I never felt like I could get angry as a child. My parents sure did, but I got the message loud and clear that I was supposed to keep the peace, be good, and above all, never ever lose my cool. As a parent, I found myself getting angry at my child for being angry.
That was a red flag.
I felt helpless when she was upset. I wanted to fix it, fix her, just make it better.
I felt resentful. How could she be unhappy, when I was working so hard to make her world wonderful?
I heard myself using words to try to shut down her anger. I gave lectures. I offered new activities. I reminded her of good things, fun things. And sometimes, I got angry back.
It was time to do some work, on myself. I've found the Nurturings community so valuable for this kind of support. There is always someone who can share a book, an experience, or a shoulder.
This time, the book and surrounding conversation that hit the spot was Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Dr. Laura Markham: What if I let my daughter be angry? What if I just listened and empathized but didn't try to fix it?
This was going to be tough, but I made a commitment to try something new.
The next time my daughter felt angry was when it was time to turn off the TV. This time, I just stayed still. In the past, her anger was my call to jump into action, but this time, I just watched.
It felt very strange not to be saying or doing something.
She stomped around the house. She yelled. She scowled. She yelled some more.
I tried some empathy: "It sounds like you are very frustrated that we have to turn off the TV now."
It's not FAIR!!" she yelled.
I tried again: "I know you don't like that the TV is going off, but we had an agreement about how long you can watch."
"It's just not FAIR!!" she screamed again.
Here is where I did something really new: I gave her some pace, just let her be. I walked to the other side of the room and started puttering. I have to admit that my heart was pounding. I really, really, really just wanted to turn the TV back on, give her ice cream, or yell back at her. But I just kept organizing the crayons.
After a while, my daughter picked up a book. I puttered for a little bit longer and then sat down next to her with my own book. We sat side by side for a long time, just breathing.
"I love you when you're angry, you know," I said, pulling her close. She looked at me with disbelief.
"I love you when you are angry. I love you when you are happy, sad, mad, glad, bored, excited, sleeping, awake, home, or somewhere else. I love you, no matter what."
Our kids give us such opportunities to heal and to do things differently. Old patterns are strong. We have to work, not on our kids, but on ourselves.