Anger is an emotion I know well. In years past it pulsed below the surface, ready to make an explosive appearance. For many years I was overwhelmed, overworked, and sleep-deprived. Between my children, husband, two managerial jobs, and basic life necessities, I felt constantly behind on all my responsibilities, and was always stressed about finances. I always did things for other people thinking I could handle it, but in reality, I was not giving to myself enough so I didn’t have the energy to give to others without feeling angry. The stress and lack of self-care caught up to me and my anger would boil over. Once anger took over I didn’t feel good in my body or my mind; I could feel the effects of the adrenal surge long after the anger dissolved. I meditate daily and that would keep the anger at bay most of the time, but I could still feel its presence and it was uncomfortable.
Like I said, even though I meditated and explored myself and my past, anger still pushed its way into my daily life. Not only would it show up in unfavorable ways, but I would also get triggered when I saw it in other people, especially those in my family. When my husband expressed anger it would ignite a fight or I would shut down. When my children fought and other people saw it as normal sibling rivalry, I would be overcome with sadness, frustration, and guilt.
I grew up with a father that yelled a lot and I vowed I would not pass that trait on to my children. When I was a child it seemed like there was an on and off switch to my father’s anger that I did not know about. In my memory, my father went from silly to yelling in anger, then back to being silly and kind again. I could not understand what was happening or what I did, so I was cautious and my nerves were fried from years of riding the highs and lows. I remember how exhausting and scary that felt as a child.
As a parent, when I saw my children express anger, I felt guilty; I used to say my grandfather had 100% anger, and he passed on 50% to my dad, then 25% to me, and I passed on 12.5% to my children. I felt responsible for my children’s anger. When I saw them fight, I felt like I failed. I would then get very angry at my dad because I thought he was responsible. When we were around him, he showed strong bursts of anger and I did not want to expose my children to anymore anger. I also felt nervous around him because I still didn’t know what would set him off. I felt like a scared little girl and a protective mother all at the same time. It was a cycle I didn’t think I could break and I was very close to making a decision to not spend time with my dad anymore.
When I started taking my parent coach training, I also went through the course as a parent. The course work involved looking into the way I was parented, how I wanted to be as a parent, and my relationship with anger. Because of all that as well as meditation, I shifted my relationship with anger and I started to see the upside of it. I realized that anger is a wonderful tool because it brings change into our lives. Anger has brought a lot of positive change through revolution, activism, and protest. In my personal life, I looked at times when anger activated the decision for change that brought me to a place of peace. I realized that anger is an activated emotion, and it is awesome. Anger is what tells me it is time to communicate my needs, and take action to live the life of my dreams. Anger may show up to tell you it is time to switch careers, go back to school, leave a relationship, reduce your responsibilities, or join a movement. My entire view on anger changed. I was always aware of my anger but I used to fall prey to my reactions to it.
I still feel anger, I don’t push anger away, but now I stop and listen to what anger is trying to tell me. If I am in the moment and I am feeling frustrated and angry, I might close my eyes and splash water on my face. I try to see what exactly is making me angry; is it a person or is it the situation that I am in? Then I can choose to continue with empathy and use my words to adjust the situation, or take action to change my situation.
One time, I noticed anger and frustration bubbling up when I was helping get my children ready for bed. It was just one of those days that I had a lot of deadlines for work and school, and nothing could be done about it. I had the choice to keep working on my tasks once the kids came home from school, but I made the decision to stop working and restart once they went to bed. I chose to be in the moment with my kids and have a fun afternoon and evening. Now it was time for bed, the kids were being silly, and they didn’t move forward with brushing their teeth and getting ready for bed. My body was getting tight and my tone was getting short. My son felt the change in my mood and came up to me, hugged me, and asked me if I was angry at him. I was so touched by this gesture, I took a moment to close my eyes and breathe. I realized in that moment I was not mad at my kids, or that they didn’t want to go to bed. I was mad I was tired and I still had a lot of work to do. I was mad at the situation I was in, but I realized I was not mad at my kids or myself.
I looked at my kids and realized we had a great afternoon and a lot of fun. They love me and didn’t want the fun to end; I didn’t either. They were not being malicious by resisting going to bed; it was quite the opposite, they were still giggling and having fun. Of course they should have listened the first time I asked them and usually they do, but they were caught up in a moment of joy. I was angry at the pressure I felt about my deadline, my tiredness, and the anxiety I felt about the possibility of it not getting done. I decided to hug my children, put my hands on their shoulders, look them in the eye, smile, and tell them I had a wonderful day with them. I told them I also did not want the day to end, but it was bedtime. I was honest with them that I felt stressed because I still had a lot of work to do once they went to bed and that I was anxious to get started on it because I was tired and wanted to go to bed too.
They then quickly got ready for bed because they understood me and they were empathetic to my situation. I avoided having to yell, threaten, punish, or give consequences and it was a great exercise in empathy.
My life has completely shifted now that I can embrace my anger, listen, pause, and choose to react in a way that feels true to my heart. The absolute best part of this change is my relationship with my dad. For years I was so angry at him because I blamed him for the presence of anger in my life. Because I now see anger as a symbol of my ability to love and act, I am so proud of it being in my life. Now I am grateful to my dad for this appreciated attribute in my life. This realization dissolved my anger toward my dad. I have not seen my father get angry since then. If something does arise, I feel I can handle it without being reactive. This realization and release has completely transformed an important relationship that I almost gave up on.
Now when I see my children flight I do not feel guilty or sad, although sometimes I still do feel frustrated. My reaction is different. Recently, I was in the shower and one of my boys came in because when mom is in the shower, that is apparently the best time to answer questions, solve problems, find missing things, or ponder life’s greatest mysteries. It went something along the lines of, “T took ____ from me and he won’t give it back!” Through the steamy shower door I looked at my son and told him to try to look at his brother in his eyes and tell him how he feels. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but I don’t feel the same reaction to the situation anymore.
I no longer feel guilty that I passed on anger to my children. In fact, I am delighted I have passed on the ability to feel strongly about life. I feel confident I can teach them to feel their anger, pause, listen, and take action and this is a beautiful gift to pass on.
Rachel Maietta is a mom, certified parent coach, preschool teacher, and founder of Wholehearted Parent Coaching. She has worked with children of all ages, and loves to support parents. If you are interested in coaching and would like to start a 10-week parenting journey, you can receive a free consultation. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram for blogs, ideas, and parenting information, or use the form below to contact her directly.