The Frightening Outburst That Made Me a Better Mom

Knowing that my father had a fast temper, I quickly became enraged at my daughter for the most trivial of things. What changed my approach to rage was the day I screamed at her over milk.

My 2-year-old daughter was still playing in the living room an hour after her bedtime. At least two hours of post-bedtime work were ahead of me, and I had just filled her glass of “white” milk. She claimed she wanted chocolate milk instead. My heart sank when I saw the milk spill across the brand-new rug, which I’d warned Lucy a million times not to step on while holding a cup.

“Lucy!” Angry feelings boiled up in me as my voice boomed, echoing throughout the room. That broad grin of hers was now wrinkled.

My father was prone to outbursts, and yelling was commonplace in our household. I remember him as a storm in the midst of the day: powerful, unexpected, and loud. He never physically hurt me or my brothers. If you hold a fork the incorrect way, talk too quietly, or break something, he’ll get irritated. The more I grew up, the more apparent it became to me that I had taken on my father’s temperament. As a result of my frustrations with the barista, I once slammed my coffee down on the counter so hard that it spilled cold brew all over the place.

And as my daughter grew more autonomous and had more of her own opinions, I felt a constant surge of rage inside me. Why couldn’t Lucy figure out that urgency meant we had to hurry up and get to school instead of stopping to admire the ducks? This morning, I must have told my child to put her shoes on at least 20 times. On Facebook, I began to lash out, gossip, and honk angrily while driving, all in an effort to vent my frustration.

My previous snaps at Lucy had been milder, but the milk incident was a scream that bordered on the out-of-control. In an instant, I felt a jolt of fear reverberating through my body. I couldn’t recall the first time my father screamed at me, but I knew I must have felt the same sense of shock, betrayal, and despair that Lucy did.

As she sobbed into my shoulder, I went to my knees and reached out my arms, feeling horrible for allowing her to get so close while I held her. My outburst came back to mind later that night as we lay in her bed, my hand on hers, smelling her baby shampoo.

“Remember when Mommy was furious earlier? I meant nothing by it. It’s simply that I sometimes have the impression that my rage is a red cloud in my stomach that keeps growing until it finally erupts. In light of this, I explained: “And that’s what occurred.” No, I don’t think so. So, I asked myself aloud.

“Yes,” was her reply.

“What shade of blue do you have?” I went for it.

She said, “Pink!” with a smile. She then started into a lively rant on how the irrational feeling she perceived in her mind was sparkling and resembled the pink of fairies’ wings. I felt the tightness in my gut loosen as she penned a story. It wasn’t only the stress of the day before. Frustration I’d been keeping under wraps for the past year may have been the cause of my recent illness. I’d always thought of rage as red—bright, frightening, and with the capacity to wreak havoc. Lucy, on the other hand, disagreed. Maybe if I changed the way I thought about rage, I wouldn’t have blown up.

Lucy still tells me when she’s in the “pink zone,” six months after that outburst. We talk about the fact that irritation and rage are normal emotions. Even if she’s not listening, I tell her when I’m unhappy about a work assignment or the WiFi is down. In the moments when a block tower falls, or she can’t get her shirt on, I can see Lucy’s short fuse, but I also see the way she pauses, breathes, and allows herself sort out the situation.

Glitter-loving toddlers helped me see that I wasn’t angry; it was my father’s explosions that characterized me. I’m finally able to deal with my rage now that I’ve mastered the language of a youngster. I’m relieved to know that Lucy doesn’t have a short fuse. Now, have complete faith that she will be prepared to deal with any and all rage that may develop, as well as the ability to use her powerful emotions as an asset without losing her composure (or her coffee).

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