Wow, no, not even close to being alone, and I hope some of the wisdom in these responses makes sense for you too. My kids are older now but we’ve been though a lot of what everyone describes. Throw in a lot of shame and anxiety, stir with dyslexia, add a twist of divorce, and pour over ice cubes of mother ignorance. When the kids were little and all three of us were undiagnosed, I used to put myself in Time-Out in the bathroom, just to give myself a little mental space!
The suggestions from JWK include some that I’ve tried – and as an adult with ADHD, I’m not able to consistent, which is a big problem of course – and endorse. Setting the outside limits and yet allowing some choice is a good one – we’re packing lunches, but you can decide which kind of sandwich.
If I had to pick one behavior I adopted that I believe is important and was also effective in giving the right message to my kids, it would be modeling accountability. I really tried to recognize a good idea, a thoughtful gesture, and to the degree that I could compliment my child in front of others, all the better. The idea is not to go overboard but to recognize everyone in the family equally.
The hard part is taking accountability for my anger, for my actions, but it’s the most important. Reading “The Dance of Anger” made a huge impression on me when my second child was an infant. I’m not proud when I say that I lost my temper a lot and while I carried everyone’s emotions as a single parent 24/7, I didn’t want to use that as an excuse. The book makes the point that other people don’t ‘make’ us mad, we get mad in reaction to other people or situations. In other words, targeting the behavior and not the person – only you’re the person.
I worked hard to examine my feelings so that I could isolate what triggered my responses. After I’d calmed down, I would apologize to the kids for losing my temper since I don’t like it when someone yells or screams at me either. But I would also try to tell them why or what was upsetting me. Sometimes it took a while, and I’d come back a day later to say that I was wrong to lose my temper with you because what was really bothering me was something at work, or ____ (fill in the blank). As a single parent working full-time and scrambling to pick the kids up after work before getting hit with a late fee, it didn’t take much for me to lose it by the time I got home.
So if I can offer this to help ease your way, please know that the more you and the other adults in your family’s life model the behavior you’d like to see your children display and the more you hold yourself equally accountable for your own emotions, the better it will be in the long run. A lot of the time it’s going to be what the kids did or didn’t do that causes anger and frustration, but the key is to own your own reactions. God knows I walked this tightrope every day for years and it’s SO hard! I know I made a LOT of mistakes and bad decisions, but I really tried to keep at this one. My kids are now in their early 20s and reflect back at me to help me keep my cool. Hang in there!