People at work are asking me why I am not working as many hours as I used to. I am. But I am working on anger management. Here are seven tips I’ve tried using:
1. Face the problem and make it a priority.
I used to think anger management problem is a thing for men who are in prison for setting their wives on fire. Now I see it's a problem for people who think they will get fired for being unpleasant. Or for people who think their kids will grow up and hate them for being emotionally unpredictable.
I am both those people.
2. Focus on your trigger points.
The time I most consistently lose my temper is trying to get the kids out of the house in the morning. So I told myself to not lose my temper.
That didn't work.
So I have been waking up at 5:30 because I need to give myself two hours to be completely organized and calm so that I can get the kids and myself out the door for school and work at 7:30 without screaming at the kids for not eating fast enough because I changed my clothes for work three times and got behind and forgot to make lunches.
I thought of having the nanny come in the morning to help me. But I hate feeling like I'm married to the nanny, and I hate feeling like I can't do normal parenting things on my own. The mornings with the kids seem theoretically intimate, and making school lunches seems like a rite of passage for moms with school-aged kids. I want all that.
3. Use deep breathing to regulate stress.
I have been doing Ashtanga yoga for ten years. I thought I was amazing at yoga, but now I see that the point of yoga, calming, centering, whatever, is lost on someone who is focusing on the routine of fifty push-ups and five headstands. Now the breathing resonates with me, when I do it at 5:30 am as a desperate attempt to keep myself calm long enough to get to work.
3. Have a regular sleep schedule to improve your ability to self-regulate.
I pack the school lunches the night before. And I pick out my clothes the night before. The guys I work with think I don't ever change my clothes. This is sometimes true. Especially when I'm depressed. But a lot of times I change my clothes but all my clothes look the same so I don't even get credit for having thought about it the night before.
To get up at 5:30 am with a good night's sleep I have to go to bed at 9:30pm which means I have to get the kids to bed by 8pm so I can have an hour to do lunches and clothes and washing my face, which, if you are my age, takes ten minutes because of all the cream stuff I use.
I do not explain this when a co-worker asks why I don't have twenty minutes to fix home page copy at 8:30 pm.
4. Accept that every day includes unpredictability, and that's okay.
So it's a regular day where I am insanely regimented in a desperate effort to not be angry but at 7am I realize that I forgot to pack to go to the farmer's house. I also realize that it's freezing outside, and I didn't put the car in the garage and it's going to take ten minutes of warming up the car so I can scrape the ice.
Then my seven-year-old can't find socks without holes in them.
I change my clothes so I can scrape the ice and I yell from my bedroom that he should look in his brother's drawer for socks.
He yells back up that he wants me to sew the socks so that we are not wasting. “It's recycling,” he yells.
5. Understand the true source of your frustration.
Then the boys have a fist-fight about who is wearing whose socks. I do not catch them until there's a cheek scrape which upsets me because now my four-year-old will go to school looking like he lives in a boxing ring.
I have prepared myself for a moment like this: I identify that I am not upset with my sons but upset with what the world thinks of me as a parent. I tell myself I am good at self-regulation and I do not take this frustration out on my children.
I say, “Put on nice socks and let's have breakfast.” I want to tell you I used a calm voice, but I worry I used a psycho, calm-before-the-storm voice.
6. Understand the impact food has on your moods.
I make waffles. I watch the kids eat squishy, warm, covered-in-syrup waffles. I watch them wash down the drippy syrup with marsh-mallowed hot chocolate. I am convinced that when I eat sugar and bread it makes me crazy–that I just want more and then cannot think of anything else. (There is such interesting research on this. Click here: A study about how civilization is based on the opiate effect of grains on humans.) It takes every bit of self-discipline in my body not to steal scraps of waffle from the four-year-old's plate. I need to remember to not give him so much. I need him to feel more protective of his portion.
7. Use solutions-based language in tense conversations.
I want so much to be remembered as a dream mom that I put their mittens and coats over the heater so they are warm after breakfast.
The kids don’t notice warmness because they are punching each other, furtively, like I'm not going to see them if it's under their jackets.
As we walk out the door, my seven-year-old starts crying: the snow pants in his backpack are wrong.
I tell him those are to keep at school. I tell him I am streamlining our morning by keeping snow pants at school so we don't have to bring them back and forth.
He does not like his other pair. He is crying. I decide I am going to take a firm line because really, it's school that makes him nervous and he finds something to cry about every morning and I have to put a stop to this.
I tell him I already made a decision about the pants. I tell him I am the mom and I already made a decision. This is good. Kids feel secure when they have boundaries and authority.
I pound the refrigerator with my fist.
I scream, “Shut the fuck up with the crying.”
I scream, “If you don't quit crying every fucking single morning I'm never taking you to school again.”
That's how it is. Nearly 24 hours of preparation to get through a morning without me yelling, and still, I break thirty rules of anger management in thirty seconds.
My four-year-old says, “Mommy, you're hurting me.” And he covers his ears.
8. Slow down a tough situation so you make good decisions.
I take a time-out for myself in the living room. I say a prayer to the god of anger, if there is one: please let me always pound the refrigerator and not my kids.
I take them to school. I kiss them too much when I say goodbye. I tell them I love them like my life depends on it, while other moms, who clearly do not worry about yelling and maybe don't even worry about waffles, casually do drop-off and drive off to the gym.
Then I go to work, and everyone is laughing and joking about Pee Wee Herman's new show, and I yell, “Arrrggh! Can everyone please shut up for twenty minutes so I can finish my post? I can't think with all the banter.”
Ryan Paugh tells me that it's not that I can't work with talking. I work with talking all the time. He says, “It's self-loathing. Take some responsibility.”
I want to tell him to fuck off. But I need a quiet place to write this post, so I go to his office, and sit on the floor, and I hope he doesn't talk to me, because it's 8:30 am and already I am not having a good anger management day.