I go from mother to monster in just two seconds.
“Stop that!!!” The words spill from my mouth in an animal-like growl, too loud and too ferocious to ignore.
My almost three-year-old looks at me, stunned, and tears immediately crowd the corners of his eyes.
But it’s too late. Words keep spilling from me, just a few more shouts. “I SAID STOP THREE TIMES ALREADY!”
“Okay Mommy,” he whimpers, his lower lip actually trembling.
Immediately regret slams into my chest. Shame quickly follows, settling right there by my lungs, ready to stay with me for the rest of the day.
“I’m sorry for yelling,” I say right away. “Mama shouldn’t have yelled. I’m sorry.”
I can see from the look on his face that the damage is done, that there’s no going back, that there’s no rewinding time. I give him a hug, pat his back, apologize again.
The rest of the day continues. We’re both fairly content, the toddler and I. It’s a short scene that has happened before, so we both know life goes on. But the regret and shame linger and I feel like a failure. I’ve lost my cool at something ridiculously inconsequential yet again. I’ve prayed about it. I’ve tried breathing techniques. I take breaks for myself all the time. Yet I can’t seem to master my instinct to give in to momentary anger. I have a short fuse.
Mothering brings me face to face with this anger, an emotion so uncomfortable and so unwelcome. It pulls me back to my own childhood, to my own childish temper tantrums and teenager blowups, to those moments I wish I could forget. The anger is real and raw. Rage quickly bubbles up from within me, shocking me and overwhelming me at the same time. Where does this anger come from? It makes me feel utterly human. It reminds me of just how imperfect I am and I hate it for that very reason.
Does every mom feel this way? I wonder. Am I the only one? Surely no other mom struggles this much. Surely this dysregulation means I’m not an adequate mother.
What is wrong with me?
I don’t want to be a mom who yells. I yearn to be tenderhearted, gentle, and patient. But in the moments when it seems to matter the most, I cannot. Instead, I’m reactionary.
Even on good days, when I keep my cool for the entirety of the day, I disappoint myself. Even on good days, a word may be spoken much too harshly or a child is set down in a not-very-gentle frustrated huff.
It’s not that I’m unhappy. I am happy. In so many ways, I feel like I’m in my prime, living my best life right now. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I love staying home with my kids. I don’t want to be doing anything else. There are so many sweet moments, moments I wish I could freeze and stay in for forever.
But I find myself feeling anger despite this happiness. It flares up when a meal goes uneaten and dropped to the floor by a picky eater. When the one-year-old is on his sixth tantrum of the day over something utterly ridiculous. There’s that rage, bubbling up from within, both familiar and unwanted. No, it’s not that I’m an angry mom. I’m a happy mom who loses my temper way more than I would like. I’m a happy mom who can be much too harsh.
What do I do with this emotion? (Or is it a feeling? A sin? An instinct?)
I read once that parenting brings out our inner child. Childhood wounds resurface when we have our own children, that sort of thing. It rings true for me at least, because I remember being angry a lot as a kid. I was famous in my family for my enormous blow-ups and subsequent heartfelt apologies. I have visceral memories of rage—like when I screamed at my mom over an outfit, seethed at my sister on a long car ride, attacked my brother with my hairbrush. That kind of anger. It was something I was ashamed of, something I thought I tamed a long, long time ago. Yet here it is rearing its ugly head, different yet similar. As soon as the baby changes into a toddler, triggers emerge in abundance. And now there are two toddlers.
How can these two tiny humans bring out the worst in me? These two tiny humans that I adore and obsessively love more than I thought possible?
Mostly, I fight with the anger. I work every day to tame it, to coax it into obedience. And because I fight so hard, my failure sometimes feels overwhelming.
I have many faults. Insecurity, pride, selfishness, vanity. But this anger? It’s the fault I hate the most. The one I work hard to conquer, the one I fear will follow me for the rest of my life.
It’s the fault that will affect my children the most, so it’s the one I need to face right now. I can’t push it away. I can’t stuff it down. I can’t pretend it isn’t there, ignore it into nonexistence. I can’t stop praying about it. No. I have to look this anger—this tendency towards harshness instead of tenderness—right in the face, nose to nose, and see it for what it is. Maybe it’s not about fighting it as much as being curious about it, being willing to engage and learn from it. Somehow, speaking this out loud—writing it down for all to see—makes it lose its power.
Toddlerhood offers so many opportunities to fail as a parent, but also so many opportunities to grow and learn. I think I’m learning right alongside my two boys. I’m brought back to childhood myself. Just as I teach them kindness and patience, I teach myself.
I will be relentless about bringing my failure to God, again and again and again—and I won’t hide that process from my children. I’m choosing to lean into this learning. It’s uncomfortable and not pretty, and I don’t like it, but here I am, showing up and speaking it out loud.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoy reading about all things motherhood/faith/mental health, and would like to know when I have a new blog post, you can subscribe below. And If you haven’t read my book yet, you can buy it here.