Monday, November 17, 2014


I didn't grow up in a yelling household.

In fact, even my dad, who was volatile and easily enraged, did not yell. My mother did not mete out punishment. You would have to wait until Dad got home to be in trouble.

It was terrifying, the waiting for Dad.

His blue-blue eyes would glow with rage, and you knew you were in Big Trouble. Sometimes he spanked. Sometimes he grounded. I was grounded a lot. A really lot.

I was a first-born rule follower, a people pleaser, but I would fight with my mom. And I would fight with my brother. I think these are the main reasons I got in trouble. Oh, yeah, and that one time when we lived in Egypt and Debbie Bangs and I took my mom's matches and lit a fire in the street in front of someone's house.

The lady came out and screamed at us and we ran, forgetting our bikes. We were easily identified.

But for the most party, my crimes were fighting with family members.

My parents did not yell at each other. I don't even know that they fought much. I remember one fight from when I was a kid, and they went into the other room.

I think the big thing was that we were not allowed to get mad. Maybe my brother was as a teen, because I know he was punching walls in high school, but not me. I doubt Betty really was either. Anyway, expressing anger was not within her comfort zone.

But there was a tremendous gap between Acceptable Male Behavior and Acceptable Female Behavior.

I remember this one particular incident when I was a college sophomore. My parents had driven me to school, leaving my brother, a 10th grader, home alone. He'd told me he was going to throw a party, which I promptly told my parents - partly because their house had been trashed the year prior when they left him alone. And partly because they had never let me do anything in high school, never left me alone, never trusted me at all.

Now these things seem so small and petty. But when they are your whole world, and you've always been the rule follower but never trusted (It's not you. We trust YOU. We just don't trust boys...), everything seems wildly unfair.

I was furious, absolutely beside myself with the unfairness of everything leading up to this moment in my life. And my father said, "Lisa, you look really unattractive when you're angry."

Lemme tell you how much attractiveness mattered to me at that moment. And how much more enraged I was by the statement.

Anger? I had anger. I had years of anger. I had his two suicide attempts and years of his crazy arbitrary behavior worth of anger. And I dumped every single jot of trauma and unfairness and what-have-you into his lap. It was terrible. And liberating.

Afterwards, I felt a whole lot better. The next day I couldn't even remember what I'd been so mad about for so long.

But prior to that, I don't think I'd ever expressed any real anger to him. What we did in our household - all except my dad - was tamp it down. Choke on it. Pretend we were fine. We were not allowed to not be fine.

I didn't even know how to speak about being angry until I'd had a lot of therapy. Being angry never felt valid. When you raised not being allowed, it is hard to feel justified in getting angry and expressing it.

But now, now I have a five-year old who enrages me, and I find that I yell.

I do not want to yell. But I get so angry. So very very angry. And I lose my mind. My head melts, and I yell.

Sometimes I don't even yell something at him. I just made a loud YEAAAAAAARRRRGGGHHHH kind of noise. Because I don't know what else to do.

It doesn't help. It terrifies him, and makes him cry. It makes me feel like a terrible human being. It gets him to do what I've been asking him to do in that moment, but it doesn't help for the next moment or for tomorrow.

And in fact, from the reading I've been doing, I understand that not only does it not help, it actually harms in the long term.

So it turns out that I need to learn how to constructively manage my own anger in the face of these triggers. So that I can be a better parent and can help my son learn to manage his anger. Because otherwise I will raise another human being without good emotional coping skills.

It's a cycle I would like to break.

This sounds stupid, but I am going to start taping up big pieces of paper with things like: STOP AND BREATHE! DO NOT YELL! IT IS NOT AN EMERGENCY. LEAVE THE ROOM AND CALM DOWN.

Really. Because in the moment, I cannot remember anything. My head empties of all reason and fills with anger.

I need and want to be a good parent. Even on my bad days, I need to be a good parent. Some days I manage, and other days I believe I do a good job. But some days I know for a fact that I suck at parenting.

And still these little people, these relentless little people, look to me for, well, everything. Even when I yell. Even when I yell and scare them and let them down.

I don't want to let them down. I love them more than my life.

It's all so fucking complicated. Who knew it would be this hard?


  1. Wow. Just, wow. Thank you so much for writing this --- you've managed to wonderfully express exactly what is going on with me and my kids, too. Sorry if this is creepy; I stumbled upon your blog a year or so ago, got hooked right away, and read all the archives so I could catch up. Once I got caught up, I added you to my Feedly and I've been reading/lurking ever since. This is probably only the fourth time ever that I've felt compelled to comment on a blog post, and I've been reading (literally) over a hundred blogs for the last 4-5 years. So again, thank you. Love your writing! And best of luck with all of life's parenting challenges :)

    1. Thank you so much for your comment! I really appreciate your kind words and you sharing your experiences. Best of luck to you, too!

  2. The essay "Mommy Maddest" in "The Bitch in the House" is pretty good if you're feeling bad about your parental anger. One of the things I thank my husband for is the freedom to get angry, which he taught me. And that it can be quite effective when used judiciously.

    1. Whoa - I just read the author's introduction. Interesting and really resonates! Thank you for the recommendation!

  3. Welcome to parenting boundary bouncers as I call them. The time when they start really throwing themselves against the boundaries to test them. Head melts, yelling weird arrrgghhs and face pulling and mental moments are all acceptable during this phase. They do and will continue to want, need and love you through all of it. You are doing a great job btw.


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