This blog is a place of authenticity. This post was difficult for me to write because of how much authenticity it required of me; it is a subject I have been ashamed to talk about previously.
When I became a mother, a part of myself that I thought I had worked through reared its ugly head: my anger.
At first, I thought it was just pregnancy hormones; after all, pregnant women are known for being rather touchy. I would become unnecessarily angry over, say, the dishes not being done: I would yell about it, then devolve into uncontrollable tears. Then I thought it was the stress and sleeplessness of being a new mom: how can I be calm when I’m getting an hour of sleep a night, and my colicky baby is screaming her head off for hours? When it didn’t go away after those times passed, it became one of the many factors of the breakdown of the relationship between my daughter’s father and I: every slight on his part evoked a response of resentment and sneering, all-too-eloquent poisonous words on my part. After our separation, my friends convinced me the anger was a survival mechanism my psyche used in response to a toxic situation.
Yesterday, Luna and I were in Dollar Tree. She was cranky from having to be dragged from place to place, usually having to hold my hand or be stuck in a bus seat or grocery cart seat. All she wanted was to go to a playground and play, like we had done that morning. Errand days are always a bit stressful. Today I had to pick her up and put in the cart on the way to the checkout line, so she wasn’t grabbing everything off the shelves, and she was not pleased. The whining began. The very loud whining that feels like a physical grating on my every nerve.
“Stop it,” I hissed. “Stop right now.”
She whined louder. “But I love you!”
“Then stop!” I hissed more as I put the items on the belt.
She became irritated that she didn’t get to help put the stuff up on the counter belt. The whining continued. She grabbed my card out of the chip reader while I was hurriedly trying to put things in our bag.
I yanked the card out of her hand and shoved the cart away from the counter. “You need to stop right now. I’m done with this. I’m over it. We’re not going to the playground after this.”
I could feel everyone’s eyes on me, and I felt embarrassed, and my anger grew out of my embarrassment. My vision felt tunneled, my breath short.
“But I want you to be happy!” Luna whined louder.
I hurriedly paid, the cashier wisely ignoring the situation with a straight face, and practically ran out of the store.
Luna repeated her beseeching.
“Then stop! Stop right now!” I said, anger bordering on desperation. “Stop whining!”
I grabbed our bags and pulled her by the hand down the street, my anger prickling at the edges of my skin, making every sound and image feel like a physical assault on my senses.
A couple blocks down, as Luna walked on a low wall, I abruptly stopped and sat down. She stopped as well, her eyes downcast, and sank down onto my lap.
I held her, this little girl that I had grown in me in the paradisaical heat of Maui, where I bounced from one bad housing situation to another, and felt completely emotionally unsupported. This little girl I had spent days, months alone at home with in the darkness and isolation of the rural Alaskan winter, where my only emotional support was the internet, the mountains, and my own notebook, other than the occasional phone call with my parents in Australia
This little girl I had roadtripped with from Alaska to Oregon. This little girl I tried to teach how to be around other kids while also protecting her from the disdain of others, because she is wild and strong and female, words society does not like to be in the same sentence.
This little girl who had to watch her parents fight, and who had to learn that we both loved her even while we no longer were going to live together.
This little girl who holds so much of me and so much of her dad. This little girl who, last night, as I tried to get her ready for bed, said to me with tears in her eyes, “I miss my dad.”
And I held her and said, “I know. I understand.”
When I was growing up, my anger was not well received. Because I was wild and strong and female, and despite Alaska being a state filled with wild, strong females, American society still poisoned the population’s subconscious. I used to–still do, sometimes–joke with people about how I got kicked out of five day cares and most babysitters wouldn’t watch me. In elementary school, and as I transitioned into adolescence, I learned that the way to ensure I would have any kind of friends at all is to make sure all negative emotions are tucked away fully.
I thought my calming down was a result of becoming intensely interested in spiritual matters such as meditation; when I left home at 18, I learned this was not the case, as I descended into a dazed, years-long subliminal depression that drove me to get drunk on a weekly basis and indulge in other things that fed an internalized hatred of my Shadow-self as I desperately tried to follow a niggle I didn’t understand that arose from my soul. My burial of my childhood anger and loneliness were buried even deeper when I became homeless, and being agreeable became a survival tactic.
The hardest part of becoming a parent is not the tantrums, or the responsibility, or the sleeplessness.
The hardest part of becoming a parent is facing your own deeply buried wounds. Facing the child inside you that is still fuming, still crying, still demanding the acknowledgement they desperately need.
I’ve become intensely aware of my anger lately, perhaps because I’ve increased the level of meditation, yoga, and intentional movement I’ve incorporated into my life recently. In an article on mindbodygreen by Tom Cronlin, he talks about how the deep physiological rest of meditation helps suppressed angers become unlocked, the body recognizing a spot of deeply buried tension that is not meant to be there, that is foreign to us.
Last night, I tossed and turned in bed, my heart plagued with guilt about my public impatience with Luna that day, and on other days. Impatience that illicits her desperate comments of “But I love you! But I want you be happy!” and wrenches my spirit. I want so much to be the perpetually calm mother she deserves. I remember with painful clarity when she was a baby, and she had been screaming for an hour, and it was still hours until her father got home so I could get even a five minute break, and the physical assault of her cries on my senses pushed me to scream back, “Stop crying! Just stop! Please just stop!”
I remember when that little crawling thing looked at me, appalled, and gulped back her tears. And the guilt that even now crashes over me when I remember.
I know that, to avoid wounding her the way I was wounded, I must heal myself.
Luna is now 3 and a half years old, and I know better now that she is my mirror. When I am tense, she is tense. And when I can’t stand her whines and cries and anger, it’s because I can’t stand the whines and cries and anger of my own inner child.
Like a child, I am intensely sensitive to sensory stimulation. There’s a reason I tell people I have a low stress tolerance, and that I don’t like having more than one or two or, at most, three things on my to-do list a day, and it is because of my deeply buried anger that I don’t like to talk about. That I don’t like to admit to people, because I know that to most people, I seem sweet as can be.
I’ve found that the key to handling this anger in my parenting (and thus, most of the time, avoiding personal meltdowns like the one I had the day before, when I felt too paralyzed by the sensory stimulation to act true to myself) is to remember that my ability to handle stress is directly linked to my ability to have fun during whatever I’m doing. This is my parenting strategy in every situation. I tell people it’s called playful parenting, which I’m sure is a thing that there are books on, because I can’t possibly be the only one to do this. But if I can treat my daughter, in her anger, the way I wish I had been treated for my anger, then perhaps she won’t need to bury her anger.
If she starts freaking out, first I’ll honor her feelings. I’ll tell her it’s OK to be angry, but that _______ (it’s not OK to hit; we need to do this thing because ______; I need her to be patient for me until I finish _____ ). I’ll give her a hug if that’s what she needs. If it continues…I’ll try to make it funny. She screams at me, I scream back, but with a smile and a laugh afterwards. Pretty soon it becomes a game.
A benefit of her getting older, too, is that I’m able to talk to her. Last night, when we got home–and she was tired, and hungry, and probably still sensitive after our argument earlier—she started whining again, and I threw up my hands and walked quickly to the bedroom. She followed, starting her beseeching statements again. I put my hands up and said, “I need…I need…us to just breathe for a minute.”
“Ok,” she said, immediately calming.
And we stood together, raising our arms up and down, inhaling and exhaling deeply.
Her little voice saying, “Just….breathe.”
And my own inner child calmed.
And I felt so grateful for the way parenting can be a journey of healing the child within ourselves.
My to-do list for helping my inner child release her anger and sadness:
- Get a gym membership, or sign up for a martial arts class. Something physical and aggressive to channel that inner anger.
- Make some angry art this week.
- Curl up alone in my room and let my inner child cry and punch pillows.
- Be gentle with myself in moments of sensory stimulation and busy-ness: feed a mindset of playfulness, and wear soft cozy things, and hug Luna a lot.
What is your inner child telling you, in your worst moments? Don’t put their words and feelings down. Honor them. They are you.