Friday, October 28, 2011

Core Meltdown

Earlier this year, I was having big issues with rage.

Anger, of the incandescent variety.

I would wake up in the morning feeling sluggish and scratchy after a bad night with my then-almost-two year old. Things would go quickly downhill from there.

My big girl (then aged 5) would be awake already, perky and full of cheerful enthusiasm, ready to chat, looking forward to the day ahead at preschool. We would enjoy 15 or 20 minutes of quiet chat, or craft, or reading – until our happy reverie was disturbed by the distant sound of crying. Big Sister’s face would fall at the ominous sound of her little sister waking up, and she would instantly become quiet and withdrawn.

Back then, Little Sister was not a morning person. Once she had shrieked to be liberated from her cot, the always-memorable first part of her day would be spent whining, crying, shouting, throwing things, refusing to eat, refusing to have clothes put on her… you get the picture. Big Sister would quickly start sulking due to lack of attention - Mummy had her hands full with Little Sister’s antics and Daddy was still in bed, resolutely refusing to let parenthood get in the way of 9 hours’ sleep. Big Sister’s sulks would quickly turn into disobedience, and suddenly I would have a second child sullenly refusing to get out of her pyjamas, stubbornly stalled at the breakfast table, answering my requests with naughtiness or aggression.

I would keep ploughing ahead, but could feel my inner capacity to handle all this being slowly but surely eroded. At first I would manage to be patient, generous in spirit, even kind. But as the minutes ticked by, it was as though all those warm and comfortingly soft qualities inside me were slowly but surely being squeezed to nothing by a giant, leaden hand of anger, frustration and hopelessness.

At this point, with the clock ticking and Big Sister’s preschool day about to start, I would typically lose the will to stay in control. A spectacular core meltdown would ensue. Declaring, “That’s IT!” I would randomly start screaming at the kids for the slightest infraction of rules I had suddenly decided to over-enforce. Little Sister would refuse to have her teeth brushed; I would hold her down and forcibly get the brush into her mouth. Big Sister would complain about having to wear so many layers of clothes; I would shriek that I was fed up with having exactly the same argument with her every day when she knew it was minus 10 degrees outside and freezing cold, and would start yanking her clothes onto her. Little Sister, incensed at not getting her own way about anything, would release one of her tornado specials, fists and kicks flying at the nearest person, and I would practically throw her into the Naughty Corner. I would continue to yell and rant at both children, outdoing Gordon Ramsay at his best, until they were fully dressed and ready (and frequently both in floods of tears). At some point, my husband would finally emerge from the bedroom, unable to ignore the high-decibel yelling any longer, and would silently help me get the girls through the rest of their morning routine.     

One morning, in the midst of a Mummy Meltdown, the girls decided to fight about who got to open the front door. One of them pushed past and yanked it open. The other one started to scream. I had had enough. I pulled them both roughly back from the door, and I slammed the door shut – violently, with as much angry force as I possibly could. The door crashed shut. The whole wall shook. The noise was deafening. The children were instantly silent with surprise and fright.

And then, slowly and gently, the door swung open again.

I had slammed it so hard that I had actually broken the lock.

I would like to be able to say, “And from that day forth, I realized how frightening and damaging rage can be, and never lost my temper again.” Of course it didn’t happen that easily. However, that slamming incident was the high point (or, more accurately, the low point) of my anger. I had let myself get so enraged and out of control that I had managed to break an industrial-grade lock, and that frightened the hell out of me. What next? Blinded by rage, would I rip into a person? One of my babies, even? I realized that I would have to take big steps to make sure this never happened again.

It has been a long road, and I can’t honestly say I have reached my desired destination – a calm, rational place where I discipline my children without yelling at them, and never lose my temper. I have worked on changing a lot of things about myself – I try to remember the huge benefits of remaining patient and calm with people; I remind myself that parents who shout generally breed children who shout; I force myself to acknowledge that sometimes I shout when what I’d really like to do is hit someone, and that this is dangerous territory. I try to stop and let these ideas wash over me when I feel like losing it with my children, and I often find that it really is possible to redirect my reaction into something calmer and more constructive. Then, in quieter moments, I try to ask myself why the situation made me feel angry, whether it mattered enough to merit getting that worked up, and if so, what I can do to stop the trigger situation from happening again?

In asking myself, "Why?", I have taken a good look at where my anger came from in the first place. Fundamentally, my fury had very little to do with the irritation I felt at my kids' challenging behaviour (which was just a trigger). My bigger issues were unhappiness, depression, anxiety about not being in control, and being just plain worn out and feeling put-upon from trying to do too much without asking for help.   

I feel a whole lot better now that I have carved out some time for myself from our daily routine. At first it felt self-indulgent; now I realize that free time and headspace are necessities I've forced myself to do without for too long - only through time with our own thoughts can we get a grip on them and sort through them.

I have also learned to ask for help when I need it - sometimes even at the expense of hubby's precious beauty rest :) 

And I've worked to understand and overcome my subconscious need to win at all costs, and to refuse to relinquish control over situations. Winning - especially when it comes to arguments with the hubby or the kids - is rarely the key to getting the end result you are seeking. More often, progress is made by consciously allowing another person to take control and feel like a winner.   

Oh, and I’ve also come to the earth-shattering realization that going to bed earlier works honest-to-God miracles inside my head.

It also helps that the kids have grown up a lot more since then. Little Sister in particular has really made progress. She is no longer a powerless and highly frustrated infant, but a communicative and engaging little girl. Her mum is also trying hard to grow up.

We will both get there.

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  1. mummy understands.

    she had to go to a buddhist institute to learn to control her anger which was actually anger with her husband and her life, not the kids. Daddy was always the angry one, but mummy absorbed his anger when she finally confronted him about it. he become almost calm, whilst I erupted like a volcanoe.

    my kids understood the phrase "mummy has to go to chenrezig now for anger classes". big boy #1 who has seen to much and understands when he should not said "yes mummy that is a good idead."


  2. thelakehousewriter, kudos to you for doing something so positive for you and your family. Absolutely fantastic. And thank you so much for the warm moral support.

    After reading your comment, I realized that I hadn't written about the deeper causes of my anger, and I've updated my post to discuss that. In my case, too, ultimately I realized it really was not about the kids, but about my need to change my approach to life on a fundamental level.

    Incidentally, today I noticed for the first time that there is a Buddhist center literally just down the road from our place. This is surely a sign!

  3. I dont think there would be a mother alive that couldnt relate to this! I agree with more sleep, it seems to be the root of so many issues with short-temperdness in us mums. We need our sleep! And asking hubby is definitely the way to go. Kudos!

  4. thanks, anobservantmind, for your empathy! Well, it is a relief to hear that others can relate to this level of fury. It feels horrible to have to admit to treating my children like that, but maybe lots of other mums struggle as I have to contain their immediate feelings frustration and anger, as they grapple with more deep-seated issues. Let us all continue to take deep breaths (both literally and metaphorically!)

  5. I've been there certainly. I think we may have had things been broken too. Children seem to know just which buttons to press, don't they?

    Thank you for linking up. Nice to see you again.

  6. It's good to know that I'm not alone!

    Looking forward to reading this week's Fail Fridays.