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When Mama ain't happy...

I don't think anyone here will disagree with me when I say that parenting is an incredible joy.  We love these little people so much and they do so many things that make us proud.  But there is another side to that coin.  A neighbor of mine once shared this wisdom about parenting:  "They will make you feel all of your emotions stronger than you ever knew you could."  Among those emotions?  Anger.

It's a very visceral emotion, and it arises without much warning or forethought.  And it's really, really difficult for me to process these emotions, especially in confrontation with my child.  Things can go many ways but the end is never very pretty.  And neither one of us feels good about it.  I know this is difficult to talk about, but I also know I am not alone.  Another mother wrote to us:

I feel like I am in kind of a dark place in terms of parenting. I have caught myself in behaviors where I am yelling, really yelling, at my child. This might include throwing things (coats/cereal bowls etc) this might be spurned on by me asking my child to clear the cereal bowl or to brush his teeth. And when it doesn't happen my hot point is right there. Although I have not hit my child I can imagine how parents do it. I don't think I would hit my child. But I am not ok with where I am finding myself in terms of my temper and lack of patience.

I have several stress points in my life that are not negotiable; I am raising my son alone and don't have lots of support. My son has recently been on/off medication that amps him up- and in turn really stresses me out with his behavior. So I need to find some solutions within those constraints. To me this is not a conversation about being single. I am looking to other moms who also find themselves short-fused, short-tempered, and parenting in a way that that they are not happy with.

What do you do- how do you manage the anger & stress and get to a better place with your kids?

I think that, for me, it was very important for me to step back and realize that I had these feelings and frustrations, not only with the situation but with myself.  I wasn't happy with my own behavior... so I had to ask how I could change it.

Now, I'm not a single mother, but I am currently the single caregiver to my two kids (with much support from two grannies until daddy comes home).  I can't imagine how much more difficult it would be without their support.  Add to that some behavioral issues my 4.5 year old is having at school, and life is not getting any easier day to day.  After some looking around and reading up, I have turned to the Love and Logic approach.  Today is day 5 and I'm trying not to let myself relax back into my old ways (and this morning - it was really, really tough!).  But reading the philosophies helped me realize that there was a power struggle going on, and that my son needed to have control over SOME things in his life, or he'd be constantly trying to control everything.  That cycle had to stop.  That's where Love and Logic came in for us.

Have any of you Mamas or Papas had some wild success breaking the power struggle?  I, for one, felt very freed, and much happier with my child when we weren't angry at each other all the time.  How is a mama to get past the anger and become a happy Mama again.  What other techniques have worked besides just a parenting philosophy?  Sleep, diet, exercise?  I'd love to hear what other parents are doing to manage stress and anger.


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With two babies under age 2, I was a perpetually angry mama for awhile. I have to tell you that Zoloft made such a huge difference. I still get angry sometimes, but not nearly as frequently or overwhelmingly as before. I am able to enjoy my toddler so much more now that I am not so quick to become enraged at her.

Hey, I think we can all relate. When those times come on, I try to detach just a little. Pretend you are the grandparent or trusted aunt. Step back a second. Breathe. Try to remember that children are often naughty because they are hungry or tired. And really, this goes for you the mama, too. Grab a cookie, put on some tea. Are you taking care of your needs? An afternoon off might help. Enlist help from your support system. Don't be afraid to speak up and say "I could use a hand here".

We're all human, we all lose it sometimes. It's good for your child to see a little of that, too. But yes, it's also an awful feeling to lose it. I second philomom's suggestion to try detaching - I think it's ok to just walk away altogether for a few minutes. Leave the room. Regroup.

I've been there. time and time again. our therapist types have been counselling us to (as hard as it is) try modelling the appropriate reaction when you've lost it -- which for me, is telling the kids that I need some time alone because I'm really angry right now, and going in another room and closing the door. as we only have one locking interior door in the whole house, sometimes this means me sitting on the other side of the door while they pound to get in...

sometimes just calling someone else and saying, "I need someone to help!" -- even if the help's not available -- gets me to calm down enough to face the next few minutes ahead of me, and then things get better, someone laughs, maybe i just sit down and read a book.

I'd suggest "Momfulness," which I'm about to announce as the next book group book...

In the February Portland Metro Parent, I noticed that the Portland Chapter of Mothers and More and psychologist Paula Wagenbach are hosting a discussion on Mommy Stress and Anger at 7 pm on Feb. 19th at Old Wives' Tales (1300 East Burnside). Topics covered will include how to keep your cool when children are rude and disrespectful. How timely.

while I haven't felt that type of anger, I have been so stressed to my limit at certain times. I at first went to my doctor for some type of anxiety meds, and she advised me that that wasn't really the answer. she encouraged me to excercise, as that really helps with stress. I honestly have to say that since I've started a workout routine, my stress level has gone way down, I don't get so upset or stressed as much. excercise REALLY works. Even if it's just walking a few times around the block.

I only have one child and I have tons of family support, but I am a rather impatient person by nature. My approach so far has been to use the "safe-respectful-kind" filter (this is something I read about at Ask Moxie). Basically, if a behavior is going on that I'm not sure I like, I run it through the filter "Is it safe? Is it respectful? Is it kind?" As long as it meets all three, I let it go. Now, there are instances when this doesn't exactly work, like during a battle over getting into pajamas (I don't think my daughter is actually being disrespectful in that moment, she just truly DOES NOT WANT PAJAMAS TO TOUCH HER BODY AHHH!). In those moments, I take a deep breath and power through. I have found that the quieter I get, the more likely she is to listen.

I dunno. It's hard stuff! Let go of what you can, and hang in there with the rest. You're doing great.

I have discovered a book rencently called Taking Charge by JoAnne Nordling which has been very helpful. I have found it useful to have a new tool or two to draw on in times of stress - if anything for the sheer novelty of it. Also, I have discovered humor lately. Making jokes out of things, laughing at something together. It really helps diffuse stress and tension.

wow, this is a really timely post.

i tend to have an extremely low frustration tolerance/trigger point -- something that i'm not pleased about, and am trying to actively work on. some of it, for me, is that i am super easily sensorily overloaded, and highly introverted, so a full day alone wrangling a toddler leaves me feeling desperately in need of mental and physical "space."

yesterday i wound up giving myself a "mommy time-out" for 5 or 10 minutes -- those last few dreaded minutes before DH got home from work. i could feel myself starting to snap at my daughter more and more, and i knew if i didn't take a few minutes to lock myself in the bathroom and take a few deep breaths, i would totally lose my temper. i felt guilty making myself inacessible to my child for that time, but i had to remind myself that detaching for a few minutes to get calmed and centered is far, far better than acting out in anger.

anger, i think, is truly the shadow side of motherhood that we're oftentimes scared to admit or talk about. becoming a parent really pushes me to greater depths of both love and rage, which are really hard feelings to integrate.

Oh boy do I identify with this. I have two kids, a 4 yr old boy and a 7 mos old girl, whom I love more than life. My husband and I work full-time, which adds work stress to our everyday existance. My son has a very mild form of Sensory Integration Disorder, which coupled with a very strong form of Independent Four Year Old Disorder makes for a challenging cocktail.

I have lost my temper more than I like to admit, even to myself. But what I find works (besides the self-timeouts) is to go back to my son and apologize for yelling, and explain why I think I lost my temper. This usually prompts him (w/out asking) to apologize for not listening to my request (to put on his pants/clear his dishes/don't sit on his sister's head!) and that he'll do better next time. This also shows him that apologizing and explaining the "why" of your behavior is very valuable. It opens up our communication and I have noticed really puts him more at ease.

If my husband or I get angry and don't apologize, or self-regulate (timeouts, deep breaths), then I notice it making my son angry and more willful and then the tension in our household builds to explosion. If we stop and talk about it (hug it out! haha), then we can all clear the slate and begin again. It gives him a way to feel he's contributing to things positively and being listened to, and for kids, when they feel they have more control over what's happening to and around them, they're happier little beings. And then I don't feel the need to raid the wine cabinet!

I also highly recommend Taking Charge by Joanne Nordling. It gives lots of information on how to avoid power struggles which ultimately can not end in a win/win situation. Two techniques that I've been using with my son (even this morning) are visualizing that I'm a "moss covered rock" and can not be swayed. It lets him know that I am in a calm and assertive state and he may as well just comply with my request. The other is a way of addressing routine not-minding. Instead of lecturing or repeatedly asking, when they ignore your first request, narrow it down to one word and turn in to a "broken record". This morning I asked him to get dressed for school, which he protested. I walked over to where he was and repeated dress until finally he got up and went to his room. It's also important to not make eye contact when you're using these techniques. It's a very simple theory and is used in many philosophies, but basically whatever behavior you put energy towards (positive or negative), that is what the child will continue. Good luck!

I think there's two different issues going on here. One is more about the practical side of things--how can you get your child to reliably clear their bowl, put on their coat, etc. so that it's not a source of upset and frustration in your day. The second is how to deal with yourself when you are upset and frustrated so that you don't emotionally or physically harm yourself or your child. I'm not saying these two don't overlap, but they should probably be approached separately.

For the first, I think it helps to have clear routines and expectations. And consequences. I'm fond of the natural consequences approach, e.g. you didn't put on your coat when I asked you to, so you're cold when we leave the house. Too bad. It won't kill anyone, even a kid with sniffles, to be cold for a few minutes. And it demonstrates clearly the reason behind the request. I try to come up with consequences that don't escalate the situation but are related to the "offense." If you follow through consistently in this way for a few days, daily life should get a bit easier and there should be fewer triggers for your temper.

The second issue is really familiar to me from when my son was younger. He and I just punch each other's buttons and I have a real temper. He could make me so angry so easily. Grrr. I am gritting my teeth just thinking about it, and it all happened years ago (he's 8 now and we do much better). Some things that helped me--1. remembering that I was the adult in this relationship and that if a bad pattern had been established, I was the one who had to be mature enough to change it 2. writing reminders to myself (take a deep breath, etc.)and posting them on the fridge 3. using a couple of parenting tools--TV, books on tape, a box of art supplies, etc.--to distract him when I could feel that I was close to losing it 4. Try not to take things personally. I know that one is hard because some kids learn to insult at a young age. And it's your child, so everything is personal, right? But try to take that mental step back and see that sometimes problems are not a power struggle (which is more personal), they're because your child is tired, hungry, cranky, had a bad day, is testing limits, etc. When I could attribute my son's problems to one of those causes (instead of just his stubborn refusal to cooperate with ME), I was way more calm about the whole thing, and without someone to fight with he sometimes just fizzled out.

I like all the suggestions of parenting books. I think sometimes even if you don't follow the suggestions it helps to read those books and realize that lots of people ("experts" even) struggle with the same issues you're encountering.

I have appreciated the guidance in a book called "How to Behave so your Preschooler Will too." No book is for everyone, but it's helped me when there's a behavior we can't figure out how to address on our own.http://www.amazon.com/How-Behave-Your-Preschooler-Will/dp/0142004588. Also, how to talk so your kids will listen and listen so your kids will talk. books, books, I know. not always the answer, but for me a place to turn for new tricks. often with creative solutions to recurring issues.

I went through a real anger phase with my daughter, where for about a month solid my anger was so intense that I thought I really might hurt her. I couldn't have managed that without the support of my husband... I literally needed to get out of the house and away from my child for hours sometime. Is it possible to have someone come and give you a break if necessary, whether that's family, a neighbor, or drop-in childcare?

Some specific things worked for me in getting out of the 'angry all the time' phase and into the 'I still have a short fuse but it's triggered only rarely' phase:
- hit/throw something. I had to physically release the anger somehow.
- vent emotionally, either through journal writing, blogging, talking to friends, screaming, whatever.
- if you have any parenting books you like, scan through them again as a reminder. The Positive Disicipline series of books have felt like common sense to me, and reading them when I'm angry reminds me of the way I want to parent.
- pray if that's your thing.
- exercise. It's a cliche but for me it's true.
- take care of yourself by eating/sleeping/dressing/hygiene-ing as well as you can.

I'm so glad to see this. Anger is one of those things we approach so delicately as parents even with our closest friends. It's hard to be honest about something so raw.

I could have written every post above, really. I recently got "Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood" at the library (I waited months for it, and now I have to send it back! Arg!). It's full of Lifetime-movie laughable worst-case scenarios of kids whose parents didn't figure out how to give them control over reasonable things, and help them think their own way through to a conclusion, but the core of it is: avoid the confrontations by offering choices, setting limits and sticking to them. Three-year-old dawdling getting dressed? No problem. We can take your clothes with us to preschool and you can get dressed there. (That one gets him hustling). Not eating breakfast? First, they don't have to eat well at EVERY meal - it's ok to let it go sometimes. Second, you can set a time (breakfast is over at 6:50. Here's what that looks like on the clock. Feel free to eat as much as you want before then). THEN DON'T SAY ANYTHING MORE! It's not hitch-less, but it helps me let go.

I have to say, the less I nag and say, the calmer I am, so the technique of repeating "dress" would probably end with me screaming the word if my son didn't get going fast enough.

I try to remember two things when opposition results in a tantrum (from either of us): we are human - and why should he be more in control of himself than me? That's my motivation for working on my own anger.

Also: I heard a tremendous insight from a friend the other day, discussing someone we both have to work with who is difficult. She said he uses anger as a coping mechanism. As a way to control things. That is SO me. The less I am in control of (at work, with the zillion life-chores I can't seem to get to [exercise? with what time?], whatever) the shorter my fuse.

I remember being afraid of my dad's temper. It scared the bejeezus out of me, though he was not abusive. I don't want my kids to learn that from me, so I am really working on it.

So much good advice here! I too have anger management issues and (when thinking rationally) I try to remember that kids naturally want to test boundries because they are learning what exactly those boundries are. My biggest struggles center around boundries that are not so cut and dry...like, my 4 year old that can prepare his own cereal for breakfast but isn't allowed to use the toaster. Or limiting our 2 year old's bedtime reading to 3 books when she wants 17...why are the rules different in different situations? Sometimes I don't always have the answer which causes frustration on both ends.

Something I've learned (via some invaluable counseling sessions!) is to try and pinpoint my stress/anger triggers when I'm in a calm, stress-free mood. For instance, I can expect to have a shorter fuse a few days before my period is due. Once I recognize and prepare for this, it actually helps me to detach more easily when I'm in a stressful situation. While detachment is easier said than done, one thing that helps me is to have a plan in place once I start feeling the anger bubble up. I've actually written up a specific plan with numbered steps of what to do (1. turn on sarah mclaughlin cd 2. go to kitchen 3. make cup of tea, etc) Sounds silly, but it's easier to detach yourself from the moment and go into auto-pilot when you don't actually have to THINK through your next steps.

Anyway, just wanted to offer my support. Remember to be easy on yourself and give yourself lots of props for doing a great job!

Melissa S. brought up valuable info besides her advice....counseling! I am surprised not to see that listed more on this thread. There is some great help out there (and I say that as a counselor myself...;)). If you are employed, you can check to see if your employer provides an employee assistance program, which is invaluable and usually provides a number of sessions for free. And if you have insurance, sometimes you can continue with the same person after the free session are done. I saw the need for counseling when my daughter was not quite one and I was really struggling, and feeling helpless as a single mother. I could not just leave when I was upset...I had to see it through every time, especially with the bulk of my support system on the East Coast. It was so eye opening to hear some of the things I would talk about to the therapist, things that I was surprised to even hear that I thought, things I could NEVER say to my friends and family, but they were normalized in therapy. I think it's a great way to get focus in your life. And some folks mentioned medication. If a therapist feels that your anger, depression, or anxiety is at a level that requires further intervention, they will refer you to the proper provider for a medication consult if needed. Anger is a frightening emotion, and it's particularly scary to feel out of control around your child. Obviously, you are not alone in feeling this way. Good luck!

I feel like I want to post in two ways. First I'll put in a plug for a Love & Logic workshop we are hosting at Growing Seeds on Feb. 12th at 6:30. It sounds like L&L is useful for a lot of parents here and Tracey Johnson, the woman presenting the class, is a firm believer. There are more details on the UM calendar and you can RSVP to me (maia at growingseeds dot net).

I also subscribe to "The Buttons Newsletter" put out by Bonnie Harris (Bonnie Harris Core Parenting). It's helpful for me to read about the struggles of others so that I feel so alone.

So here I am with my other hat on to say thanks. I have such a hard time owning my anger sometimes. It brings up so many other painful issues I'd rather not think about, but I know that when I try to ignore it it only gets worse. The best thing for me in the moment is to simply stop what I'm doing and start over reminding myself that this is not the way I want to parent (be). I'll just wait, doing nothing, until some other option comes to mind. My 4 y.o. daughter also shares my volatility (only she's 4 and has a lot less control over it than I do) and it can be really hard for me to stay peaceful in the face of her anger and violence, but when I meet her anger with love, with gentleness (while still stopping her from hurting) it will almost always turn the situation around and we will be able to come up with a solution to whatever the problem is-together.
I wish I did more for myself to keep from getting to a place where I am controlled by my anger. Exercise is a big one me, just taking better care of myself. I don't know how to make the space to care for myself- that's one I'm trying to figure out right now.

Parenting is really really hard. I know you have non-negotiables in your life, but anything you can do to take the stress out might be helpful. Maybe an occasional babysitter (friend, relative or hired) so you can get out of the house and be a "not-mom" for a while...anything that gives you time to do something you enjoy or relax. Maybe brainstorm and see what you can come up with given your budget and lifestyle. I've found that incorporating "non-mom" or relaxation (like a hot bath) into my life whenever I can helps with my frustration and anxiety levels (and I'm prone to high anxiety levels!!)

Any support you can get for your son's behaviour might be helpful, too. A support group, therapist, mom's group, whatever. Some place to vent your frustrations and know you're not alone.

Good luck!!! I wish you all the best.

aaaah, anger. I never knew I had much of it until two kids, 2 and 3, and then anger and impatience regularly reared its ugly head.
A couple of things, the quick read "Scream Free Parenting" has some good advice. Knowing that when your child is freaking out what he needs most is for you to be "cool" helps. Our children require us to grow ourselves emotionally. Another difficult parenting thing to do, but if we can commit to growing ourselves, we'll have better relationships with our children. As people above have said, we can't control our young children, but we can control the way we react to a situation, thus changing the situation.

Also, turning your child's momentum to your advantage as in martial arts helps. Won't stop running, "run and clean, run and clean game!"He won't get dressed and brush his teeth, then brush naked. It takes alot of creativity to turn situatations to your advantage, but beginning to try opens doors.

Also, I work pt and break even, but time without kids makes me enjoy more time with kids. Treat yourself well. It teaches your kids to treat themselves well, and if mom is happy, . . . . . .
Wishing all of us patience!

Something that has really helped me is to try to step back and honestly see the situation from my childs perspective. Often times they are acting in ways that are not convenient to my needs or they want something different than I do, but this is not acting out or being naughty. Parents have so much responsibility to try to tackle so many different things in one day...the house, school, laundry, groceries, but kids have no way of comprehending the weight we have to carry. Young kids are living only in the current moment and can't understand why we are freaking out all the time! :)

The parenting expert Alfie Kohn has a DVD(worth the $ on amazon!) and books on the subject of letting go of control. It's frightening at first, but has helped our family a lot.

my best to you!

wow. i've been there. really.

after years of hard work, i finally feel like i have a handle on it... here are some things that helped...

1. zoloft. ok, don't stop reading...after my first daughter was born, i had classic ppsd. but it didn't go away; i was angry, volatile, and anxious...after a knowing intervention by my mom and husband and a series of full-blown panic attacks, i went to a doctor. both my grandmother and my mother have a history of debillitating depression; so did i. it took me almost a year to find the right amount of medication to keep me balanced.

2. i still yelled sometimes...but now i could hide it when it did rear its ugly head. it was usually right before my period; anything could set it off, but i was usually able to control it in public...it was only at home, with my kids and husband, that i lost it. when that happened, i either secluded myself for a while or went out in public. i didn't want to, but it forced me to be nice.

3. counseling. when i had some balance but lost it occasionally, i realized that i would take it out more on my husband than anyone else. after a particularly ugly evening, i committed to seeing a counselor.
she helped me define my breaking point, the signs leading up to it, and ways to regain my balance.

i hope this helps. i think the best thing that came out of this struggle is the understanding that much of our hormonal/ chemical imbalance and physical coping mechanisms are genetic. knowing that two generations of women before me have been through this allows me to acknowledge that perhaps my daughters will go through the same thing...or maybe they won't...but i will look for signs, encourage them to understand themselves, empathize, and and give them a mama's strong support.

I just wanted to add that anger is perfectly normal, since pretty much your entire life is completely given over to your child/children. I've definitely been there, where I understand why parents beat their kids, shake their babies, etc. Add the meds problem with your son into the mix and any other additional stresses and quite simply you've just got a lot on your plate. Take care of yourself in whatever way you can, however you can...that's most important. You're seriously doing the absolute hardest job on earth, so give yourself props for that. However you can ease stresses for yourself will likely help calm your anger.

thanks to all the mamas that responded to this post. There is a lot of good info here and I definitely will look into several of the suggestions. Actually just the act of posting and acknowledging that it had gotten to a point that was not OK has helped me slow down and try to take some steps to getting to a better parenting style and anger management style. I especially appreciate the poster that pointed out that there were 2 issues at hand: anger and the challenges of the daily routine. It is definitely a work in progress for me but I feel kind of relieved just acknowledging it and thinking about how to move forward.

This post and thread is one great example of Urban Mamas at their finest - everyone was respectful, honest and supportive. Happy Friday, all. (PS - many thanks to the UrbanMamas moderators for springing back in such high form this week. Great topics all week.)

I think that you should join a gym...with daycare. I did that when I was at my whits end. It helped a bunch. Anytime I thought I was going to totally break down...I dropped the kid off at the gym daycare and I took care of myself in a healthy way. We both get a break - and a time out. I love it. Sometimes gyms can be kind of spendy to join...but you can find deals if you shop around.

SPD Portland Area Support Group Meeting (SPD = sensory processing disorder, kids with sensory challenges)

A newly formed support group for families with sensory challenges. Our second meeting is coming up (March 5th). If you are in the Portland metro area and know of a child with sensory challenges - please pass this information along.

Meeting Information:

Mark your calendars! Everyone's been talking about it - nutrition, enzymes, probiotics, neurotransmitters, food intolerances, gluten free, dairy free.... HELP! What do we do? How do we know what will work for MY child? How do we use these things to help our kids? What do we buy? How much do we give? Where do we start? Where do we get this stuff? What do we do!

Well, come find out. Dr. Sarah McAllister's here! A Pediatric Naturopath in Portland who can answer our questions - and more importantly, help our kids. Come find out all the practical information that can help your family daily.

March 5th, Thursday

7-8:30 pm

Advanced Pediatric Therapies

4444 SW Multnomah Blvd, Portland

fine print:

be prepared to stay later than 8:30 - Dr. Sarah has agreed to stay later to answer questions (Thanks Dr. Sarah!)
Dr. Sarah can answer a lot of practical questions - she lives the life and is a great cook!
Remember, no kids at meetings
If you haven't been to a meeting, yet - No Worries! Low key, great time for sharing & learning, & hanging out with others who understand sensory challenges. And, Advanced Pediatric Therapies has a great sensory gym - if you haven't seen it, it's worth checking out.
Special thanks to Advanced Pediatric Therapies for donating meeting space and for Lynette Burke's time for opening/closing APT for us!
See you March 5th!

Teresa Denney (spdportlandoregon, tdenney24@verizon.net)

P.S. Help spread the word - send folks the link to the yahoo messageboard site, post on other messageboards. Let's help our kids, by starting the conversation.

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