Every parent gets angry at his or her children sometimes.
It doesn’t help that there are always the endless pressures of life: appointments we’re late to, things we’ve forgotten until the last moment, health and financial worries — the list is endless. In the middle of that stress, enter our child, who has lost her sneaker, suddenly remembered she needs a new notebook for school today, is teasing her little brother, or is downright belligerent. And we snap.
In our more peaceful moments, if we’re honest, we know that we could handle any parenting challenge much better from a state of calm. But in the storm of our anger, we feel righteously entitled to our fury. How can this kid be so irresponsible, inconsiderate, ungrateful or even mean?
But no matter how aggravating we find our child’s behavior, that behavior doesn’t cause our angry response. We see our child’s behavior (“He hit her again!”), and we draw a conclusion (“He’s going to be a psychopath!”) which triggers other conclusions (“I’ve failed as a mother!”). This cascade of thoughts creates a run-away train of emotions — in this case fear, dismay, guilt. We can’t bear those feelings. The best defense is a good offense, so we lash out at our child in anger. The whole process takes all of two seconds.
Your child may be pushing your buttons, but he isn’t causing your response. Any issue that makes you feel like lashing out has roots in your own early years. We know this because we lose our ability to think clearly at those moments, and we start acting like children ourselves, throwing our own tantrums.
Don’t worry. That’s normal. We all enter the parenting relationship wounded in some way from our childhoods, and our kids surface all those wounds. We can expect our kids to act out in ways that send us over the cliff at times. That’s why it’s our responsibility as the grownup to stay away from the cliff.