Before the sun rises, while the house sleeps, I walk in silence to the living room. My habit is to drape a blanket over the lamp next to the couch before turning it on. I only want the smallest bit of light to shine from below, nothing more. Just enough to read by, write (maybe), and pray. Nothing to lure curious children out of their rooms.
I tuck myself into the corner of the couch: legs under a blue blanket knit of shetland wool. I open my book into the yellow sliver of light. The darkness is a sheltered cave, the lamp a warming fire.
What feels like four seconds later, I stand in the middle of our bustling kitchen. Peanut butter and mandarin orange juice drips down my forearms. I’ve said, “Get your shoes on” to the same children four times. The clock on the wall ticks and I swear I can hear a whistle; the train to school needs to leave soon.
All the pre-dawn calm, along with my ever-repeated prayers for patience, kindness, and gentleness evaporate with the heat of my coffee.
One of my children, the only one with shoes on, remembers: oh-my-gosh-it’s-Thursday! and runs to the living room to look for his library books. His shoes track mud to and from (and on) the cream rug. Another child repetitively asks me to zip her coat, despite my answer: I will. In a minute. Another laments over his famine of socks and stands, distraught, next to the fridge in nothing but tiny underwear—his version of sackcloth and ash. Then, in the last minute shuffle, LordHaveMercy, one of the kids accidentally steps on my baby toe.
And that’s when I lose my mind.
Let’s say, on a scale of zero to ten, where the nicest woman you know who speaks to her children in a voice that barely registers as audible, is a one and the rest of us speak -- oh, I don’t know -- in the four to six range. I dial it right up to 47.
“Get your shoes off of the rug! Your books are where you left them!”
“I’ll zip your coat when I’m done wiping my arms! I told you that. Stop asking!”
And then, because my baby toe is such a sweet little body part, I wail in frustrated pain. “Why? Why? Why can’t you all just get ready without needing me so much?”
So there you have it. I get really angry over a bunch of little things, really fast.
But there’s more.
I keep going. Keep yelling. Scream is an embarrassing word, isn’t it? Rage would be a horrible thing to say. I know I shouldn’t behave like this, shouldn’t get so mad. But I do.
And while I rant on and on and on about responsibilities and planning and patience and personal space, and maybe I smack my hand on a countertop for some added drama, a voice -- a consciousness of some sort—says: What in God’s name are you doing? What is wrong with you? You said you weren’t going to do this again!
And then I say back to this voice —while I am yelling —I know! I’m awful! I don’t know why I yell so much, why I get so mad! And that’s when my heart drops to the ground and splatters in a shapeless, regretful mess.
I stop yelling. But I’m still angry.
With a set jaw and hard breath, I wipe my hands. Find socks. Zip a coat. Put on my own shoes. I step over my splattered heart, leaving it there to soak into the wood floor. And we drive to school in grating silence.
I don’t want to admit this, my anger. I don’t.
I fear your judgment. I fear I’m the only one. I fear there’s something irreparably wrong with me.
We all are pushed to our limits at times. But I’m not talking about a mom who loses her temper every once in a long while. I talking about a mom who has allowed a reactive behavior to become a regular habit.
In the past, I’ve dropped hints about getting angry, like little worms dangling on a hook, to trustworthy women further along in their motherhood journey. Each was nibbled at with an understanding sentiment like, “It’s okay. I’ve been there, too.” And once, a solid bite came with a particularly funny story about a power struggle with a teenage daughter that ended up with someone pinned on the floor and someone else on their knees in prayer. But still, the hook never dug into meaty flesh.
Waiting in the school drop off line, my calm returns. Along with sadness. And shame. I close my eyes and repeat the same words I’ve said what seems like one thousand times, “Guys, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for yelling at you.”
A chorus of, “It’s okay, Mom’s” come from the little kids. But I can see the glowing, smoldering embers in the eyes of my older kids. My harshness doesn’t extinguish as easily with them as it used to. It lingers now, like the smell of smoke on clothes.
By nature, I run hot. I’m not overly emotional, but my feelings—the good and the bad —simmer pretty close to the surface. It doesn’t take much for me to tear up. And it doesn’t take long for my blood to boil, either. For years, I didn’t mind this quality.
But time went on.
The kids got older. Small frustrations compounded. My lack of control grew exponentially. My responsibilities at home stretched, shrunk, morphed, and multiplied.
I no longer spoon baby food into mouths or change dirty diapers, but I make sure jerseys are clean and remember where cleats are left. I may not wash or wipe them all myself, but I keep track of how recently each kid bathed and when the little ones last pooped. My margins still feel thin and my well is often dry.
And the biting part of my personality, once reserved for issues outside of our home, started to turn on those inside of it. On the ones exerting their own wills, making their own choices, and talking back in their own voices.
I’ve made excuses for my anger: It’s just how I am. The kids need to be more responsible. I need more help. Other moms get mad, too.
And for the longest time, I thought I could best my anger. Tame it. Manage it. Make it submit. By taking taking deep breaths. Counting to ten. Leaving the room. (Who came up with that idea, by the way?) By doing whatever the last book I read said.
But this was hardest thing for me— because I believe in prayer. And I’d pray, over and over again, to be filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and that one I just couldn’t seem to get a handle on, self-control.
Yet no matter how much I prayed, I still lost my temper.
I’ll never change. I’m ruining my kids.
At a recent get together, a mom said, “I got so angry this week at my kids. I totally lost my temper.” All the other moms nodded as if saying, It’s okay. But I couldn’t help shaking my head, practically laughing, You girls have no idea.
Then one mom told a story that sounded so familiar: of feeling pulled and pushed, being asked of and drawn from so much, so often. Of being empty and not having enough opportunities for filling. Of being so so tired.
“I’m pretty sure my kids are scared of me,” the first one said and we all started to laugh.
Okay, maybe I’m not the only one.
Maybe it’s the kids’ ages. Or the dynamics—the particulars of stages and personalities. It could be the stress from work. Finances. Maybe it’s because we’re all still sleep deprived. Or because the seams of our marriages are pulling so tight right now, the most we can do is muster up a non-confrontational Goodnight before heading to bed.
Maybe we forgot how to say what we need. Or because our voice simply can’t be heard over the din and scramble of everyday life.
It could be none of these particular things.
Or it could be all of it, all at once.
There’s always a reason, always something underneath.
As those ladies opened up, uncovered, the dynamic shifted to some very honest talk. We spoke candidly, as if laying cards out on the table. This is my hand, I need some help playing it. We were not justifying or rationalizing. We were not seeking solace in shared shame.
We were confessing.
So this is my confession to you: I am an angry mom.
And I say this here because it was only when I admitted my anger and acknowledged it for what it was—ugly and hurtful and wrong; when I stopped trying to change, trying to normalize, hide, and fight against it; that’s when my prayers, coming from a place of desperation, dependence, surrender, and embarrassing vulnerability—that is when when my words, my heart (and my volume) began to change.
Yes, I’ve had to sit with my anger. Work on it. Stare at it in the face. I’ve peeled back layers. Retraced steps. Forgiven, and asked for forgiveness. I’ve sought help. And I’ll continue to.
I’ll never not have my personality.
But instead of covering it up in the dark, I’m exposing it into the light.