Kids say the darndest things… and sometimes they get you thinking. At an appointment the other day while the Doctor and I were discussing the reasons for my visit, Cooper helpfully chimed in with “Mom also has some anger issues”. This was not, in fact, on my list of things to discuss and we luckily just had a good laugh before moving on. At first I felt embarassed, but then when I thought about it more that shame transformed into pride…
Hi, I’m Kim, and I do have anger issues. Don’t worry – it’s not an anger for which you need to be worried about Cooper’s safety. Like many parents, I lose my temper. A lot. I can’t really be a judge as to whether I do it more or less than other parents as it’s not something that we proudly compare like what role we’ve been cast in the latest play. What I do know is that it makes both of us feel like crap, does not model the way I would like him to treat people, and really never solves anything.
I notice a tendency for adults to treat children in ways they would not accept said children treating them or others, and assume it’s because of the idea that parents have ultimate control over their children, that they are the authority figure and they are always right. But guess what? Life doesn’t have to be that way! You can be in the wrong, admit it to your kids, and even have an honest discussion with them about it. And in my humble opinion, it is more beneficial to everyone if you do. Think about it: are kids more likely to understand and regulate their emotions when their parent (pretty much inevitably) loses their temper then goes on like nothing happened after a period of time, or when that parent admits that it was not okay to yell, apologizes for treating the child poorly, explains why they reacted that way and discusses a better way it could have been handled? The answer is quite obvious.
My temper is something that I really don’t like about myself and has negatively affected those close to me. It has been and continues to be a top priority in the work I’m doing towards self-improvement, and I am open about this with my son. Like other kids, he is not dumb or weak. He can handle the big stuff, and he picks up on it whether I openly acknowledge it or not. It’s going to affect him one way or the other, so I would rather it be positive.
I don’t want Cooper to think it’s okay to flip out on people when they frustrate him or do something he doesn’t like, or just because he’s having a bad day or feeling stressed out himself. It is absolutely okay to feel those emotions and to have those days, but it is not okay to yell at other people or make them feel badly because of it. So how can I act like it’s okay for me to do it to him, just because he’s a smaller human than me? Well, I can’t. However, we are human and it happens. Instead of acting like I was right to yell because he did something that made me mad, I sit down with him after we have both calmed down and apologize for treating him like that and making him feel that way. I explain why I lost my temper (because he frustrated or upset me, or I was having a bad or stressful day, etc.), but also that it was not okay for me to treat him – or anyone – that way regardless of how I’m feeling. We discuss better ways we could have solved the problem: talking about it calmly after taking deep breaths or leaving the room to calm down… and so we reflect and grow together rather than building a wall of shame, resentment and fear between us.
I also explain to Cooper when I’m feeling down or stressed or upset. This is not to put my extra weight on his shoulders, but to create an environment of openness and normalization of such emotions. Genetically speaking, there is a very good chance Cooper is going to end up with some form of depression. While I cannot change those genes, I can have a positive impact on the way he is affected. Rather than being confused and feeling he is alone, he will understand and know that other people experience the same thing. Rather than thinking he has to get through it on his own, he will know that he can come to me for understanding and support. Rather than feeling completely lost and out of control, he will have learned some coping mechanisms and strategies to work through the rough times. In being open with him, I am building a foundation for managing future hardships.
…And so when Cooper announced to my doctor that Mommy has anger issues, I felt proud. Because my son recognized that anger is a problem and knows that I am putting effort into improving that part of myself; because we share an open and honest relationship in which we work towards understanding each other and the world around us; because alongside me he is learning ways to understand and manage emotions like anger. In my opinion this is an extremely valuable lesson as the world can give us so many reasons to feel angry or sad, and it is so easy to let our emotions take control of our actions. But it is when we are in control that we are truly free to make life extraordinary.