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How Do I Not Become My Father?

by Lola
(Chicago)

I have come to realize that my temper and patience is that of my father. He was a hit now, no questions later, kind of dad.

As a mom I find myself the ultimate bad guy. My husband works so hard his time with our 4 year old son is precious to him and he hates to lay down the law when needed.

I find myself blowing up and yelling so much and I know from experience that my dad yelling at me still haunts me more than the spankings he inflicted.

How can I calm down and not make my temper hit 100 and then feel like a bad mom 5 minutes later and say sorry to my son?

My dad didn't say he was sorry till I was in my late 20's. My son is at the age that he is going to start remembering this stuff and I don't want his memories of me to be of me yelling and threatening to hit him/spank him.

Comments for How Do I Not Become My Father?

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Help! I'm Turning Into My Parents - Part One
by: Annie Desantis

Hi Lola,
One of the hardest things as a parent is when we suddenly realize how like our own parents we are, despite our intentions!

But the great thing is you are recognizing it, and realizing you don't want to be the kind of parent your father was. You are doing so much better than parenting on automatic, just repeating history.

You are right, your son will remember your behavior, but more importantly, you are shaping his beliefs and he is learning from you - Scary I know!

Your reactions and your style of discipline are things you have learned over a long period of time, and it takes a bit of practice and self discipline to learn new ways to take their place.

I have just uploaded some articles on parenting style that you may give you a bit of an understanding, and you would certainly recognize yourself in the
authoritarian parenting style. Sounds like your husband may lean towards the
permissive style, because he wants to have fun with your son, and perhaps doesn't want to enforce rules.

So, what can you do to make some changes? Firstly, I suspect most of your anger and frustration, is a backlog of anger about your own father, and ironically, when you are in situations that are frustrating you, you will tend to dump a disproportionate amount of fury into the current situation - in this case your little boy or husband.

And as you well remember it is scary and leaves emotional scars. Children that grow up with families that are overly authoritarian, don't learn to think for themselves, or are very good problems solvers, there is too much of a risk of getting it wrong, and to avoid punishment they try to comply with the rules. Kids don't get any explanation of the rules, and often they will be irrational, which is confusing for a child. So they stop trying to think or understand and their energy goes into protection mode.

You would have spent a lot of time as a child trying to please your father, and wishing for his approval. And you most likely felt you were never good enough.

The little girl from back then, needs as much love and understanding as your own little boy now! At the moment, you end up feeling guilty and feeling like you are a terrible Mom which actually makes it worse for you!

Part Two Follows . . .

Help! I'm Turning Into My Parents - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

By the way I don't think you are a terrible Mom, I know you love your little boy deeply, and it takes courage and insight to decide not to turn into our parents, and learn new ways of parenting.

You need to develop some techniques to interrupt the explosion. I know it feels like it is happening really fast, but you would have quite a few signals happening much earlier that when you become aware of them you can take yourself off so you don't take it out on your son.

You may well start to feel uncomfortable when your son and husband are mucking around, maybe they are getting noisy and excited. Quite likely you will be unconsciously running old stuff from when you were a child, like "keep the noise down"

Or perhaps bedtime was a stressful time when you were young, and if you had not done all your chores or bedtime routines, you were in trouble.
Maybe you often went to bed miserable and unhappy.

As a parent we are kind of running from two responses - our learned behavior of this is what parents do, but also our beliefs and in particular, any stressful past stuff, also triggers our behavior and reactions.

It is actually a chemical reaction that happens, when you start to get stressed, your body starts pumping hormones into your bloodstream to help you "fight". So by the time you erupt, you have a fully fueled response that is out of proportion to the situation.

When we are in situations that feel like they are out of control then we are much more likely to start running old stuff.

If you can start to recognize when you are starting to feel uncomfortable - and start to connect how that feeling relates to when you were a little girl, then you are a long way down the track to getting control of it.

I am wondering if you and your husband can work together as a team, to help you learn to respond differently. It is not going to be helpful to you to have him telling you you are doing it wrong, but having his support to help you practice new ways of responding in the situation can be helpful.

I'm going to suggest you try an experiment for a week, so you can start to learn about your reactions and start to recognize you do actually have warning signs way before you get out of control and erupt.

Part Three Follows . . . .

Help! I'm Turning Into My Parents - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

Work out what situation happens frequently that you end up blowing up over. I'll use the bedtime routine as an example of how you can approach things differently, and you can apply a similar approach to what ever situation you want to tackle.

Firstly, tell your husband you are not happy with the way you are responding and interacting with your son at bedtime and you want his help. It may be that you need to negotiate a routine that you can cope with, but that he is prepared to agree to. I would suggest for the purposes of learning about yourself, you try to give him the responsibility for bedtime (or what ever the issue/situation is you blow up over)

I suspect you will want to police it and control it! And that is where the learning is for you, notice when you start to feel uncomfortable and are watching the clock or wanting to tell him it is time to get your son ready for bed. That is your early warning signal!

Take yourself away from the situation, and give yourself a chance to verbalize or bring to consciousness, the thoughts that are going round your head.

You can ask yourself some questions like:
How do I feel?

"I'm feeling irritated, my tummy is starting to churn, I've been gritting my teeth, I'm wanting to jump in and get things organized."

Is this feeling familiar? How did I feel at bedtime when I was a child?

"I would start to get tense and anxious, I had to keep an eye on my father in case he was getting annoyed, I was frustrated because I really wanted to finish my game, I was scared if he got angry with me."

When we become a bit more conscious about where the feelings are coming from then it is easier to recognize earlier before things start escalating.

Showing your son you are learning to get control of your anger, is really good modeling for him. He also needs to learn there are ways to express anger that don't hurt people, and that we need to find a way to express it without loosing control.

There is nothing wrong with being angry, it's what we do with our anger that can become destructive. Being angry is our unconscious mind letting us know, that this situation is not the way I want, I want something to change, I want to control it so I feel better.

Part Four Follows . . .

Help! I'm Turning Into My Parents - Part Four
by: Annie Desantis

If you find you are erupting, then go for a stomping walk or a run, have a shower and yell into the water, something physical is often a really good way to release the energy of it all, rather than swallowing it down or feeling guilty for being mad.

Taking time out - a chance to re-group and take a few deep breaths is a really good way of keeping control. (I never suggest using time out for kids as a punishment, but as a way to recharge and shift the energy)

Your angry self needs a chance to express it, instead of taking it out on your son, or husband. Once you have released some of the energy, go and write down all the thoughts in your head, just let it all pour out, even if it seems silly or
unrelated.

You can just start by finishing the sentence:
I'm angry because . . . or I'm mad because . . .

If you feel your anger is out of control, and you are smacking your child when you are angry, then I would really encourage you to get some counseling or go to an anger management course to learn to control it, and to explore the things
that trigger you. It can be hard to learn new skills or unpackage uncomfortable emotions on our own. Having someone to give a different perspective or help us to practice new skills can be incredibly valuable.

Also if the difference in parenting style is an issue with you and your husband, then doing a parenting course together would be a good thing to do too.

Well done for recognizing you want to parent differently, I know you will become the kind of parent you'd prefer, and already, you are doing something very different to the way your father did. Don't give yourself a hard time, just pat yourself on the back for being willing to learn.

Feel free to report back, I'd love to hear how you go and what you discover.

All the best,
Annie Desantis

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