Today I am thrilled to share a very personal post from Jen at Becoming Greener.
A while back, I asked is any of my readers would be interested in sharing their personal story of how anger in the home affected them growing up. Jen immediately jumped on this challenge and has provided us with a heartfelt, honest, and painful story about life in her chaotic family. It was a little gut wrenching for me to read as my upbringing was so very different. Jen really illustrates how growing up in a home filled with anger translates into how she mothers her children. I hope you enjoy Jen's story as much as I did. Thank you Jen for sharing something so very personal.
I grew up in a “less than perfect” family. You could say my family life was “chaotic” at times. I have vivid memories of my parents screaming at each other at what seemed like 5 am as my Dad got ready for work. My sister and I were in our beds with pillows over our heads, trying to pretend it was not happening. Both my parents had anger issues and after 10 years of marriage and three children, they just became a volatile mixture together. My Mom was still actively battling her alcohol addiction behind closed doors and my father's rage was something to be feared. There were countless incidents in which one of us enraged my mother and she chased after us with a wooden spoon, once even chasing my sister down the block. She had thrown us out of cars when we were older and made us walk and humiliated or ridiculed us in public because of whatever action we just did. My siblings and I learned quite the cuss word vocabulary from my father before he moved out of the home but we also learned getting angry in vivid displays or expressing emotions in a big way was something reserved only for grown-ups. Perhaps I remember more since I was the oldest. I took on the job of trying to take care of everyone else emotionally. These wounds are still healing and are just a distant memory now.
I have two of my own sons now. I have been happily married for 8 years to a wonderful man who somehow accepted me with my flaws despite my chaotic background. I went on to become a social worker and worked with clients recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. For the past year, I have been a full time stay-at-home Mom to my sons who are turning 5 and 2 this summer. I actually have a positive relationship with my siblings and parents now. My mother has been sober for nearly 20 years and my father is happily married to another woman for the past 15 years. My parents were a mixture likely to explode when living together, but apart began to work out their personal demons. I was able to do the same once I moved out on my own and married. When my children were born and my husband and I decided what our parenting philosophies would be and how we would handle conflict, we both knew we wanted to avoid any glimmer of what I experienced growing up with fighting, sometimes physical punishment (spankings), and verbal abuse.
Today when conflict arises, the behaviors that are hardwired into me often come out as an instinctive reaction. I have been known to yell at my children or to argue with my husband in front of the children. The look of complete distraught on my younger son's face as he is subjected to my angry or frustrated feelings is often a quick reminder that snaps me out of my moment. My older son has actually stood in between my husband and me as we were arguing and shouted over us “You two need to APOLOGIZE. Stop yelling at each other!” Wisdom from the mouth of a 4 year old.
As a therapist, I am able to help clients break down their patterns of conduct and see how their reactions to antecedents and stimuli and stress equate to patterns of reactive behaviors like a math equation. But in the moment, I still need to quickly perform my own rational emotive therapy and stop what is going on in this present moment when my personal childhood unhappy memories kick in and I lose my temper. Just saying, “My children will never know and never experience what I went through growing up” is not enough. It takes open communication with my spouse, self-reflection that can sometimes be painful, and an occasional apology to my children or husband along with a discussion of just what happened back there. “Mommy got upset when you did not pick up your toys. I'm sorry I yelled like that at you.”
Being married and raising children is definitely one of the most difficult and yet rewarding jobs I've ever taken on. It requires a lot of hard work, give and take, and communication. I love it and the love I get from my children is the best healing medicine for the old scars from my past. Namaste.