Written by Robert
It would be redundant to once again offer apologies. Two weeks into Lent, I'm more inclined to offer excuses instead.* For example, "A funny thing happened on the way to the parenting blog. We got distracted by parenting!"
Actually, I blame Spring Break. Since I've been on vacation, I haven't been driving by myself. My 25-minute commute is where I play music, loudly (most often a "side" of my mixes which, for obvious reasons, are topping out at 50 minutes). It's also where I indulge those emotions from which I deign to spare my coworkers and loved ones. It's where I might have a good, if often unexpected, cry. It's where I wallow in guilt over how I get this kind of time alone while my wife, unless by special arrangement, does not. Most important, it's where the anger can come out.
Like the tears, the anger comes in a flash flood, with little warning. Technically road rage, it's always inwardly directed. A little steering wheel abuse, some unguided primal scream therapy. And just as suddenly--with the aid of a short prayer, the one known by those familiar with Orthodoxy and/or Salinger**--it's gone. Not dissipated, mind you, but back in its burrow. This is one gopher I'll never gas out.
We tell our children that "it's okay to feel mad" (or sad, or jealous, or silly) and try, anyway, to mean it. Cassidy, with her highly attuned emotional barometer, is especially good at this: exercising the right to be angry. And it's okay, really. It's healthy. It's inevitable. But it scares me to see it, her little fists clenched, elbows locked, teeth gritted. It just looks so wrong.
But that's a lie. It looks uncanny, because it's a mirror. Even to see it on a small scale, a cute scale, is almost too much to bear. How much more scary for her, then, to see me, five times her size, in this fierce pantomime of emotion on the edge of control? How many times has she looked over the border, into the dark uncharted land beyond?
It's just this risk of losing control, and this veering close to forbidden territory, that gives anger its power. In our culture, we stuff it down, and it pops up in strange places: like the aforementioned road rage. Like social media. Here, it finds a million safe and near-anonymous pockets. We lash out at people with different politics, different styles, different kinds of education, faith, values. The relentless, Twitter-fueled news cycle thrusts at us fresh outrage from moment to frothing moment.
What do we do with anger? As parents, where do we put it? I realize that I must have had the mistaken notion that, in the spirit of modeling behavior to my children, they should know exactly when and how angry I was at all times. What I forget, often enough, is to model a healthy way through it.
Come to think of it, I'm not terribly clear on how to get through it in a healthy way. Becoming a parent made anger real and immediate in a way I had never experienced before. I can only speak for myself, I know; but for me, a rule-follower, social conventions gave me the boundaries and buffer I needed to keep it out of my relations with others. Living with children--whose lives unfold with little, if any, regard for what I need in order to normalize my behavior--allows no such safety net.
Just when it is most necessary for use to respond dispassionately, we are least able to do so. Not much of a deal, really.
So how do we show them a way through? I try to display the rest of the spectrum of my emotions, to put them into relation with one another, to make them coherent. My last post focused on apologies. Those are good too.
I think it may be important to talk about the roots of anger, which always bubbles up from some deeper source. What am I afraid of? About what am I feeling ashamed? What is it that I thought I was going to lose?
I'm eager to hear some ideas. Because I don't expect to stop getting angry. I'm just tired of pretending it doesn't happen.
*Another thing about which I've offered expert excuses: the fact that I'm gaining weight during a fast.
**"O Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."