My child jumps up, voice raised, toppling their chair backwards in fury, their breakfast flying to the floor. Quickly and calmly, I move towards them offering them reassurance and boundaries. "No, no, I won't let you do that", I say, keeping them from kicking over a second chair. Barely. I move in close as they work hard to manage their emotions. It's confusing for both of us, but one thing is for sure, I will see them through this.
At our house, we are learning how to be angry. We are all learning how to use our voices and hold our ground with grace. Me included.
And why are we doing this, you ask?
Because I believe that anger is valid. I believe anger fuels justice, that it makes things change and move. Anger throws the flag on the foul. Anger holds the boundaries of self-respect and dignity. Anger stands up and says ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.
We need anger.
As we are learning how to express anger without violence, I’m finding that it takes a lot of practice and enduring chaos in the mean time. And I've learned that healthy anger at our house starts with me.
It starts in my house, on my kitchen floor, as I stay-listen to my daughter’s angry tantrum. Allowing her freedom of mouth means I listen to her tell me, “You’re not a good mom!” because she wants her own way. It means caring for her, helping her through the hardest part of being angry, protecting her and me from harm. It means forgiving her and myself when I accidentally don’t block her fingers in time and she scratches me right on the face. Sometimes it means we both sit there sobbing. Either way, I stay with my children until they are restored to their genuine selves.
It starts on my front porch, standing in the dark, my hands covering my face, trembling, breathing, feeling. Like the other night after a fun yet need-filled evening at the library together, all three kids piled into the house and someone instantly shouted, “Let’s be wild babies!!” and proceeded to dump library books, heave couch cushions, pour out cups of water and run around madly. I did a 180 and saw myself out into the fresh air, my ears ringing with anger, a flash of razor sharpness swelling in my chest. It means caring for myself, asking for help through the hardest parts, pushing hard against the door and letting myself growl, “how dare they act like this after all I have done for them today!?!”
When I’m able to support and care for myself by way of feeling and noticing, instead of shaming and avoiding, I find new ideas and strength rushing in after the rage subsides. Like that night on the porch, I felt my way through that dark tunnel of anger for about 60 seconds. Then it broke open and I knew exactly what my children needed. I went back inside and matched my children’s energy with play-listening and lots of silly couch throwing, me acting confused and bringing their laughter. All of us riding that fine line between chaos and connection.
Allowing anger doesn’t mean giving in to my children, walking on eggshells, letting them have their way all the time. Recently it was a demand for more honey on breakfast yogurt that brought us to the kitchen floor. But after the anger passed, my child sat down and ate the yogurt just like it was. (It was never really about the yogurt.)
I don’t willfully power my way through these challenges, I ask for a great deal of support and help. I’ve gathered what is practically an Olympic sized team of wise, loving friends and listening partners who connect with me almost daily. They take my needy phone calls, answer my urgent “I”M LOSING IT!” texts and offer me abundant empathy. Just like my kids can’t do it alone, I can’t do it alone either.
I’m usually left questioning aspects of all this, considering how I could have helped my child sooner, more effectively, with less agitation and more respect. I make a lot of mistakes and have so much to learn about mothering well with these three young children.
But. I endure. I keep going. Breath by breath. Mess by mess. Mistake by mistake. Day by day. I do this because I want my children to know that love is always available. Love abounds even during chaos and harshness and mistakes. Love can withstand the unbearable experience of anger and when I see them come to the other side of their feelings, I know I’m doing a lot of things right. Each time, we both get stronger and safer and more connected.
Love can withstand the unbearable experience of anger, and when I see them come to the other side of their feelings, I know I’m doing a lot of things right.
How does anger work in your household? If you’re wishing you could allow your children more expression of their angry emotions, but are finding it difficult, one of my parenting focused counseling sessions might just be what you’re looking for!
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