Losing control

Anger by Robin Nevison

I was recently a part of an on-line conversation about the challenges of being a parent.  It reminded me of a discussion I had with another mother last summer about how to respond to conflict with your preschool child.  I shared with her this article that I wrote after I attended a course at the Pikler Institute.  Of course, there is no one simple answer.  No prescriptions.  No book that maps out exactly what to do and say.  Our conversation moved through all the different layers of working with challenging situations with our children.  One piece of that was the difference between reacting and responding.  It is hard sometimes as parents to admit that we have felt a kind of fire rise up in us when dealing with a difficult moment with our child.  Instead of consciously responding to our child, we lose control inwardly (and sometimes outwardly) and react out of frustration, exhaustion or anger.  What can we do in these moments to shift our energy and better support our child and ourselves?

As with most issues around conflict, we first must deal with the situation at hand.  Then, we can look at how to avoid repeating it by working on the deeper causes that led to the situation.

So, how do we handle these moments when we lose it?

  • Acknowledge your feelings.
    We can acknowledge our feelings and actions to ourselves and to our child.  Your child may experience your anger even if you maintain control of your actions and words.  It can help to say, “I am feeling angry.  I am going to take a moment so I can calm down.”

And then take a moment.

Self-care – sleep, exercise, good nutrition, friendship, meditation – is so important for all of us and yet, for parents, who likely need it most of all, can be so elusive.  But, in these moments of stress we can give ourselves a homeopathic dose of self-care.  Here are some suggestions of things you can do in five minutes or less to regroup, release and recharge:

  • Take a deep breath.
    Breathing exercises can allow you to center yourself and give you a moment’s pause before deciding on your new action.
  • Have a cup of tea.
    Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.  ~Thich Nat Hahn
  • Reach out.
    Call or email someone you trust to listen and not judge you in these moments.  It was such a gift when my friend reached out this week with her own questions because in answering her, I answer myself.  And in supporting her, I am reminded that I, too, can be supported in those moments if I will just ask.
  • Take Rescue Remedy.
    Consider keeping Bach Flower Remedy available for moments of stress.  Just the act of reaching for it and taking a moment alone to care for yourself can help shift your reaction to the moment.  You can also give a kids version to your child.
  • Spray rose water.
    Find a quiet place alone and spray your hair, face or the room with the subtle scent of rose water.  It can help you feel more centered.  Or find another scent that helps provide you a sense of relaxation or a moment’s escape.
  • Read a magazine.
    As a mother you may not find the time to lose yourself in a good (or trashy) novel.  But, you can steal a few minutes to read a magazine article.  There are so many choices out there.  Choose one (or more) that you find interesting, inspiring or just entertaining.
  • Eat dark chocolate.
    I mean, really, what is there to say?
  • Have a deck of cards available for support.
    There are different kinds of cards available that offer a variety of support.  One suggestion is the Mixed Emotions card deck.  You could also find a card deck with yoga poses, breathing exercises, parenting ideas or inspirational quotes.  Use these cards to help tap into your inner guidance during moments of stress.  These can help you look within to hear your parenting intuition and create a new plan for dealing with difficult situations.
  • Write in a journal.
    Keep a simple journal and pen available to write out your feelings or draw or just furiously scribble when you feel you are losing control.  You can also end by writing down 3 things you are grateful for or 3 things that you love about your children.

There needs to be time to reflect on why we have lost it and what we can do to prevent it from happening again.  But, practicing self-care, even just for a moment, gives your child the example of owning and dealing with your own emotions.

And when you don’t even have the energy, creativity or awareness to do any of these things, at least remember to have self-forgiveness.

The Sistine Madonna

I have heard it said that the love and warmth we give our children creates a sheath around them, like the mother’s cloak around the baby in the Sistine Madonna. This offers our child protection from the occasional missteps that we make — so that these mistakes do not penetrate deeply, but roll off them more gently. This image allows me to practice daily self-forgiveness for my many mistakes because, more than anything, I love my children.

It is not to say we shouldn’t be conscious in our parenting, strive to improve or reflect on our day. But, we can also work to let go of the guilt that can be so paralyzing at times.

I say this to myself, as much as to you…

Forgive yourself.

Once again, you lost it with your child, even though you promised yourself today you would keep your patience.  You haven’t exercised, you ate too much chocolate (can you really eat too much?), you are not always the parent/ spouse/ friend you wish to be, you can’t do it all…

Forgive yourself.

Remember before you had a child.  You could have a thousand things to do.  You could work all day.  But, at the end of the day, you knew there would be time to be with yourself.  To breathe.  To rest.  To do anything or nothing.  To sleep.

Parenting is relentless.  We have these amazing moments — those moments when you are so grateful to be given this gift and really recognize the reality of how fleeting this time will be.  But, there are other times, too.  Not knowing how much sleep you will get at night, but still staying up late because you just want a moment to yourself.  Boundaries being tested constantly.  Children sick, hungry, needing your attention.  And, through all of it, your own transformation, as you shed all of the things you identified yourself “as” and are broken down to your core — where you can glimpse and try to hold on to the true essence of yourself.

Don’t just forgive yourself, but truly celebrate all that you do.  This is deep work — all of it — and we must practice, in every moment, to recognize with amazement all that we are doing as parents…

and to forgive ourselves when we fall short.

Parenting is such an intense, humbling and beautiful path of self-development.


23 thoughts on “Losing control

  1. Vanessa-
    I feel these words are coming through you from your own truth; you’re not just spouting good ideas here. I’m always uplifted when I hear or see something that helps humanize us all. You have given me that today.

  2. Ive had a shocking week with my pre-schooler, with immense feelings of guilt & shame about how i’ve reacted to situations…I feel so validated & redeemed/ better able to forgive myself after reading this article.

  3. This is so well-timed for me. I lost control last night over my toddler being, once again, hard to get back to sleep. I didn’t lose control *at* him, I walked away and left him in the middle of his bedroom floor, but I did scream at my husband and storm out of the house for a long walk in the cold with no shoes or coat. The cold numbed the anger. But I’m still angry at myself. Thank you for this…I’ll probably be rereading it several times today. Maybe even printing it out.

    Btw, I love your blog; it’s been very-well-timed for me in the past, too.

    • In the Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron says “Anger is a tool. Anger can be tapped into and drawn upon. Used properly, anger is use-full. Sloth, apathy and despair are the enemy. Anger is not. Anger will tell us when we have been betrayed. Anger will tell us when we have betrayed ourselves. It will tell us that it is time to act in our own best interest. Anger is not meant to be acted out. It is meant to be fuel to take the actions we need to move where our anger points us. Anger can be an invitation.”

  4. Beautiful! Thank you for this.. I too, have had a rough time lately with my 4 year old. The guilt, oh the guilt that comes with parenting. Will be reading this again and again.

  5. What an important post! Last week, I was finding I was feeling more angry than normal and just a grump in general. Then I realized I wasn’t using my kids’ naptime as my down time. I had phone calls to make and chores to do. But now, I am back to being “lazy” during naptime and I am more cheerful and can respond to challenging situations with the kids with a lot more patience.

    When I find that I am losing patience more often, it usually has to do with not taking care of myself. For me, it’s lack of sleep/rest, too much sugar, and/or not keeping up with taking my birth control pills (maybe too much information but my hormones get all out of whack if I don’t). Also, being outdoors daily is crucial to maintaining my well being.

    • What a great practice to rest when your children rest! I love when I am able to have some down time during my children’s nap time. Today I wasn’t able to do that, but I did just sit down on the couch for 15 minutes while they played with no agenda. It was such a pleasure and helped me to get through a long evening since my husband was working late.

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