One day when my first daughter was about fourteen months old, I pulled her into my lap to explain a few things. "Sweetheart, mummy may have been a little crabby lately. Maybe you've wondered why. Well, you're going to be a big sister. There's a new baby growing inside mummy’s tummy. Sometimes when that happens, mummies get a little cranky and crabby because they're tired and feel funny."
I figured I'd explained that rather nicely. No unnecessary detail, no added guilt. Mummy's been madder than usual lately, and here's the good reason why. Becca looked up at me with all the innocence of a one-year-old and replied, "OK, mummy. But why were you crabby before?"
It's tough to fashion a comeback to a brutally honest one-year-old.
Looking after yourself
Despite my child's truth-telling, physical well-being does affect our emotions, particularly our angry emotions, for good or ill. Parental anger is a common, normal, and frustrating emotion. There are a lot of factors behind this particularly unloved feeling. Most of us, however, never consider our physical state as one of those. When is the last time you thought about the link between your physical and mental health and the anger you feel rising up all too often when conflict happens with your darling little (or bigger) ones?
Is the only exercise you ever get chasing a naked two-year- old down the street? Are your three main food groups caffeine, cold macaroni and cheese, and diet coke? Is the only time you're alone when you’re asleep? (And that is questionable.) Anger could be your body sending you a message:
“I am tired. I am stressed. I am not well maintained, and I am about to let you know it with an explosion that will rival Mt. Vesuvius.”
No one wants Mt. Vesuvius in the kitchen.
Mums in particular sacrifice their bodies for their children. From the moment morning sickness first sends you running to the bathroom, you put your body second after the well-being of that child. Eventually, though, your body needs attention.
That means taking time to get what you need for good physical and mental health.
Six ideas for improving your wellbeing
See if any of these are things you could do to hep tame the anger beast by looking to yourself first.
1. Go see the doctor: Your doctor, not your child's. Make sure there are no unknown issues sending you into emotions that feel out of character and out of control. A lot of factors affect our health. Anger can be a side effect of migraines, thyroid issues, fatigue, mental illness, hormones, and a whole list of other things.
2. Move: Maybe you've always wanted to run a 5K, or you like dancing, or walking with a friend is on your dream list of “things I'll do when I have more time.” Do it now. Find the time. Your body's well-being deserves that time and needs it. There is science behind the claim that exercise actually defuses anger. Plus, it gives us time to get away from the situation or to prepare for a new one.
3. Sleep: Sure, like that's going to happen. Still, research shows that people with chronic sleep deprivation (i.e. any new parent) anger more easily. Enlist your spouse in taking turns being the one to rise early or stay up later. Don't feel guilty for taking a nap. Make rest a priority instead of accepting that your busy life will always mean lack of sleep.
4. Eat healthy: No, picking at your son's cold leftover french fries is not eating healthy. You wouldn't put swamp water in your car's petrol tank and expect it to function for long. A well-fueled body powers a mind able to handle conflict and unexpected circumstances.
5. Get away: If only for five minutes. Put on some of your favorite calming music, pray, and let the kids know this is your time to be alone. You'd be surprised what five minutes can do toward restoring your peace and priorities.
6. Laugh: Laughter has a healing effect on the body and mind. It really is good medicine. Whatever your kid did, chances are you will laugh at it later. Why not laugh at it now? Give both of you permission to calm down and lighten up.
Moving beyond guilt
All these solutions have one thing in common – they require us to get past the feelings of guilt if we take care of our own needs before those of our kids. But it's like those oxygen masks on the airplane – if we don't secure ours first, neither one of us is going to make it.
Dozens of studies demonstrate that parents who live a stressed out life physically also live on the edge mentally. Do you want to temper those times you just can't seem to help the negative emotions that bubble hot lava over onto your kids? A good starting point is to pledge to take better care of yourself first.
Jill blogs at jillmarierichardson.com. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to register your interest in her upcoming book .