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Angry Parents

Recently a mother tearfully told me how awful she felt when she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror when she was screaming at her kids.

“I never hit them but sometimes I yell. My face was so angry and ugly I was shocked and ashamed of myself. All I could think of was how awful to be a child with a mother whose face looks so hateful!”

All mothers get angry at their children. It’s normal to feel anger when we are interrupted for the tenth time or we are confronted with serious dawdling when we’re in a hurry or we find a mess the children made just after we cleaned up.

My parrot taught me to stop screaming at my children. One day I came home from work, no doubt stressed out, to find the front hall full of possessions the children had scattered on the floor. I yelled something like, “Rachel! Jeb! Get down here this minute and pick up this mess!” The parrot immediately imitated me. He didn’t repeat my words but he sure played back the raucous tone of my voice. I, too. was ashamed of the way it must have sounded to my children. From that moment on I made a conscious effort to speak more quietly.

It is frightening for a child to see Mommy lose her cool. Babies quickly learn to recognize “friendly” and “non-friendly” faces and they turn away from people with the latter. Babies also do not like loud noises and, worst of all, they are terrified (even the pre-verbal ones) that Mommy, on whom they are so dependent, might withdraw her love.

So it is important for mothers to learn how to control their temper in front of the children. Controlling your temper starts with self-awareness. You must be aware of your feelings. Some mothers think they are supposed to be calm and generous angels of nurturance 24-hours-a day, no matter how tired or busy they may be. This, of course, is an impossible goal but it leads some mothers to repress their feelings until they explode.

Memorize the following slogan: BEFORE YOU EXPLODE OR DROP, STOP! With the exception of when the baby is in the bathtub there is no time you cannot leave the scene to take a PARENTAL TIME OUT.

A parental time out starts when you feel you are about to lose it. Sometimes you can take a time-out in place by counting slowly to 10 or taking 5 deep breaths until you compose yourself. But if you are really heating up to the boiling point, put the baby in a safe place like a crib or playpen and leave the room until you have calmed down. It’s OK for the baby to cry. This is far better than being frightened by Mommy’s face. Screaming and crying is certainly better than being hit or shaken.

You can send an older child to his or her room or merely say, “Mommy is angry and needs a time-out. I’m going to my room to cool off.”

The parental time-out does two things: It prevents us from scaring the living daylights out of our kids. But it also models a grown-up way to deal with feelings. You see, it’s actually healthy for your child to see you get angry and demonstrate a socially-acceptable way to deal with a feeling that every human will have at times. What’s bad for the child is to see your anger explode. Feelings are OK, acting out those feelings is not OK because it hurts or frightens others.

What you do during your parental time out depends on what works for you. Perhaps you could look in the mirror and make faces until you felt like putting on a happy face. Relaxation exercises like tensing and relaxing muscles groups can help. I found lying down on the floor with my eyes closed and imaging myself in a peaceful place worked for me.

To be angry is human. To frighten a child with your anger is wrong. To take a parental time-out is probably as close to being divine as a busy parent gets on a busy day.

By the way, if your work is unpredictable try to figure out what can be done when you have a peak work load. This falls into the “Expect the Unexpected” category. Make contingency plans for those days when the load is heavy.

Perhaps there’s a young girl in the neighborhood who can play with the children for an hour or two. In an emergency suitable videos will buy you some time.

When you are swamped, figure out ahead of time what you can omit from the household routine. Kids don’t have to be bathed every day, you can order in a pizza, and you certainly don’t have to vacuum on a busy day.

Busy women must learn to ask for and expect help. When you’ve met your deadline you can fix a nice dinner for your husband or the neighbor who helped you out in your emergency.