Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Son, This is Really Why I'm Angry...

There are certain things that can definitely get a parent so riled up, so frustrated beyond words that it becomes close to impossible to resist the urge to blow up and be impulsive. Sometimes it's just so much easier to give way to a visceral reaction, rather than be rational and take a pause...

It was a typical school day afternoon. My son Noah was walking home from the bus stop and unknowingly, he dropped his jacket on the ground. One of the boys walking behind him called his attention and let him know that his jacket was on the ground. When Noah turned around to pick it up, he saw another boy "Q" just walk all over his jacket.  It was obvious to Noah that Q did it on purpose because as this boy walked all over his jacket, he muttered the words "step, step, step", as if it was nothing, or worse, that it was something entertaining.  Q neither paused nor made any effort to avoid stepping all over my son's jacket. He just kept walking away as if it was garbage to be ignored. I asked my son how he reacted to the situation and he said he did nothing. Nothing. He simply picked the jacket from the ground and headed home. He was obviously upset over the incident and yet he said nothing to the other boy.

At that point, frankly I couldn't decide who upset me morethe jerk who stepped all over my son's jacket, or my son who once again did not assert himself in a situation where he clearly should have.  Once again, he chose not to stand up for himself when clearly he was mistreated. In spite of repeated talks in the past where I'm practically hemorrhaging from every orifice on my body as I explain to him how important it is to stand up for oneself, he still chose to stay quiet and just walk away. 

This. Made. Me. Explode!!!

The truth is, I sat in front of my computer for a while and let my fingers type away. I knew how to contact Q's mother online and started composing an angry email. But right before hitting the Send button, I took a breath, re-read and reflected. Is this really all worth it? I know my email will only make the mother defensive and will definitely strain our relationship (not that we have anything more than knowing each other very casually and belonging to the same subdivision). Is it really worth making me and my son even more uncomfortable in our neighborhood given our already introverted selves? Can I guarantee that no awkwardness can ensue from my upset message? Do I know the other family well enough to judge how they will feel about my letter? 

The answer to everything was a No

I had to choose my battles.  I knew that awkwardness in the neighborhood in trying to avoid each other was something I would not be able to handle.  Nor is it something I am willing to burden both my son and husband with, simply for the reward of getting my anger off my chest.  It's not like we could just move and sell our home if things escalated and became intolerable.  Now, if my son were physically or verbally abused then clearly that would be a different matter. But this was simply over a jacket being stepped on and a child being inconsiderate or rude.  Could I really not let this one go?

I had to let it go where I knew I had no place controlling the other person's choices. But I couldn't just let it go altogether. 

I got angry at my son for not saying anything. I got angry at him for not responding to the situation the way I needed him to. Most of all, I was angry because I couldn't scream at the other boy. 

It was a selfish and myopic choice. My blowing up was because of a sense of powerlessness with the other boy but not with my son. I knew it was a case of what Martha Beck calls Stress Rolling. I was displacing my aggression, passing on my own stress, anger and sense of powerlessness on to someone (my son) who is less powerful than I am and who I know won't fight back. It was also because of my own fears: fear that my son might be bullied; fear that he might not learn how to speak up for himself; fear that he will get hurt and not be able to defend himself. But as I think about these fears, I also realize that they still point to a sense of powerlessnessmy acknowledgment that I really have no control over most anything that happens to my child. I cannot be with him to defend or protect him from every harm. I cannot make him behave according to my desires. I can't magically make him acquire a personality that is not truly his. Most of all, it's unloving of me to expect him to give me something I don't have myself, something that perhaps I have not shown him. 

Parenting advice prescribes that adults make it a point to explain to their children why they are being punished or what it is that disappointed or angered us. 

It's worth considering that maybe we get angry not just because our children fell short of our expectations, but that we ourselves feel some disappointment with how we've turned out as adults; that there is an inadequacy within ourselves that needs our attention. Or maybe our anger shines a light on the truth that parenthood does not translate to power, but instead to vulnerabilityour capacity to accept that there are very few things in life we can fully control, and the only real space where we can learn trust and courage. The sooner we see that powerlessness is a space for growth, the easier it will be to shun anger. 


  1. Very true. So often, we parent out of our own wounds, or out of our fears. Not the best place to parent from.
    And the illusion of control - and we had ~some~ when they were's hard to give up.
    And the older our kids get, the less we have.

    1. It truly is a struggle, Susan. You're absolutely correct. The older our children get, the less control we have and it does cause us fear. Vulnerability is rarely pleasant but it sure is a powerful teacher. Thank you for your wisdom! Glad you enjoyed the read xoxo

  2. Wow. You hit it.
    I think something parents often forget and never should is that we become them. And that so many things parents do is out of fear or desperation.
    By shunning anger in this situation not only are you growing but you're allowing your son room to learn from his actions or lack of them.

    1. Guilty as charged, Pia. I have been so accustomed to being overcome by fear that it's draining me at times, and I know it's not healthy for anyone. Thanks for your thoughts! xoxo

  3. Yes yes yes. Your final two sentences were the reminders I needed and they gave me chills <3

    1. Thank you, Carla. Glad you took something out of it. It's a tough reminder to swallow but something necessary. Have a good weekend ahead!

  4. I think the fact that you took the time to analyze the situation and search your soul for answers speaks volumes to how your son sees you. How you've handled this is by looking inward and finding an alternative solution. I believe it's a great example for both of you.
    Maybe if you share this knowledge with Noah it might help him, too.

  5. It's hard to let our kids learn to handle things on their own. But so important.

  6. Parenting is the hardest job, not because of the bum and snot wiping and sleepless nights. It is the emotional toll it takes which is constant. There is no reprieve from our worries. Those thoughts that swirl, those questions that ransack our minds. We are vulnerable, and it is terrifying. No doubt about it.

  7. Such good insight, Joy. You are surely raising a wonderful boy. I wonder if maybe Noah was just chosing his battles too, and decided this one just wasn't worth it.
    As a parent, I would want to know that my kid behaved the way Q did. Maybe, instead of an angry email, you could at some point casually tell the mom, "Something happened a while ago, that I think you might want to know about..."
    I, too, have often taken out my sense of powerlessness on my own kids. Parenting isn't easy!
    Congrats on being featured on Mamapedia!

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