I used to be an angry mom.
I didn’t mean to be. I didn’t want to be. And I hadn’t always been like that.
With my first child, sure, I had moments when I lost my temper. I had moments when my reaction exceeded what was necessary for the situation. But it wasn’t the norm. Until I got pregnant with my second child.
Then all hell broke loose. Or at least, a lot more often than it had before. And the difference wasn’t just in the frequency of my anger, it was in my total inability to control it.
Oh, I would try. Milk would be spilled, shoes put on too slowly when I was in a rush, a nap refused when I needed a small respite so badly, toys not cleaned up. It was like he was 2! (Oh, wait…) Without meaning to, my anger would flare and bubble out of me like an erupting volcano. My little guy was constantly being scorched by the fury that overflowed out of his tired, overwhelmed mama. And it wasn’t his fault. A parent’s anger is never a child’s fault.
I felt terrible. And the guilt was just one more thing in my already-overflowing bucket of emotion. The icing on the cake was the day I was trying – trying oh so hard! – to stay calm while disciplining my son down on his level. I was so proud of myself, feeling like maybe just maybe I had conquered this anger thing. Then he laughed, threw his head back, and head-butted me square on the nose.
I sat back on my knees and just wept, big pregnant belly bouncing with every sob that shook my shoulders. That was it. I was done.
So I did what any good parent would do. I bought a book. A book would fix me.
“Parenting Without Stress or Frustration” – that should do it. Yes.
I read the book from cover to cover in a matter of days. (In mom-years, that’s really quick.) It gave me a lot of great tips and a lot of good food for thought. It talked a lot about how parents need to control themselves and their emotions. Perfect. I just needed to act better.
In the following days and weeks, I was gung-ho to implement what I had learned. Control myself, control my emotions, don’t add more frustration to this situation, stay calm was the mantra I repeated to myself in tough parenting situations. Sometimes it worked. But mostly it didn’t.
It was really just more of what I had been doing before. Trying. And failing. And then trying harder. And failing more. And then being exhausted. And guilty. Oh, the guilt.
Although it was a good book in and of itself, the one piece of the puzzle it failed to mention or address was the ROOT issue. Dealing with anger and rage is not about controlling it, or having more will power next time. In fact, doing it that way (and failing) usually just adds to the anger you are trying to remove. A wise man that I know put it this way: Wound trumps will. If you have an underlying wound in your heart that is causing the anger, and underlying belief systems that are not working for you, you can have all the willpower in the world and you won’t fix the problem.
It’s like a tree that keeps producing bad fruit. You can keep cutting the fruit off, which is what I was doing and what the book suggested, but anyone knows that the fruit keeps growing back. Cutting bad fruit off is exhausting. Really, really exhausting. And if you felt out of control before… well, you will feel worse after that. Everyone knows that to be rid of the bad fruit once and for all, you need to cut that sucker of a tree out by the root.
So that’s what I started doing.
I began realizing that I had things in my emotional bucket from long before I had a toddler and was pregnant with another child. The reason that it was bubbling over, was that my bucket had gone down a size. Where I once had a, say, Big Gulp cup holding all of my emotion and hurt and other issues in (where it fit quite nicely and it wasn’t running over), I had now poured all of that into a grande Starbucks cup.
What I mean is that what I was able to cope with before being pregnant, I was no longer able to cope with because of the extra hormones and added stress to my life. Any woman knows that once a month, her emotional sensitivity is a little heightened. But the saving grace of that, is that it lasts for a relatively short period of time, so it doesn’t usually require us to address it. Pregnancy lasts a lot longer. As does any other added stress. This principle works the same for hormonally-related times in life, changes in career, or dealing with an overwhelming situation in your life. (I also believe that a lot of times, Post-Partum Depression is the same – I believe that the potential for depression was always there, but that we are able to cope with it and function around it up until we have all the hormonal change and overwhelming feelings of having a newborn. And then when life settles out, we can cope through it again, but the depression didn’t disappear completely.)
You can’t pour your Big Gulp cup into a 12 oz. coffee cup and expect there not to be overflow. There always is. And the people around you usually get soaked.
I started digging into my heart and finding out what was there. It was a bit messy. It was a bit ugly. I had a lot of hurt in my life that I had, quite successfully, shoved way down and covered with a nice, tidy little lid. Smile, nod, smile some more. I looked great, because no one could see the sess-pool bubbling beneath the surface. Heck, I hadn’t seen it either. The Big Gulp cup with the lid on it had done it’s job gloriously. But now it was time to remove the lid and deal with it.
It was a journey of addressing the hurt and anger in my life, and really getting at the root of it. I learned that all anger really is is an expression of hurt that has not been dealt with, and has had the chance to take root in your heart. I had to figure out what lies about myself and my life I had believed through experiences I had had, and then challenge those with the truth.
I had to relive some of the emotions I had felt as I dealt with my past. It was like looking through a photo album, and remembering the emotion attached to each photo. Though these weren’t happy photos.
It was painful, but necessary. It was like removing a bandage off of an oozing, pus-filled wound. It was hard. I had to journal, and cry, and get really mad.
And then I had to forgive. I had to ask God to show me the truth about people who had hurt me. I had to develop grace for them, and realize that their intentions had not been to hurt me. I had to realize that they had wounded me out of their own wounds. Hurt people hurt people.
I also had to take responsibility. What I was going through was not just a blame game where I got to play the victim. Not at all. I had to take ownership of what I had done with those experiences. I had to deal with all the people I had hurt as a result of the crap in my life that I hadn’t dealt with yet. I had to ask forgiveness, from God and sometimes from those people where I could. I had to repent of being bitter and angry, for not forgiving, and for holding all of that in my heart. Because people will hurt us, but it is our choice what we do with it.
I had done a lot of self-damaging things with my anger too. I had made a lot of poor choices because of the crap in my bucket. I had to sift through all of that too. I had to ask for, and receive, God’s forgiveness for that. I had to forgive myself. And then I had to choose to see myself as the different person I knew that I had become.
God healed me and brought me total freedom. And He totally sheltered me under His wing as we went through it together. He never left my side.
And for the record, this freedom feels awesome. Do I still sometimes feel angry? Absolutely. Do I lose my temper and yell on occasion? Yes. But I am not in bondage to it anymore. In fact, when I do start to feel a bit of that coming back, it’s an amazing barometer for the state of my heart; it’s a little bit of an engine light coming on telling me there is something not quite right that needs my attention. And I deal with it. Not always right away, but I am getting quicker.
So if you can relate to anything I am saying, and I think you know if you can, I encourage you to get on your knees and ask God what crap you are holding on to that is causing you to be emotionally sick. It’s that stuff that is keeping you from being your best, that is controlling you and keeping you out of control. Because let me tell you, dealing with your anger is not an issue of trying harder, having more control, or thinking happy thoughts. Being a better parent is not an issue of not using Facebook as much, trying to have more patience, or reading more books. Those things might help, but again, bad-fruit-maintenance or from-the-root-demolition? It’s your choice.
And please, oh please, don’t buy a bigger bucket. Empty the one you have.
(As always, please feel free to share these posts with anyone you know who could use my experiences to help them. We need to stick together and help learn from each other’s mistakes as well as their victories!)