One of the first habits I noticed in myself when my first child hit toddlerhood was a tendency to become angry. Anxiety, sadness, frustration – potential precursors to anger – were too quickly covered by anger, then feeling angry.
I differentiate between feeling anger and feeling angry because there’s a small space in which the feeling of anger can be witnessed before it erupts into feeling angry, but I didn’t know that when I was a young mom. All I knew was that I didn’t want to feel angry towards my beloved child, yet I had little skills to do anything else.
Fast forward a few years, a few more children and the addition of mindfulness meditation. My experience with anger is much more spacious now, but the road from there to here wasn’t a straight one and it continues because mindfulness is more than just a practice or a tool; it’s a journey.
Mindfulness Provides Valuable Parenting Space
These days, mindfulness is a buzz word. With magazines like Mindful, thirty years plus of mindfulness research and more and more people learning about mindfulness we might think it’s just another fad of the day. Have anxiety? Try mindfulness. Want to be able to concentrate and develop emotional intelligence? Explore mindfulness. Chronic pain? Mindfulness can help with that too. Why? Because mindfulness helps us clarify and change our relationship to our inner experience of life.
My journey with mindfulness started before I knew what it was called though, and I’d tried everything else I’d come across to deal with anger more constructively. Counseling, counting to ten, getting space, lowering my voice, etc. etc. Still, anger turned to angry and it was hurting me and my family. Pushing it away didn’t help nor did stuffing it down.
Eventually I realized that I needed to learn a whole new way of being with my emotions. A way that would help me be kinder to myself and others, and set an example for my children that they could use in their lives. Awareness is the first step. And awareness, also called mindfulness, is the continuing journey.
Human beings are inherently self-aware but we can (and do) become distracted and conditioned by our experiences and the world around us. When we learn how to retune into our natural awareness through mindfulness exercises we can relearn how to be with thoughts and experiences that lead to us feeling angry. Through this practice we create valuable space, the space described in a quote from Victor Frankl, author of A Man’s Search for Meaning,
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Mindfulness Manages Your Challenging Emotions
Parenting is no easy task and many of us find along the way that we’ve come to this vital role with a compilation of habits and patterns that we may like to change. How we deal with emotions, ours and our children’s, may be one of our habits that need attention.
When we apply mindfulness, we offer ourselves and our children a valuable opportunity not only to change the way we react for a more favorable response, but we also learn about ourselves in the process. This learning can yield a depth of experience in life that helps us live life more fully and cultivate healthier relationships in the process.
When I started bringing mindfulness into my life, anger was the main reason. I thought anger was my problem, but it wasn’t the root issue. The root was not having the space to embrace and allow the energy or emotion of anger to process through my body as I tended to the thoughts that were contributing.
As I delved deeper into my experience of anger I realized that I was carrying a lot of anger from the past, childhood hurts, etc. that were contributing to my present day anger too. My mind and body had become a storehouse for all kinds of emotions and sensations. Emotions that needed a new habit to effectively process and respond to them. The new habit I needed (and continue) to cultivate is mindfulness.
Your First Mindful Steps to Managing Anger
What does mindfulness look like in the context of anger and parenting? How have I established new habits to process and respond to my emotions? While there are a few pieces to this ongoing puzzle, here are some basics that help.
- At first it looked like creating actual physical space when I’d feel anger, so I’d go into the bathroom and shut the door (and still do at times). While there, I bring attention into my body, noticing my breath, really feeling what it feels like to breathe. If sensations in my body are intense, I really stick with this for a few minutes, feeling my feet on the ground, orienting myself to the room and maybe even get a drink of water or wash my hands.
- And, I notice what I’m thinking and see thoughts for what they are – strings of information that may or may not be fully accurate, but are definitely influencing how I feel. For me, it really helps to bring my attention to what I’m grateful for or what I want to think instead of thoughts that aren’t helpful, but this thought transformation process takes time and some forethought as well.
- Mostly, I create space and when I started all of this I let the kids know what I was doing. I told them that sometimes I would need to get space when feeling angry, to prevent myself from saying or doing things I didn’t really want to do. I asked for their help in respecting my need for space and in speaking up if they thought I needed some.
- Over time, we’re all learning how to be more mindful, more aware when we feel anger, which in turn reduces the time we spend feeling angry. And that leads to a more collaborative experience in our family overall.
What do you do in your family to address anger proactively and constructively? Are you familiar with mindfulness and how is it useful in your life and/or family?