HOW I STOPPED BEING AN ANGRY PARENT (most of the time…)

I never assumed parenting was going to be a walk in the park.  But one thing in particular that I was not at all prepared for was quite how angry I would find myself becoming at times.  And the very worst of those times were apparently all because of a two-year-old??

Yep, who knew that a two-year old could unearth such an extraordinary amount of pain?  Pain that had laid unexpressed and buried since my childhood. 

But here’s the thing; the realisation of this and the gradual unpacking and coming to terms with it has been transforming.  It has ultimately led to strengthened and more connected relationships with all of my children and a generally happier parenting experience.   

It’s not the easiest of topics to delve into and be open about.  But I feel strongly about being authentic about all aspects of parenthood; being real about the nitty-gritty of the whole process, not just the end result or pretty bits. 

So here goes…


Our first child was pretty compliant and easy going from the start.  Partly down to his temperament, I expect, but he also had that huge advantage of doting first-time-parent attention – no doubt further intensified by the huge gratitude I felt for being present with him at all after coming close to not surviving his birth.

So, when he reached the age when daily routine things had to be done – teeth brushing, for example – it was no big deal.   He would generally comply, or at least, be easily encouraged through silly games or songs or giggles.

Our second child, not so much.  A bright, independent, happy little girl, until aged around 18 months she learnt the joy of saying ‘no’ and identified many things she’d rather not do, brushing teeth included.  She would gleefully, point-blank refuse to co-operate.

It was a bit of a shock, and I guess the truth is, it seriously threatened our ‘good’ parenting status. 

On a good day, I would be mildly irritated, but on a bad day, particularly in the evenings when I was low on energy and resources, there were times I would completely see red.  It made me livid!  How dare she not comply!  How dare she disobey and disrespect me!  I surely could not let her ‘get away’ with such disrespectful behaviour!

The more we tried to clamp down and coerce her into ‘behaving’, the worse it seemed to get. 

The power struggles increased, and I noticed that we started talking about her somewhat negatively and throwing around comments about her being ‘feisty’, ‘stubborn’, having a ‘difficult’ side.

But I knew at the back of my mind something wasn’t quite right.  I would reflect sometimes on the degree of anger she seemed to be able to elicit from me and I would feel quite shaken.  I knew, deep down, that the strength of my feeling was irrationally disproportionate to anything this beautiful, tiny, innocent girl could have ‘done’ to have caused this.

Things came to a head one day during a crazy, and looking back now, quite embarrassing stand-off we were having in the bathroom – over yes, teeth brushing.   We had done with the yelling match and were sat silently side-by-side, both refusing to ‘give-in’.   I was ruminating on a traumatic week of endless power struggles – and school runs, where in order to get my eldest to school, I’d had to carry this poor girl kicking and screaming under one arm, whilst pushing our new-born in the buggy with the other.

But this time, instead of feeling enraged that she was ‘making’ me feel so angry by her stubborn behaviour, I felt only deep helplessness, despair and sadness.  Helplessness and despair that despite all my knowledge and training I was still a rubbish parent and couldn’t ‘control’ my children.  Sadness that we’d somehow got to this point, and though I loved her deeply nothing about the way I was behaving was showing her this.

And that was when it dawned on me.  This was not about her at all. 

It was about me and the tangled mess of buried emotions that were being triggered.

You see anger is just the surface emotion.  It is a less vulnerable and bizarrely more ‘acceptable’ emotion than fear, sadness, worry, hurt, disappointment, rejection and so on.   Underneath the anger are all the feelings we learnt as children were not allowed to be expressed, or felt too painful to be expressed, or caused our own parents’ distress or discomfort.

We learn to bury them, until along comes our own child, who’s behaviour evokes exactly those painful memories and feelings we’d been trying so hard to ignore.

My parents were not intentionally unkind but they were strict and I was scared of them.  So, every time my daughter refused to cooperate, one of the things it triggered was my unexpressed childhood pain of all the times I was too scared to do the same.  I wasn’t allowed to behave like that, so how dare she?!

I know now that my reaction deeply disturbed her.  And often when children are scared, they will keep repeating the same behaviours to test for a better response; they desperately need our calm control, our calm knowing and reassurance that we will keep them safe however they are feeling.  Repeatedly pushing a limit is the only way they know to attempt to establish something that feels safer and somewhere they can feel properly heard.

Very often, our reactions to our children are so automatic that we convince ourselves that we have no control over them.  We blame our child’s difficult nature that ‘makes’ us feel and respond a certain way, or simply believe that it’s just part of our personality and there’s little we can do about it.   And this is where I was; I had barely even considered that I had a choice.

But we always have a choice about how we respond and behave.  It doesn’t always feel like it, and it’s definitely not easy, but we do have a choice. 

Our children, on the other hand, absolutely do not.  They will eventually learn to find ways to deal with their emotions from experience and modelling us, but in the meantime, they are predominantly dinosaur-brain driven.  It is our job then, to bring the logic and rational thinking to the table, and to act as this part of their brain for them during the times that they lose it and cannot control themselves.

Which unfortunately means it’s also our job to be responsible for our emotions and learn to handle them.  Sometimes increased self-care and restoring depleted resources can help a lot with this – that is, more rest, sleep, help, support etc.  And learning ways to stay calm such as breathing, dissociation and mindfulness exercises can also be very beneficial.

But if you have the sense that the degree of anger you feel is beyond the realm of everyday annoyances and frustrations, it could well be that you need to look deeper and start to explore your triggers.

These are extremely personal and can take all sorts of forms, so keeping a note of when and what first sparks your anger can be a useful first exercise.   See if you begin to notice any patterns, and if you can identify the underlying feeling that you are protecting yourself from by going straight to ‘fight’ mode (anger).  Uncovering, naming and getting those feelings out, sitting with them, acknowledging and accepting them are the starting points for healing.  As you take steps to do this, you will gradually find that the triggering situation loses its power to bother you in the same way.

For help with this, do contact me here, and to keep up-to-date with my latest posts and offers, please sign up to my list below.

 

HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR

HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR

I'm a mama of 3 and a parenting coach specialising in picky eating and mealtime stress.

I'm passionate about inspiring parents to enjoy mealtimes & help their children develop a healthy long-term relationship with food.

See here for the services I offer or email me for more info.  You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram.

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HOW I STOPPED BEING AN ANGRY PARENT (most of the time…)

I never assumed parenting was going to be a walk in the park. But one thing in particular that I was not at all prepared for was quite how angry I would find myself becoming at times. And the very worst of those times were apparently all because of a two-year-old?? Yep, who knew that a…

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HOW NOT TO POTTY TRAIN

I suspect that one of the problems for the old woman who lived in a shoe (and perhaps one of many reasons why her children were so unhappy and unruly), was that once she’d found a couple of approaches that worked with the first few of her children, she assumed it would work for all of them.

Forgetting, of course, (or probably more like not having a single second to think straight) that each child comes to us with a unique temperament and so needs to be parented equally uniquely.  The more she tried to impose her one-sized-fits-all parenting on all her children, the more misunderstood and disconnected these children became.  As the children’s behaviour became increasingly defiant and off-track, the poor woman was so overwhelmed and fed-up that she felt her only resort was to whip them.

And so it has been with potty training my children.  Well no, of course not exactly like this, and not the whipping bit, I promise!  But in the sense that with my third I felt confident that I knew the score, knew what worked, and having ‘done it’ twice before felt very relaxed about it.  I trusted that once he was displaying the much discussed ‘signs’ or readiness it would be a smooth ride from there on in.

Forgetting though that he is a very different character from his siblings.

Forgetting that he can be super, super sensitive – and particularly so in terms of interpreting the nuances of emotional expression.

So, when one day at around the age of two and a half he started to show an interest and willingness to sit on the potty I just assumed we were away and that within a week or so we’d be a nappy-free household.

There he solemnly sat on the ever-so-slightly grimy, third-hand potty with excited spectators all around, eagerly anticipating what would be produced.

Finally, up he jumped, potty hanging off his backside, saying “Did it mummy!”  I prised the plastic from his red-ringed bottom and we all peered in.

And there inside was the teeniest, tiniest wee, about the size of a 50 pence piece – but the cue, nonetheless, for us all to go ever-so-slightly-over-the-top-excited!  Well, particularly me, I guess, and his brother and sister were just following my lead.  Exaggerated praise, kisses, high-fives – and his sister was soon rushing downstairs to find some stickers for him!

Unsurprisingly, the poor boy was quickly overwhelmed and his smiles very soon turned to bewilderment.  By the time his sister was back upstairs again with her ‘rewards’ he’d scooted out of the bathroom and into his room to play by himself.  He wanted nothing to do with the stickers and nothing to do with emptying the potty out or flushing it away.

And who can blame him??  He knew perfectly well that none of these shenanigans happen for anyone else in the household.  There he was merely modelling a perfectly ordinary daily occurrence and suddenly everyone went straight-up, cracker-jack barmy.  He was most bemused by our bizarre behaviour, and unsurprisingly given his nature, it also made him feel overwhelmed and anxious.

Unfortunately, the next evening, I managed to inadvertently add to his anxiety.  He was happily playing in the bath, and then looked up and said, “Mummy I’m doing a poo poo”.  Instead of calmly asking if he’d like to get out of the bath and do it in the potty, without saying a word I whipped him out and unceremoniously dumped him on it.  With practically the same urgency as if he’d told me there was a crocodile in the bath.  I know, I know, jeez, what on earth was I thinking, why the irrational switch to crisis mode??

In hindsight, it is very easy to see why these were his first and last attempts at potty training for a good six months more!   He adamantly refused to go near the potty or toilet and it was very evident that he needed some space and time to process and heal the anxiety I had stirred up.

After this realisation, I was careful to rarely mention the potty again to him, apart from occasionally breezily saying things like, “Yes, Tommy is using the potty isn’t he? When you’re ready, I know that you’ll do that too”.  And sure enough, one day when he was nearly 37 months he didn’t want to put his nappy on.  He willingly put on pants and took himself to sit on the big toilet.

I can’t tell you how heedful I was to act nonchalant and there was definitely no clapping or stickers!   A week later we went on a very long car-trip and there wasn’t a nappy or plastic bag to sit on in sight.  No constant asking/reminding, obsessive checking for wet patches, insistence he went before getting in the car.  He’d made the decision himself, completely ‘got it’ and as a result it ended up being a very simple and stress-free transition.

It obviously wasn’t a period of parenting where I covered myself in much glory.  But as is often the case, on reflection, it taught me a lot.  In particular, it reinforced the importance of being respectful towards my kids, treating them as unique individuals and adapting my parenting accordingly.  Something I thought I was aware of and doing, but actually in this case most definitely wasn’t!

HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR

HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR

I'm a mama of 3 and a parenting coach specialising in picky eating and mealtime stress.

I'm passionate about inspiring parents to enjoy mealtimes & help their children develop a healthy long-term relationship with food.

See here for the services I offer or email me for more info.  You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram.

CREATING PEACEFUL FAMILY EATING HABITS

A doctorate in child development and years of working with children and families did not prepare me for the sheer frustration and stress of feeding my own family. Three different children with three different preferences and three different eating patterns and bodily...
Read More

ARE YOU CONSTANTLY FEELING UNDER THE WEATHER? THIS COULD BE WHY…

When my first two children were around 3 and 1 years old, I distinctly remember that having a cold, sniffles or slight headache became my new normal, particularly during the colder months. I think I mainly put it down to not paying careful enough attention to my diet, and constant close-up exposure to snot-drenched little ones.

Read More

HOW I STOPPED BEING AN ANGRY PARENT (most of the time…)

I never assumed parenting was going to be a walk in the park. But one thing in particular that I was not at all prepared for was quite how angry I would find myself becoming at times. And the very worst of those times were apparently all because of a two-year-old?? Yep, who knew that a…

Read More

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Read More

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Choosing a gentle approach to parenting that doesn’t rely on coercion and punishment is very often the easy bit.  The tricky bit begins as your innocent baby turns into a curious toddler.  All of a sudden, you realise you need to find peaceful ways to keep them safe...
Read More

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It is probably true to say that most of us were brought up by parents who expected and enforced a pretty high degree of obedience and conformity to rules, and they did so by liberal use or threat of punishments and/or consequences. There is no judgement or blame…

Read More

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Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by the number of toys in your house? Do you struggle to find places to put them and to get your kids to help keep them tidy? Someone asked me the other day what my thoughts were on managing and tidying toys…

Read More

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I suspect that one of the problems for the old woman who lived in a shoe (and perhaps one of many reasons why her children were so unhappy and unruly), was that once she’d found a couple of approaches that worked with the first few of her children, she assumed it...
Read More

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The other day my 7-year-old was engrossed in ‘den’ making and called for me to come and help tie a rope. I was mid making pancakes and knew that’d I’d be liable to char the lot if I allowed myself to be distracted. So I said, “Yes I will, in a minute, I’ve nearly finished”. He puffed in exasperation…

Read More

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Sibling world war 23756 breaks out just as I’m trying to get tea. I’m tired and frazzled from a long day and too many thoughts going on in my head and too long a gap since I last stopped to clear them. The cries and screams get louder and l can feel my heart rate increase and little bubbles of irritation start to expand in…

Read More

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My three-year-old is very sensitive. I wouldn’t go as far as highly sensitive, a bit too early to conclude that yet for him I think. But he’s definitely very sensitive. He is astonishingly aware and has been since he was a baby. He has an intuitive understanding of feelings, both his own and other people’s, and he processes the vibe or atmosphere in a room almost immediately…

Read More

REMEMBERING TO REMEMBER HOW HARD PARENTING CAN BE

[shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="26095147"] “I’ve ruled out any sort of medical problem, which means the bed-wetting must be psychological or behavioural", said the Doctor.  "She probably just needs more attention” she added glibly, glancing with a crushing mix of...
Read More

THE ONLY WAY TO AVOID WEEKDAY MORNING STRESS (for me, anyway)

The absolute game changer for me is getting up before the kids. A good amount of time before the kids. If I don’t, sometimes the morning goes okay, sometimes it doesn’t. But if I DO get up early, I can pretty much guarantee that it will. Why? Because whatever state the kids are in, it doesn’t matter…

Read More

DO YOU HAVE A FUSSY EATER? ARE YOU FED UP WITH MEALTIMES?

 

 

Click here to apply

 to join my
6 week, one-to-one, Fuss-Free Eating for Life coaching programme

 

 

APPLY NOW