I was an angry mum for way too long. It actually felt like my set-point was angry mum – I was just constantly angry and the little respites of not being angry started to get further and further apart. I regularly yelled and felt justified in the yelling. I felt hard-done-by, martyrish, stuck.
It was me, it is me. Just me being me. We even laughed a little at mummy’s hot temper that erupted like a storm, and quietened just as quickly. Then I began to notice that more and more, those fierce, brief storms of anger were leaving behind wreckage that I couldn’t readily tidy up. There was always a little anger left over, waiting to be stirred up all over again. Looking to be stirred up, by this angry, angry mum.
Over-worked, over-tired and over it
I see it now. I was over-worked, over-tired and basically over it. Over the whole selflessness of parenting. The relentlessness. The repetition. The endless doing of it all.
I knew, though, that I wasn’t an angry mum when my kids were younger, despite being just as tired, just as over-worked, just as bewildered by the everyday sameness of raising a family. So while it was a lot about that, it wasn’t only about that.
It also wasn’t just because I had been doing this parenting thing for a long, long time now. All that hard work, all those missed nights of sleep, all the expectations and responsibilities, all crowding in together to leave me exhausted. Too tired to be nice. Too tired to listen rather than yell. Too tired to be selfless all the time.
It was a lot of these things, it was. We have every right to get angry from time to time because of all of these things. But stomping around in the world, looking for a fight and refusing to stick our hands in the pocketfuls of joy: that was anger born of something else again.
It wasn’t until I acknowledged the real source of my anger that I worked out what I needed to do to pack it away.
My own expectations were making me angry
So here’s the simple thing: My kids were bigger and so were my expectations.
For years and years I had selflessly picked up. Picked up after them, picked them up physically, picked them up emotionally. Now they were older and here I was, still picking up, always with the picking up.
My expectations of how this stage of parenting would look felt vastly different to the living of it.
Hadn’t I spent years of my life training my children to be kind and thoughtful? To care for their things and use their manners to smooth their world? Hadn’t I repeated over and over and over again the simple rules for a lovely life? Hadn’t I done all of this?
And yet, there felt no change to how we existed together, my kids and I. I was still the sole holder of life’s responsibilities and help was grudgingly bestowed if I begged, cajoled, nagged or yelled, and yelled, and yelled some more.
Now there was hurt and a new kind of bewilderment attached to my mothering. Don’t they love me the way I love them? Don’t they want to do for me as I do for them? How can they loaf around when I am working so hard doing all the things? Can’t they see how bone-weary I am?
And then, the thinking, of course they can see, they can see just fine, but they just don’t care. Have I really given years and years of my life to raise people who don’t even care about their own mother? How could I have got it so utterly wrong?
There was only one thing I had got wrong, of course:
I forgot that parenting is a marathon, not a sprint.
I allowed my expectations to run ahead at a pace that my children just weren’t ready for. So eager was I to get to “the end” and rest – oh, sweet, sweet, rest – that I stopped running mid-distance. My anger came from being trampled by the weight of my expectations running over me.
Once I realised where my anger was coming from, there were three things I immediately did:
1. I slowed down and I slowed the kids down too. We reduced the number of extra-curricular activities in term 4 last year, so we had more time to just hang around and be together again. I’m not a very playful person, but I was quickly reminded that I could be. That we all are. It’s just that after a certain age we just forget to make time for it.
So the kids and I spent afternoons in the pool, playing silly games that went nowhere. Up until then I spent most of my waking moments being as efficient as possible, so at first I found it hard to switch off enough to get into these activities. Eventually, through sheer practise, I got the hang of it and found that I excelled at doing nothing important. 😊
It was a gift to do nothing important.
2. I asked for exactly what I wanted. We had always had chores and rules, but now I decided to go beyond the list and make specific requests to help out in the moment. There was much resistance, and in many ways this was not the easy path. I struggled a lot with containing my anger during this time. Two things really helped: I tried to get enough sleep every night (I’m a terrible insomniac these days, so this wasn’t always easy) and I removed myself when I felt the angry mum surfacing. I also told the kids that I was trying to stop being so angry and asked them to help me with that. They rose.
My children became an ‘us’ again, instead of a ‘them’.
3. I chose happy and owned my anger. I didn’t always get it, but I tried for happy in everyday moments. I don’t for a second believe you can ‘choose happy‘ (oh, life, as if!), but I do believe that if you’re at least striving to be happy you are most of the way there.
RELATED: Can you choose happy?
When I felt weighted down and angry about family life, I pulled out my dusty old gratitude journal and wrote three things that I was grateful for right then and there. I spent time writing notes to my children about what they mean to me. I spent time with my children, full stop. I talked more to my husband about being an angry mum and didn’t shy away from it. I wasn’t ‘upset’, or ‘hurt’, or ‘tired’, I was angry.
In owning my anger, I found it easier to give it away.
In the end, it was a long road trip I took with the kids on my own that really took me away from my anger. Immersed in all the little moments with them, without the burden of keeping a clean house, a successful career, a thriving family, a busy life, I found a peace in parenting that I hadn’t experienced for such a long time.
Now that I know what causes my anger and I’ve given myself permission to set down the weight of expectations, it’s a peace that I’ve managed to hang onto.
Of course, I still see angry mum from time to time, and that’s okay. She’s alright in small doses, really.
How are you feeling these days?
Image by Andre Hunter