -100 in no time flat?
“Okay. I am feeling preoccupied with worry about our finances. I want to think about this right now in order to create a solution. I am not wanting to attend to my kids and their drama. On a ‘normal’ day I could tolerate the screaming and defiance but today I am low on patience because I’m not fully present. I’m stuck in my thoughts.”
2. Return to the present. When you’re worrying about something you are projecting yourself into the future. You are trying to control a situation that is not in your power to control in this moment. When you are thinking about the future, you cannot fully attend to what is needed in the present.
“Okay. I can’t do anything about the finances right now. I can plan to give that issue my attention this evening after the kids are in bed. For now I can only focus on the situation at hand: my kids.”
3. Accept what you can control and what you cannot, in this moment. Trying to control external circumstances and people is about as effective as trying to prevent water from slipping through your fingers. Not possible. You can only control your reactions and responses. The fact that your kids are freaking out does not imply that you must, too. You do not have to join in the drama. Actually, your circumstance and especially your kids need you to be the one “in charge” by not freaking out alongside them
“My kids are having a hard time. I’m having a hard time accepting that. I cannot control their feelings and responses but I can choose mine. I cannot change this situation by force. I may not be able to change it at all. But, I can be calm if I want to be.”
Understanding what drives you to anger, frustration, and intolerance is as important, if not more important, as learning how to control it. If you don’t understand the force behind the habit, it will rise up again and again. Like habits do. If you find you are unable to effectively manage your emotions on your own it may be time to seek the help of a counselor. There is no shame in asking for help. Doing better for yourself is doing better for your kids, your family, your whole unit. PsychologyToday.com is a great resource to accessing a wealth of counselors in your area.
Parenting is hard. Very hard. It requires constant growth and admittance of our own need for growth. This is strength, though. Being able to acknowledge, accept, and admit our struggle is the first step to finding and doing better. Give yourself some support in this. You’re only doing the most important job on the planet, after all. I suppose we should expect it to be challenging. Keep going. You got this.