I remember the first time I yelled at my daughter. It was a cold winter’s evening and I was trying to put her to sleep. She was 18 months old. I could hear the dogs in the apartment above us wrestling – surely keeping her awake, and I could feel anger rising in my chest. Then she bit me.
I lost it.
This was not the first time anger rose in my chest since my daughter was born, nor was it the first time she bit me. But it was the first time I allowed anger’s ugly face to creep into my brain, erupt from my body, and scorch her. She trusted me to help her fall asleep and I yelled at her.
The look in her eyes shook me to the core. The sorrow and fear exerting from her trembling body melted my rage, and I wept. I wept as my nursling gazed at me for approval, acceptance, and a longing for me to comfort her. She still trusted me, but I did not trust myself.
Violent communication is a learned behavior, and something that has inflicted my maternal family for generations.
Until that moment, I believed I possessed the proper tools to avoid passing this onto my daughter. After all, I was trained as a marriage and family therapist and had worked with many clients on this issue. How naïve was I? Very.
My daughter rested her head close to my heart as we glided back and forth in our rocker. Tears rolled down my cheeks. One by one, the tears penetrated her soft pajamas and I wondered if my daughter felt the ache in my heart. Was her heart aching as well?
She finally drifted to sleep. She seemed at peace; however, I was not.
The guilt that ensued that winter’s evening drove me to scour resources on balance and self-care, and question my ability to self-reflect. What had gone wrong? What happened in my body and mind that allowed me to completely lose control?
On that evening, I was anticipating my mom’s arrival. This is an enormous source of stress for me. However, I was unaware of this at the time and therefore I took no precautions to avoid my loss of control. Awareness is what I needed.
I finally understood that work was required on my part if I wanted to break the cycle of violent communication and trust myself during times of high stress. My daughter does not deserve a violent legacy of communication–no child does–and it is up to me to break it.
I am not alone in this journey for balance and self-control. I know other parents struggle with ghosts from the past that turn into anger. Parenting is not meant to be a beast of power struggles. We do not have to suffer in this manner.
The following is a list of ideas that help me maintain control of my anger during times of high-stress. My hope is that this list will also help you find balance and a place for self-care.
I am not perfect; I am human. Stress still gets the best of me from time to time and I lose control. However, I know I am capable of putting in the work required to break the cycle of violent communication; my child deserves it and so does yours.
Awareness is key to identifying stressors and acknowledge limits. Gaining awareness requires self-reflection and other tools, such as mindfulness meditation and talk therapy. I use mindfulness meditation to gain awareness and find a pause before I act. Just as a human can increase her muscle strength, research indicates humans can also increase brain strength through mindfulness meditation.
The body and mind harbor stress when it has no outlet. It is well-known that stress wreaks havoc on the body, and the latest research indicates it can be passed on to the next generation. The following are a few strategies shown to reduce stress: laughter, physical contact with a mammal, orgasms, meditation or a mindful act such as crocheting, drawing, or coloring, and as little as 20 minutes of exercise.
3. Create Positive Feedback Loops:
The connection I share with my child greatly influences her mood. When I take time to play with my daughter in the morning, she is in a better mood, therefore facilitating a positive feedback loop. She smiles at me, I smile back at her, and we continue to enjoy each other.
4. Understand My Limits, as Well as My Child’s:
It is important to understand my daughter’s limits. If she is sleep deprived, it is unrealistic to expect a pleasant trip out running errands. The same applies to me. If someone asks me a favor I cannot realistically adhere to, I need to say no.
5. Limit Social Media:
Research suggests that when a person checks her email or other forms of social media, her stress hormone increases briefly during this period. When I am aware of the itch in my brain asking me to check social media, I find the pause in my thoughts and breath through the desire.
6. Question Urgency:
Many people live in a constant state of urgency, thus causing more stress and anxiety to run through the body. When I become aware that I am experiencing a sense of urgency, I find a moment to pause and ask myself this simple question: Is this really urgent? Once I take a deep breath, I realize the world can usually wait.
7. Avoid Comparing Myself to Others:
Although there is surely an evolutionary purpose for this human behavior, in most cases in our current society, it is useless, not to mention a huge source of stress. When I gain awareness that I am destructively comparing some aspect of my family to another, I remember this affirmation, “My family is beautiful, unique, and important.”
8. Nourish My Mind and Body:
If I have no creative outlet, my mind suffers. If I am hungry, my body suffers. Like most humans, lack of nourishment (both nutritional and spiritual) greatly affects my mood and almost always leads to irritability and stress. This is easily avoidable.
9. Use Words to Describe My Anger:
When I feel anger rising in my chest, I state my feelings in a controlled voice versus a violent manner. “I am feeling very frustrated with you right now. In fact, I am so mad that I need space.” This not only gives me a moment for pause, but it also demonstrates to my child a sense of self-control.
10. Find Grace for Myself:
I remind myself often that all interactions are between two imperfect humans. I am not super-human, nor am I super-mom. I don’t want to be. I am a human, and when I allow myself that awareness, breathing feels lighter, the world is easier to navigate, and love’s sweet scent rests on my shoulder.
**Special thanks to our Guest Blogger, Kendall Rae:
Kendall Rae, MS, Attachment Parenting International (API) Leader, is passionate about attachment theory and evidence-based strategies which help people create and maintain strong connections with those they care about, as well as understanding what life experiences may affect those connections. She enjoys staying at home with her four-year-old daughter and their many pets while her husband attends medical school.