Breakfast oatmeal was greeted with enthusiasm and bright eyes today in anticipation of the warm and creamy oats, shredded apple, maple and butter, cinnamon.
Unfortunately, said breakfast oatmeal was still flaming hot off the stove and Little Boy was ready to eat it “right now!!”
Patiently he tested it on his tongue, blew on it, tested, blew, gave it far more attention cooling it down than normal. But the bite that made it past his lips was still too hot, and he became ANGRY.
Okay, so parenting books suggest staying present, reflecting your child, etc. “Oh I see you are so angry that the oatmeal is too hot to eat.”
While others rave about this technique, for reasons that mystify me, reflecting my son’s anger has always done nothing but feed the beast. If, when a bout of screaming rage subsides, an attempt is made to reflect that stubbing your toe on a corner really does hurt and I see it makes him angry, I am not met with bright eyes of validation but rather a fresh torrent of tears and wails. What’s a mom to do when she is incapable of comforting her child?
Something deeper is lying beneath that anger though. Anger is the surface emotion that compensates and leads our bodies to action. Anger is the symptom.
Beneath our angers can lie our fears.
When my child is screaming in a public place I become angry, but really I am fearful of how others will view him, my ability as a parent, and myself.
When my Little Boy tries to put his shoes on and can’t and begins yelling and throwing them in frustration he is angry, but really he is fearful that he is failing at this simple task he sees others do every day.
When Little Boy romps around, gleefully skidding along the rocks with a tricycle’s loud plastic wheels I become angry, but really I am fearful that he will wake the tired baby who finally fell asleep in the van.
When the Littlest comes near Little Boy and he freaks out, shoving all of the toys away he is angry, but really he is fearful that the Littlest is coming to grab, drool on, or rearrange his projects.
When two children are in distress simultaneously I must play triage on them which can anger one or the other and sometimes I become angry, but really I am fearful that I cannot meet the needs of both of the small needy beings whom I love and rely on me.
To recall our angers and then backtrack them into fear is intriguing. It is also not just for kids.
Fear of judgment, fear of incompetence, fear of worthlessness, fear of failure. That’s heavy stuff. I get why he’s screaming now.
Baffled by my red-faced son at the breakfast table, mind racing trying to grasp for some semblence of helpful offering, I recall the power of fear.
“Are you afraid the oatmeal would burn your lips? Your tongue? Are you afraid that you won’t even be able to eat your breakfast because it is so hot and you’ll be hungry all day? Are you afraid that you are doing something wrong and for all the patient effort to cool it down the oatmeal is still hot?”
Tears instantly stopped with the surprised wide-eyed look I’d left for lost years ago. “Yes.”
A wash of relief is a physical experience. My son could be reached through finding his fear.
He cried a minute more connecting with those fears and then moved on. Breakfast as usual. One empty bowl.
I will remember today.
I will remember the power of our fears, and the value of acknowledging them.
Copyright Ginger Payton 2010 all text and photos
This post is inspired by an article in the November/December issue of Mothering Magazine, “Tame Your Temper: Managing Mama Rage”. It also addresses many other facets and resources for addressing the anger mothers (and fathers) can experience.