Parental Anger and Forgiveness of Children

This month I mentioned we are going to be looking at temperaments, love languages and nonviolent communication in an effort to be better wives, husbands, parents, friends and people.  We kicked it off with a  post on love, a post on patience, a post on changing our language and now this week we will be moving into the heart of the matter. 

So let’s dive in.  I wrote a post not too far back about “Parenting Exhaustion” that seemed to really strike a chord for this time of year, you can read it here:http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/04/13/parenting-exhaustion/  This post today is sort of a piggyback on the “Parenting Exhaustion” post and the post about yelling in parenting available here:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/04/30/yelling-in-parenting/

Sometimes mothers talk to me and  feel as if they are doing a relatively good job at controlling their actions, voice and thoughts during a time of parenting challenge, but worry that afterwards, they just don’t feel loving toward their children for several hours.   They don’t feel like taking their child somewhere, and they are still thinking about whatever happened even though the child has obviously moved on quickly and is no longer thinking about the time in the morning when they were so frustrated and screaming, or hitting their parent, etc.   Children live in the moment, more about that in a minute, but let’s start with the mothers.

Some mothers I have spoke with really do attribute these feelings to fatigue and perhaps not enough exercise or time to themselves.  I think this is a possible contributor.  It certainly is easier to let things roll off your back when you are better rested and feel positive.  Many mothers describe how hard it is even to get fifteen minutes alone.  Even if husbands have taken the baby to give the mother a break, they are sometimes walking around with the baby right in front of the mother so the minute the baby cries, it is, “Why look, he wants Mommy!”   Some mothers feel as if they are on duty all the time, or at least on call.   Some mothers want to exercise and recharge that way, but  have a really hard time leaving their children, even older children, in the child care section at a gym. And, it is easy  if it is nighttime and Daddy is home but everyone is falling apart to sort of feel as if one cannot actually leave.  So self-care does become a hard-to-fulfill priority.

Some mothers have told me they thought anger and holding on to parenting challenges was lack of self-care but then they realized that they were fairly angry all the time about many things.  They scheduled sessions with a counselor and realized they had issues coming from their childhood that needed to be addressed so they could be happier parents.  That is a possibility as well.  I don’t think there is one thing wrong with seeing a mental health care professional for a tune-up just the way you see a physician for a physical check-up.  Parenting is a big adjustment, and each stage in parenting can bring different challenges.

The books on anger that I most often recommend are “love and anger: the parental dilemma” by Nancy Samalin and “How Anger Hurts Your Kids” by McKay, et al.  For other books about  gentle discipline, please see here: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/11/27/favorite-books-for-gentle-discipline/

So, if we handle things well, why do we feel so badly that we don’t bounce back as quickly as our children do?   As I always say, it is one thing to read in a parenting book that a child of “X” age is likely to spit, or hit, or kick, or scream in your face, but it is a whole different ballgame when those behaviors actually happen to you!  In real life!

So, I think in some ways this boils down to how you handle forgiveness in general.  What do you do, and how do you handle forgiveness in such circumstances as when someone won’t apologize to you, if you remember some “wrong” that has been done to you, how do you handle yourself when you make a mistake?  How do YOU react if someone talks to you about something you have done that wasn’t right?  We all are human, aren’t we?

And please do know that with a very small child, a child up to the nine-year change, that child really just lives in the present moment with probably very little connection to what just happened and how you are feeling (and do remember my mantra about the verbal games young children can play about feelings and such if they have been “trained” in such ways.   See back posts about this).

I think this can also go back to the original incident.  Did you handle the parenting challenge by stuffing your feelings so far down and smiling through the whole thing?  Probably not very authentic.  Gentle discipline still means you can be authentic.  I think it is okay to say,”Mommy doesn’t like that when you do that.” It is okay to feel angry or frustrated.  What is not okay is hitting your child or screaming at your child.  Show them what to do with anger or frustration that is productive, how to handle conflict. Don’t show them the way to handle conflict is to just stuff it down so you feel sick the whole day!  Model calming down and forgiveness.

I think it is okay to say, “Would you please draw me a picture and tell me you love me?” as restitution once things have calmed down.  I think it is okay to go sit outside and say, “I am going to sit here a minute until I feel better.”  l think it is okay to assume a child must be rather tired or over-stimulated  and perhaps just need to be home instead of going out that  afternoon and to go to bed a bit earlier.  But, what doesn’t work is the guilt trip thing, the “write the lecture down and leave it under their pillow so they can read it thing”….Because if you are having a hard time moving on from some incident that happened, , some part of your own Inner Child is saying, “Wow, that child was not nice and on some level I would like to see more remorse on that child’s part!  More angst!  In fact, that child should feel terrible… treat your mother like that!  I gave birth to that child!”  So, essentially we want to see more sorrow and sadness and restitution. 

I think what happens as we parent though, is hopefully that we get better at forgiveness.  We become better at forgiving ourselves, our spouses, and yes, our children.  We start to realize that  a little self-care goes a long way, and that as mothers we can make our children  a top priority but that we also need some inner work for ourselves to make the family run better.  We can  hone our skills of compassion, of meeting our child where they are  and enjoying them.  We can choose forgiveness and essentially choose to be warm and loving and to realize a child is not going to react to things the way an adult would, which is often really what we want.  We want that small child to be able to say, “Wow, I will never do that again” and how horrible they feel..Your child in their first seven year cycle of life does  not view things the same way you do being in your thirties!

That is the hard thing about parenting, to understand and carry what children do when they are small and don’t know better and need to be guided over and over.  To understand that whilst developmental stages still need to be guided because children have to live out in the real world eventually, that most of all what they need is love and compassion and forgiveness. 

We all learn together.

Many blessings,

Carrie

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15 thoughts on “Parental Anger and Forgiveness of Children

  1. Thank you for this post Carrie. I think that there are often posts about how people deal with anger by shouting, but there aren’t many posts about people dealing with anger by “stuffing”. I am a stuffer, and I think that I am being oh so patient by not yelling, but you’re right, in my head I am still angry and haven’t worked through my emotions and have to work towards forgiving instead of stuffing.

    Lovely post as always.

  2. Fabulous – thank you. I think it is important to model how to deal with anger because children & adults will have that feeling.

  3. “Show them what to do with anger or frustration that is productive, how to handle conflict. Don’t show them the way to handle conflict is to just stuff it down so you feel sick the whole day! Model calming down and forgiveness.”

    I think this is really difficult. I’m very good at not yelling to my kids, but I fear that I’m *too* good at not showing it if I really do feel angry. My husband is that way too. I don’t want everybody to go around feeling like they have everything bottled up inside. I never learned how to be angry, it was not considered proper behavior. So how can we model letting the anger out, allowing it to just be another emotion just like any other, and dealing with it constructively…?

    • Stella – Do you have a NonViolent Communication Practice Group near you? That might be a lovely start…I venture many people would say you are ” lucky” because your famiydoesn’t yell, but there are so many studies that stuffing feelings leads to poor health, so I think it is right to treat it as a parenting challenge and a behavior you would like to change.
      Many blessings,
      Carrie

  4. I also grew up in a household where ( at least some of us) were not allowed to show anger. As difficult as I found seeing anger in my children in the early years, I now find it is one of the most healing aspects of parenting. I think that the traits we find most frustrating in children are the ones we ourselves have that worry us. I do very much want my children to learn how to express anger so it doesn’t get the best of them. It is easier for me to be accepting, patient and forgiving of these little people I adore- than of myself. But after a little while ( the first one turning 4, i think), I started to apply the same thoughts to myself.

  5. thank you Carrie. thank you. I feel like I stuff so much down and feel exhausted as a result. You are right – I need to practice showing I am angry and healthy ways to resolve anger. I don’t want my children to grow up repressing their feelings as I have had to do.
    thank you again.

  6. I think there are also some cultural aspects. Italians do shout a lot compared to Britons but it’s nothing when I compare it to Greeks for example. My culture is one where feelings are mostly shown and expressed even exagerated (like in the opera!).
    English moms living here in Italy always tell me me that children and kindergarten here “are so loud”!
    Italian moms shout even when they are not angry. Italian moms do speak a lot almost overspeaking but we are really talkative people in every situation.

    Not to say it’s ok, I personally don’t like myself when I’m shouting or yelling to my little daughter.
    Just wanted to bring the attention on the macro-cultural context.

    ciao
    Federica

    • I LOVE this Federica – I grew up in a German/French family, my other side of the family was Norwegian/Polish and so quiet in comparision! Fascinating stuff!
      You know I love all the cross-cultural stuff!
      Blessings,
      Carrie

  7. *sheepishly admitting Norwegian heritage here*

    I don’t have a nonviolent communication group anywhere near me, but I do read the book at least once a year. I think a natural next step would be trying to find a more practical approach – I’m very theoretical, and we do need more practice around here, not just theory.

    I had a long talk with my eldest child yesterday. I am so happy to see that he is able to express anger much more freely than I. I don’t know if this is useful or very related, but when he was 4 he had his first “phase” of often feeling frustrated and angry. He started spitting at us – and that would make us – the adults – really angry too. We made a list, “Anger Helpers”, where he listed things that would help him feel angry, let us know he was angry, and not hurt himself or us. #1 was jumping on the bed, #2 racing around the yard – great stuff!

    • Jen – I don’t know as quiet equates to peaceful; seems it could also be everyone holding everything as well…loud can be happy!
      Hugs,
      Carrie

  8. It’s our inner work that heals our pain and anger and releases it, or at leasts helps us to recognize it when it raises its firey head. Children bring the gift of poking into all those tender places of our own lives, places that are shadowed and quiet. When we recognize them and heal them, they loose the charge, the anger dissipates, we can heal the anger and hold the space for our children to be who they are, for us to be free of reactions from events buried deep in our pasts and for our children to free of them too.

    Warmly,
    Lisa

  9. Pingback: May Gentle Discipline Fair » The Road Less Traveled To Parenthood » Baby Dust Diaries

  10. Pingback: May Gentle Discipline Fair « Baby Dust Diaries

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