Hello! I’m back. I apologize for going MIA for the last 6+ months. I found myself unexpectedly wrestling with an internal demon. It’s name was ANGER.
Let me explain.
See, I’ve always been an easy going, non-confrontational person. I’d rather go with the flow and keep the peace than ruffle any feathers.
Well, I didn’t realize that 2018 was going to confront that personality trait head-on through parenting my son. And I definitely didn’t expect the anger that came about as a result. For somebody who has never experienced much anger before, it turned my world upside down.
In December 2017, I went from full-time working mom to full-time stay-at-home mom to our (then) 2-year-old son.
To be completely transparent, the very first Monday that I was left alone to parent my son as an official SAHM was one of the hardest days of my life. We had just moved to a new town, approximately 1 1/2 hours away from our friends and church family. I was bawling on the floor of the kitchen before 9am. And so was my son. When my husband returned from work that night, I told him that I was going back to work.
My husband, in his calm way, encouraged me to “give it a bit longer.” I hate it when he’s right. 😉
Spoiler alert: I didn’t go back to work.
But things got a lot harder (for almost a year) before they got better. What I didn’t realize then but I know now is that this is when my anger issues started.
At first, I was definitely angry at God. I didn’t really want to be a SAHM. But when I had prayed about this possible transition in the summer of 2017, I felt he made it very clear that this was the best thing HE had in mind for me, even though it wasn’t the direction I would have preferred. (I’ll discuss this encounter in detail in a future blog post, I promise.)
As I explored my anger with God (and flat out told him about it) the anger began to shift. It began to feel less like a spiritual issue and more of an emotional one as well as a parenting one. Before I knew it, it had taken on a life of its own. I was partly too ashamed, partly too embarrassed to discuss it in depth with anyone but my husband. I’d mention it in conversation as a minor thing, but nobody seemed able to relate or understand. I knew I wasn’t alone, I knew other moms must experience this. But I didn’t really even know enough about what I was feeling or why I was feeling it to talk about it.
At first, I chalked it up to the fact that my son hadn’t really been parented by me for 5 out of 7 days of the week. Now he and I were together all.the.time. I also chalked it up to him being in the terrible twos. I picked a really lousy time to start this stay-at-home gig. (I kid. Sorta.)
When Jack was well behaved, I was an amazing mom! But when he wasn’t well behaved, I wasn’t an amazing mom. I would lose my cool and yell. The bad days started outnumbering the good ones. His behavior when he got angry was mirroring my own. I felt like my relationship with him was suffering.
I felt like a failure.
I’ll never forget when Sarah, a fellow mom from church, put to words exactly what I was experiencing in a blog post she wrote in the fall of 2018. She said “I maintain that if I hadn’t had children I might have labored under the illusion that I was an OK person.” (Go read her blog when you’re done reading this post. She’s an amazing writer/truth teller.)
So anyway, I really thought I was a decent person. Yes, when I was a full-time working mom I noticed a few flaws in myself. But overall, I really thought I had my act together.
And then I became a stay-at-home parent. And I found myself dealing with a level of anger I didn’t even know I was capable of.
So what did I do?
I tried to understand it. I thought maybe I was bottling up anger from other relationships or areas of life and taking it out on Jack. But when I really examined it, I knew I wasn’t doing that.
So I sat and prayed about my anger. Asking God why and where it was coming from. What I eventually came to realize is that my anger stemmed from not understanding my son. I could not wrap my head around why this smart, capable human couldn’t just cooperate. I’ve changed his diaper probably thousands of times since he was born; so why do I feel like I’m wrestling an octopus during diaper changes now? Why does he throw an epic meltdown about getting ready in the mornings? When I ask him to go get his shoes, why does he suddenly need to do 5,000 unimportant things first?
All the articles I read said he was trying to assert his independence. At their suggestion, I let him make as many choices as he could. “Would you like this outfit or that one? Would you like to change your diaper now or in 5 minutes? Where would you like to change your diaper – on the couch or on the carpet?” No matter how much I tried to foster his independence to reduce the tantrums, it didn’t work. I’d end up exasperated and so discouraged with myself…and with him.
I tried time outs. Spanking. Threatening to take away TV time. Threatening to take away toys. And I’d follow through if the situation required it. And yet, there wasn’t any change in his behavior. Which fed my anger.
It got so bad that I actually started to believe that he was intentionally trying to piss me off every day. I was taking his anger and his defiance personally. But I couldn’t figure out what to do about it.
Then in October of 2018, I bravely wrote down a prayer request at Bible study that detailed my issues with anger and impatience. I felt so ashamed to see those words on the paper. I almost grabbed the paper back and scribbled it all out to write something mundane instead.
But a couple weeks later, a fellow mom of young kids approached me after Bible study and said she’d seen my request. She said she had struggled similarly when she became a SAHM when her first son was 2. She asked if I’d like her to bring in some books that had helped her.
I couldn’t say yes fast enough!
I was slightly disappointed when all the books she handed me were from a “gentle parenting” approach. I’d always scoffed at that perspective, thinking it avoided discipline and let children run the house.
But I was wrong. At least about this one book.
No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame by Janet Lansbury changed my life. It was so practical. She gave so many examples that I could relate to in my day-to-day routine. She told you what to say to diffuse the situation. She taught me how to set healthy limits with Jack so I could prevent the irrational anger from taking over. I then discovered her podcast Unruffled and that took what I was learning to the next level of understanding.
But the most important thing she did for me: explain what my son was experiencing.
Finally, I found somebody who could describe what my son was feeling when he threw a tantrum, hit me, tried to stall, and tried to avoid diaper and clothing changes. And I slowly (so slowly) started to make noticeable changes in my parenting style.
Now, that’s not to say I agree with her on everything because I don’t. And I certainly still mess up and don’t do things perfectly. But I finally feel like I am on the right path to repairing my relationship with my son. I’m learning to respect him while also being the confident leader he needs, without being a tyrant.
Here are some takeaways that I learned from her that have made the biggest difference for me.
Toddlers are terrible with transitions. She explains that getting ready in the mornings, stopping playtime to change a diaper, getting ready for bed/nap, etc. are all transitions. As an adult, I don’t have difficulty with these everyday transitions. I make the transitions without even thinking much about them, so it was eye-opening to realize that young children have a very hard time moving from one thing to the next, especially when it’s not a fun thing (i.e. diaper changes, clothing changes, getting into their car seat, etc.)
Don’t try to avoid conflict with your child. Timeouts, countdowns, spanking, etc. prolong poor behavior, in her opinion, because they aren’t natural consequences of the situation. More importantly, she claims they are tools parents use to avoid conflict. When I realized this, it made total sense! I was trying to give my son 15+ chances or several countdowns to do something himself, and then he wouldn’t do it so I felt like I had to resort to a punishment. I thought he was refusing to listen. I would take his disobedience personally. So I would start to boil inside at around the 5th chance, and then I’d be visibly angry once we passed the 10th chance, for example.
Set a reasonable limit and gently follow through. I had to realize that giving him a ton of chances to do something himself never ended well for us. I knew my “calm” disappeared after a few times of him not obeying. So I had to set my limit and stick to it. I let him have a few chances to grab his shoes himself, but if he didn’t do it in a reasonable manor I would calmly pick up the shoes and him, put him in my lap, and gently put them on him (even if he was flipping out).
Lead from a place of quiet confidence and appear unruffled. If you’re toddler senses that they can get a rise from you, they’ll continue to do that poor behavior because it gets a huge reaction (even if it’s a negative one). But the more we can appear calm and confident in our leadership, the more likely they are to eventually stop the behavior on their own. (This obviously doesn’t apply to unsafe/dangerous situations.) Also, this isn’t a new concept. Most parents probably know this already. Heck, I even knew this! But I didn’t feel equipped to follow through on this type of response until I got the tools I needed from Lansbury’s resources.
As a person who has always lacked confidence and who wasn’t blessed with ANY leadership qualities, it’s been really hard for me to transform into a calm, confident leader. I felt (and still feel) completely unqualified. And I probably only succeed at being a calm, confident leader of a parent about 70% of the time. But that’s better than where I was 6 months ago!
On a slightly different note, and with no connection to Lansbury, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned this past year is about consistency. I’d have a really good day where I’d remain calm and collected despite my 2-year-old’s behavior. And then four bad days in a row. And because I couldn’t remain consistent like all the articles online said I should, I felt like a failure.
Well, I’ve learned that consistency is garbage. It’s thinly concealed “perfectionism” at its finest. New name, same old issue. Don’t fall for it.
Striving to be consistent will make your bad days feel even worse. Keep working at changing what you need to change. Focus on that. Do your best. Extend yourself grace. FORGIVE YOURSELF. Let go and move on. Try again. Eventually you’ll become better and better at whatever it is your striving to change, even if it takes a while. (Ask me how I know! HA!) And consistency will be a natural bi-product of that effort. But I don’t think it’s helpful when consistency is the focus or the goal itself.
Have you struggled with anger? If not, what is something you struggle with as a parent? And if you have any resources that have helped you, leave them in the comments so that others can find the same help you did.
If you really want help understanding things from your child’s perspective or if you struggle with yelling/getting angry like I did, I highly encourage you to check out Janet Lansbury’s website, books, and podcast.
Thanks for reading!