As much as most of us would like to banish anger, anxiety and other undesired emotions from our experience forever, these feelings are part of being human. And motherhood is one of those knock-you-over-the-head-with-a-2×4 experiences that tends to bring us face to face with our issues.
For example, many parents have deep-seated fears about something terrible happening to their children. This fear can manifest as anxiety or even as anger. When my toddler ran out into the parking lot recently, I instantly felt flooded with rage, but beneath the anger was fear and anxiety.
As parents we are forced to make decisions every day that impact the lives of our children when we simply do not have enough information to know if we are making the right choices. (As a new mom, I coped with this by obsessive Googling).
There are no guarantees.
Not to mention that living with small children is a constant exercise in patience and tolerating frustration, as they refuse to get in their carseat/eat dinner/stop crying/sleep for a reasonable length of time.
Whether due to the daily stresses of motherhood, the fear of something bad happening to our children, or even to traumas from our pasts, many moms find themselves at battle with their emotions, constantly trying to be different and better, and beating themselves up for continuing to get stuck in anger and anxiety.
Fortunately, there is another way to relate to these normal emotions:
Sitting with them.
Allowing our emotions to be what they are has a wonderful side-effect; we start to realize our emotions aren’t as scary as they once seemed, and that they don’t have to run the show. Often, our undesired emotions lose power and strength when we’re not denying them or feeding them, but simply observing them without judgement.
Here’s how it works:
Let’s say you have an appointment at 9:00am. You are completely sleep deprived from night nursing, your toddler has recently decided to assert her independence by picking out completely ridiculous outfits to wear in public, and it is 8:45. As you ask your toddler for the third time to put on her shoes, the baby poops, and your toddler promptly drops to the floor, kicking and screaming, “You’re not the boss of me!”
Your palms begin to sweat, your heart rate speeds up, and you are overwhelmed with the urge to throw yourself on the floor and tantrum beside her. Or just say, “Forget it,” and storm off to your bedroom to watch The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt/ Pin modern farmhouse decor/ indulge in your preferred tech method of checking out.
Instead though, you decide to sit with your emotions.
Step 1: Notice what you are feeling. In this case, it might be a classic combination of anxiety (about being late) and anger (about your toddler being difficult).
Step 2: Take a breath and remind yourself these emotions are temporary, and it is okay for you to feel this way. It won’t be necessary to try to force this feeling to go away, as the intensity of an emotion usually only lasts for a couple minutes if you sit with it. Observe the ebb and flow.
Step 3: Notice whatever desires or urges come up. For example; the urge to yell at your kids, the urge to pretend you are not mad and ignore what you are feeling, or the urge to take up heavy drinking.
Step 4: Finally, after acknowledging your emotions and validating that you have the right to feel the way you feel, you can choose how to respond to the situation.
Most of the time when we are in the throes of anxiety or anger, our emotions will tell us exactly what they want us to do.
But our emotions are not the boss of us.
It is incredibly empowering to realize we get to make a choice as to whether to act on those urges.
In following these simple steps, you will find that a space opens up between the arising of the emotion and your automatic response to it.
In that space is freedom.