One mom asked me a great question the other day, “How do I not get angry at my child?”
Whether it is challenging behavior, bickering siblings, or outright defiance, our children know how to push our buttons. I admit it. Once or twice a year I turn into a screaming lunatic triggered by something one of children did (and typically it is not something major). For me it is like a slowly building tsunami of rage. My daughter refuses to start her homework at a reasonable hour causing her to stay up late night after night, my son keeps forgetting to shut the garage door or losing his wallet, my youngest takes 30 minutes to take her medicine wasting valuable time, nobody picks up after themselves. It builds and builds until the emotional tsunami hits the shore and pretty much the kids now know to move to higher ground.
I am not proud of those moments. I would like to continually handle life with grace. My mistake is in not looking more closely at what lies under those triggers that are collecting day after day creating that tsunami of emotion. If I get enraged internally that my daughter for not starting her homework — I need to dig a little deeper and ask myself why? It’s her life, her homework, and she has to suffer the consequences of less sleep and unfinished homework. Yet I am the one experiencing painful and frustrating emotions. Yes, every parent would like their child to find their way to good study habits, but I know there is more to her procrastination than simple laziness. So why do I work myself into an internal rage? Many of my parents share with me homework causes them enormous stress.
My freak out does nothing to help my child with their own internal struggle with procrastination or organizing her environment. What flies out of my mouth is not helpful or kind, therefor, it should never leave my lips. Yet, I get caught in this trap over and over. Wouldn’t it be nice to be calm and clear when trying to guide our children, especially those with challenges, to finding their way to leading a healthy life?
I always think, “How would Mr. Rogers handle this?” I know he wouldn’t yell or threaten and even harbor secret resentment. He would offer loving support and unending patience (at least that is the Mr. Rogers I knew as a child). After all our children are … children. Wouldn’t you like to be approached in that way when you are struggling with a challenge? Love and patience.
Well, when I become fully enlightened, I will achieve such grace with ease. Until then I have to do it the harder human way — by looking at myself and seeing what is really going on. Let me give you a list of just a few of my works in process (I am in this right alongside you):
- When my children don’t listen the first time I am triggered because if as a child I didn’t listen the first time my parents would have been very angry at me. That would in turn add to my mountain of fear that my parents did not love me. At its core lives the thought that I am unloveable. Shame.
- When my children are struggling or not doing well in school I go into a panic. When I was a child my identity was wrapped up in being the smart kid and receiving praise from others. I believed I had to earn love. Praise is not love and deep down inside I resented needing external validation. I did not like myself because I believed I was unlovable. Shame.
- When my children deceive me or lie I become angry. I was abused in a relationship in college by a pathological liar. I condemned myself for being deceived. I should have known better. Shame.
- When my children don’t try very hard based on my observation and I am giving 110%, I become unbelievably frustrated. I have dyslexia and epilepsy and chronic migraines making remembering semantic data very difficult. I believed I had to maintain a level of stress and tension to learn and perform well resulting in a never ending headache. I was terrified that I might not be as smart as people thought. Shame.
- I become angry that my son is not leaving home to start his own life yet I enable him day after day unconsciously enticing him to stay home so deep down inside I can keep him safe. I fear his death. I am sabotaging his life. Shame.
I could go on but I bet you see the pattern. The underlying shame we all carry is standing in the way of our ability to lead joyful lives and to really enjoy those few precious years we have our children under our roof. This is not hopeless. We just need to have the courage to look underneath our emotions that are like rocks. There are always some creepy crawlies under rocks we pretend aren’t there. We are more powerful than those little worms and beetles under those rocks just like we can chose to no longer energize those unhealthy thoughts and beliefs. I am lovable. I am human and make mistakes and that is how I learn and grow. I love myself and am gentle with myself. I am worthy just like everyone else on the the planet. I have no cause for shame.
Know this. What we see in others that ruffles our feathers or angers/annoys us should simply motivate us to search for the reason why. The reason is inside us. Is it something we don’t like about ourselves? Do we have a faulty belief? Is our upbringing causing us to repeat the sins of the father? Our children are holding up mirrors so we can see what we need to heal — which in many cases is shame, feeling unworthy or unlovable. When we identify a trigger we can look for the faulty thought running underneath it and choose to stop energizing that thought. This is not as easy as it sounds but with the right assistance parents can learn about themselves so they can be in a better place to help their children. This is my favorite work to do with parents because I know that the parent, child and family will heal in ways they never fathomed.