Anger Management Class - How Does Getting Angry Make ME the Bad Mother

by James A. Baker
(August, 2010. Recovery Today)


anger managementI am contacting you because both my pastor and my counselor tell me that I need to take anger management training, but I feel this is highly unfair. I have been a single mom for most of my years as a parent. My kids are now 18 and 16. I have scrimped for them, sacrificed for them, and worked two and three jobs at the same time for them so they can have a few nice things, and all I ask in return is a little help and respect. I ask them to do a few chores and tell me where they are going when they go out. That's IT. I don't put a big burden on them. But I never get any cooperation from them. The house is always a wreck, the dishes are always piled up in the sink, they are never at home and half the time I don't know where they are. I ground them, take their cell phones away from them, and even take their car keys away, but nothing helps. They just ignore me. Yes, I get angry, yes I yell and scream at them; yes, I probably go overboard at times, but I just don't know what to do. Things feel so out of control and I never get any respect or appreciation. Still, how can asking for a little cooperation and responsibility make ME the Bad Mother? People already treat me like this at work, why do I have to put up with it at home, too? And how can a course like yours do me any good? Both of my kids have already told me when they finish high school they are moving away and never coming back.

Fed Up in Florida

Anger Management Class - How Does Getting Angry Make ME the Bad Mother

Dear Fed Up:
First of all, I have a lot of respect and compassion for moms who are in your situation. You didn't exactly mention say this, but I know you must love your kids a lot or you wouldn't be sacrificing so much for them. The burden you are bearing must be overwhelming, and I can only imagine it must be very disappointing and frustrating to you when your kids don't respond the way you wish they would.

Still, having said that, I have to say that I have met a lot of moms in your situation who are juggling jobs and raising teens - teens who can be thoughtless and irresponsible at times - and they seem to manage just fine without yelling, screaming, and taking away phones and car keys (especially over issues like not doing the dishes). So, one doesn't necessarily have to lead to another. And it definitely doesn't have to lead to your kids hating life at home so much that they have decided to leave and never come back.

The fact that your pastor and your counselor have both encouraged you to take anger management training tells me a lot. I am sure that they are familiar with your situation in a way that I am not, and so I am going to trust their judgment here. They see a pattern of behavior that is not only hurting your kids, it is hurting you. Please believe me when I say that this is not about you being a Bad Mother; it is more about you trying very hard to be a good mother and feeling like the deck is stacked against you. Also, you briefly mentioned you feel like you are being treated the same way at work that you are being treated at home. That tells me that your anger outbursts are not really about your kid's behavior. Rather, your kid's behavior is giving you an excuse to express anger you have already stored up about something else.

Anger Management Class - How Does Getting Angry Make ME the Bad Mother

In this column I often remind people of this simple fact: Situations don't cause emotions; what you BELIEVE about the situation is what causes the emotion. Do you understand what this means? It is very simple. Before we can get angry, or before we can experience any other kind of emotion, for that matter, we first have to form an opinion about what is happening and what is likely to be the result of what is happening.

Think about it this way. Let's suppose a reckless driver cuts in front of you on the freeway and almost causes a tragic accident. The normal reaction that anyone would have would be one of anger and outrage. But WHY? Because for a split second, you were afraid you were going to die! That anger was the automatic outcome of being put in a situation where you believed you were in great danger.

The connection between thoughts and emotions plays an incredibly powerful role in the way anger can get out of control in our lives. Here is a list of typical triggers that can cause people to become angry regarding the behavior of others:

  • They laugh at you.
  • They insult you.
  • They ignore you.
  • They reveal private stuff about you to others.
  • They criticize you.
  • They disrespect you.
  • They reject you.
  • They put you at risk in some way.
  • They physically threaten you.

What is the common element in every one of these events? They all MIGHT lead to some kind of loss or negative consequence. Perhaps, as a result of these actions, you might lose friends or lose your job or lose something of monetary value (which means you lose the ability to meet your needs) or lose the esteem of someone you care about, etc. When events like these happen, they set in motion thoughts that are rooted in a set of core beliefs that were ingrained into you a long time ago.

Anger Management Class - How Does Getting Angry Make ME the Bad Mother

My suggestion is to look beyond the behaviors of your children, and begin to try to understand what it is you believe about those behaviors that is causing you to react with anger that is so severe that competent professionals are asking you to get help and people who love you are thinking they might be happier (emotionally safer?) if they moved away from you.

You are not a Bad Mom; you are someone battling anger triggers that are turning you into someone you don't want to be. The key to bringing peace to your family and yourself might be to go back to your pastor and your counselor and ask for help in identifying those anger triggers, finding out what beliefs are driving them, confronting the fear at the root of those beliefs, and developing a plan to deal with them. Your children will thank you for it. The might still not do the dishes as often as you would like, but they will thank you and feel safer when they are around you, and that should last a long time.