Feel like you’re always about to lose it? Channel your mum rage and avoid an explosion
The build-up to my mother-of-all-meltdowns was almost comical. Returning from holiday, the house was a cacophony of chaos and dirty washing. Up since 6am, my five and two year olds had reached a state of delirious over-tiredness, constantly screaming or moaning. Making a salmon and rice dinner (in atonement for two weeks of chips), I had to call them six times to come to the table, at which point I found our cat nibbling the fish off my son’s plate. He burst into tears, and my daughter took one look at her dinner before announcing, ‘I don’t like this. It’s disgusting’. At that moment, I couldn’t stop myself from yelling. Even at the cat.
The thing is, being this vocal is a new thing for me: I was – am – a calm, rational person and wouldn’t have dreamt of shouting before I had kids. And, although I’m still the same person I was pre-babies, it’s an unsettling new trait.
While getting angry with your kids is nothing new, it seems a gene could be making us madder. A recent study by New York University identified a gene mutation called DRD2, which can affect behaviour and mood. Those with this gene were more likely to ‘harshly parent’ their children, with outside stresses, like the recession, making it worse.
But aside from taking part in a scientific study (and finding out you’ve got an angry gene is just annoying, right?), once you’re a parent, everyone’s patience gets stretched. You could have the coolest head in a crisis, but there’s nothing like kids and sleep deprivation for turning that upside down.
About to blow
And it’s something that many of us experience, as research shows 61% of Brit mums and dads describe parenting as ‘difficult’, while 87% of working mothers say stress causes them to shout at their kids. ‘Before children, we’re pretty much in control of our lives, but a baby throws all that up in the air,’ explains psychotherapist Karen Meager. ‘It’s normal to feel frustrated, but the impact on us emotionally can be huge. Women who are motivated achievers can find this particularly stressful. Factor in a lack of sleep and the fact busy mums tend not to eat well and get dehydrated, and this puts your body under strain.’ This is also known as Martyr Mum syndrome, where we put our kids’ wellbeing before our own.
In those moments when the red mist descends, it’s sometimes all we can do to keep a lid on things. Even if you manage to hold it together in front of the kids, those feelings have to manifest somehow – whether we take it out on our unsuspecting partner, our best-friend-without-kids who’s complaining about how tired she is or the woman who bashes into your trolley in the supermarket.
So, when we feel ourselves bubbling with anger, how can we can stay sane? One approach is to locate the triggers that spark our frustrations. ‘Examine what it is that typically sets off your anger, then try to find ways to prevent it happening in the future,’ says Liat Hughes Joshi, author of Raising Children (£4.99, Pearson Life).
In those moments when the red mist descends, it’s sometimes all we can do to keep a lid on things.
Once you’ve recognised the trigger, diffuse it. ‘It’s not a child’s fault they’ve pushed your buttons,’ says Naomi Richards, author of The Parents’ Tool Kit (£12.99, Vermilion). ‘One approach is to use humour or distraction to ease tension. Sometimes making a joke about how ridiculous the situation is – they’ve asked you a question 20 times – or saying, “Look at that big bird over there!” moves it on.’
It’s also helpful to remember that children aren’t able to apply logic to their behaviour, because the rational parts of their brains are not really developed until the age of five. ‘Kids are emotionally driven until around two,’ says Karen. ‘This is why their behaviour is so often frustrating, because they don’t process things in the way we do yet.’
If you still find that you’re simmering with frustration and your new go-to reaction to stress is to shout, step back. The aim is to prevent the meltdown – either by asking someone else to take over, putting the kids in front of CBeebies for 20 minutes, or simply taking a few deep breaths before you say anything.
Whatever it is you can do to stop your immediate fury, do it, then appraise why you got angry afterwards.
And, even with all our best intentions, there are times we inevitably end up losing it. What can be worse than the yelling itself is the feeling afterwards – that we’re the Worst. Mum. Ever. But self-berating is counter-productive. ‘Move on and learn from the situation by asking yourself, “What would I do differently next time?”’ says Karen. ‘Accept your imperfections – then you also give your children permission to do the same.’
How do you cool your temper if you feel like you're about to get angry? Let us know below.