Anger Management 101: The Return of Mean Mommy

Posted June 30, 2008 by

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“Mean Mommy” reared her ugly head again last week when my 5 year-old son glared at me, licked his lips, and spat on our living room floor. The look on my face must have been pretty scary, because he then squeaked, “I had a bug in my mouth! It was an accident!” and ran behind the couch to hide. I now understand what it means to “see red” when you’re angry, because I felt like a cartoon character with smoke pouring out of my ears and hot lava spewing from the top of my head.


I should also tell you that spitting is a cute little habit of my son’s that seems to come and go randomly. It’s happened before—most notably, on my mother-in-law’s couch. I feel like our child is throwing the gauntlet down, daring my husband and me to react. And you better believe that we do.

I’m embarrassed to admit that Mean Mommy has appeared many times before. It’s no coincidence that it often happens when my husband is out of town. By the end of the week, I’m worn out, my nerves are frayed and I feel a strange tenderness for the Incredible Hulk and his anger management issues. “Why don’t people just leave him alone,” I reason, “and let the poor man have some sleep?” I don’t actually turn green when I get mad, but it would probably be better for my son if I did. At least it would give him some warning before I explode. These explosions, by the way, usually involve some yelling, screaming, stomping and incoherent growling on my part. Picture an angry dancing bear gesturing madly and careening through a living room after a kindergartner, and you pretty much have the idea.

But I took a deep breath, held it together and said, “Mean Mommy is about to come out. Do you remember what we decided? That when I was angry, I was going to tell you, and then you were going to try to behave.” I surprised myself with how calm my voice was—some would say, “eerily calm.” But I was trying to follow the new rule my son and I had come up with together—that I would let him know when I was about to lose it.

A muffled whimper from behind the couch, and then, “I want Daddy to come back right now.”

“Daddy is coming back tomorrow. But until then, we have to get along. Do you think we can do that?”

(Sniffle.) “OK.”

“I need you to clean up your spit and wait for me,” I said, and left the room, acting a lot more in control than I felt. I went into the bedroom and just stood there breathing for a few minutes. I thought about the consequences I could use with my son (we have a “marble jar”—he gets marbles for good behavior, and has them taken out when he misbehaves.) When my heart rate came back down to normal about ten minutes later, I went back into the living room. Wonder of wonders, my son had cleaned up his mess. Then we talked about why spitting on the floor was not a good choice on his part, and how next time he could use the toilet or the sink. I gave him a hug and said, “You know Honey, I don’t like Mean Mommy either. So thank you for cooperating. I’m glad we figured this one out without yelling.”

Then I put him to bed, poured myself a glass of wine and sagged onto the sofa. Before I went to sleep, I called all the single parents I knew and told them how brave, strong and amazing I thought they were. (It’s hard enough parenting with another person, let alone by yourself. Single parents should all get medals, in my book.)

Now it’s your turn—and I have a hunch this might be one we could all use a little help with. Have you ever lost your temper with your kids? What do you do to calm down when your kids push your buttons? We’d love to hear from you!

About

Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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  1. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor (Edit) Report

    Barbara Jo: I loved your story. I’ll bet your son remembers you bringing that tiger to him to this day. I think the lesson here is, yes, we have to stick to our guns, but we also need to enjoy our kids, too, and remember that they’re only young once. Sometimes making exceptions to the rules can be a powerful reward. (For example, I remember the nights in summer when my parents took us to the Dairy Queen in our pj’s as a surprise reward for doing all our chores, or just for no reason at all.) Something out of the norm and unexpected has a big impact on kids, and allows us to make small moments of magic in their lives and ours, don’t you think?

    Reply
  2. barbara jo (Edit) Report

    Renee, you are a mom after my own heart. When my son was about 3 a friend called me on the phone to discuss an upcoming wedding. Needless to say she rambled endlessly. Meanwhile, my son, whom I thought was playing with the eternal megablocks, was actually applying brown/black mascara to every square inch of his little body that he could reach. He was less than three feet away but just out of sight even though in the same room. I completely freaked out. ‘What if it gets in his eyes! He may go blind! That was brand new expensive mascara! What if his dad catches this? What will my mom think? How could she keep me on the phone so long?’ etc. etc. I snatched him up and headed for the bathroom. I soaped and scrubbed, spanked and hollered like a wild woman, and realized that if it doesn’t make me go blind it won’t him either. And my mom will never know if I don’t tell her. And dad won’t either. And I should have ended the phone call long before my son was brown/black. And I could have used a spanking…….Well…. brown/black was easy enough to remove as was blue and green and a couple of years ago my guilt caught up with me. I asked sonnyboy if he remembered covering himself with mascara. At 12 now, he had to think a minute. Then he remembered. He wanted to make his eyelashes pretty like mine. I cried as I apologized for spanking him and told him I was so ashamed for going so crazy over it. I was wishing I had taken his picture when he announced that he didn’t even remember getting the spanking!!! That wasn’t the only one he ever got but it must not have been too impressive. He never bothered my stuff any more, though. When we get to these teenage years we can look back and smile- laugh even- at these antics. They pale in comparison to the revelation that I got just tonight that my previous- brown/black honor roll through his entire school history-son has a flat F in his accelerated algebra class. Moral of this long winded story – just enjoy as much as you can these things that don’t actually harm anyone and that can be dealt with with a little [or a lot] of soap and water. Much easier to fix than what you will be dealing with on down the road and the less you stress yourself out now the easier you will be able to handle the big stuff. This reminds me of what my mother told me about a year before she died. My son had a real teardown for a life sized stuffed Bengal tiger on a trip to Wal-Mart. I wasn’t about to pay $20 for a stuffed toy and we left with him so pitiful and dejected. I proudly told my mom about it the next day thinking she would congratulate my sticking to my guns and she shocked me to the core. This is what came from the ever so thrifty woman that raised me! “Why did you not buy it? If you can’t afford it then I will buy it for him! This is the only child you will ever have and he will only be little for a short while. Enjoy him while he still only wants a sfuffed toy. There will be plenty of time down the road to say NO.” Boy, did she get my goat!! I went straight to the super center [the “beast” we call it] after dropping him off at school, in the pouring down rain and had a Bengal tiger looking out of the car window when I picked him up at kindergarten . I have thought of that as being one of the most important lessons that my mother ever taught me. I think of it more often the older my son gets, the harder his questions get, the harder the consequences get, the smartier his mouth gets… just goes to show that God gave us little kids to prepare us for the big kids. Enjoy anything you can while you can. I am still learning. P S There is more to the tiger story. His name was Henry and maybe I can find somewhere in this someday to make it worth telling!!

    Reply
  3. Renee (Edit) Report

    Blue Boy update:

    Thank you for all the helpful advice for getting the blue out of my bathroom (and off my son!). It turns out a couple of evenings of soaking in the tub was all he needed to be his normal color again.

    It’s such a wonderful example because it shows that when we are in that moment of being angry, we are not thinking logically or reasonably, and that is when Mean Mommy can do her worst.

    When I saw all that money go down the tube for the blue stains, I wasn’t thinking rationally about less expensive, and frankly easier, solutions or alternatives to ripping out the cabinetry and replacing tiles.

    After calming down I realized it wasn’t as bad as I first thought, as it rarely is once we give ourselves some space from the problem. And this experience will help me remember next time to stay focused on the big picture and not get too hung up on those pesky details that can lead to the front door of Mean Mommy’s house.

    As for the bathroom, some cleaner, elbow grease and a sturdy scrub brush for the bathroom took care of the rest.

    It played out like a MasterCard commercial.

    Water: $16.00

    Soap: $4.00

    Industrial Strength Wood Cleaner: $12.00

    Scrubby Brush: $3.00

    A cute anecdote to tell friends and family:

    Priceless.

    Reply
  4. Elisabeth Wilkins Report

    Melissa, I loved your story–kid logic is the best, isn’t it? “I wanted to be blue” and “I wanted to be Shrek” make perfect sense in a three or four-year-old’s mind. I have to confess, it’s one of the things I love most about raising kids. Your question about getting your son to do chores is a good one, and something that I’ve been working on for awhile, too. What I’ve been trying is to say, for example, when all the Megablocks are out on the floor, “OK, you pick up the red, green and blue blocks, and I’ll do the purple and pink ones.” Then we make a game of picking them up together. It goes quickly, it’s fun, and it’s taught my son how to start cleaning up. A good friend of mine recommended starting slow with toddlers. For example, if your son’s room is a mess, you can say, “OK, I’d like you to pick up 5 toys and put them away.” This gets him into the right habit, and pretty soon you can add more tasks to the list. It sounds like you’re starting to teach him at just the right time. Good luck!

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  5. Melissa (Edit) Report

    My father-in-law sent me this website, not for my temper, but to help me with controling my children. My children are for the most part very well behaved, however; when they lose it they completely lose it. I loved reading the story about the little blue boy..it brought back a really funny memory of my son. When he was 3 (now 7) he decided to paint himself green. At first sight of him I was really upset, but then it dawned on me, me being an artist he sees me covered in paint all the time. So I asked him why he painted himself green and he just looked at me and said, “I wanted to be Shrek!” It was so cute I just sat there and laughed, of course I got pictures of him being green to torment him when he gets older. I like how you gave the name mean mommy, it is cute but correct. Whenever I can feel myself getting upset I tell my children to go to their rooms for a couple minutes so mommy can think about how to talk to them. I don’t want to yell at them, so I send them away for a short time out. In that time I try and find the reason for why they are acting out or just not listening. Sometimes I can come up with a good reason and sometimes I am clueless. The thing I have found with mean mommy especially now that my son is getting older and my daughter is now catching on, if I yell they don’t listen and they completely lose focus. Now if I send them to their room so we can all have a time out, when they come out they usually apologize for what they were doing wrong and tell me it won’t happen again…which I know it will. But at least they are trying.
    Now here is my question, at what age do you start making your children do stuff for themselves? My daughter who is 3 loves to help me clean, but my son will leave everything out no matter where it is. This is when I can feel mean mommy coming out. I have asked him nicely to clean his room, I have taken away all of his goodies in his room (T.V., computer, game systems, toys), it has even come to the point where I will just clean it for him. How do I break this habit? I feel like I do everything in the house cook, clean, laundry, all of which are never ending tasks, but when I clean and he is right behind me making a mess I just don’t know what to do. Any advice is well appreciated!
    Thank You,
    Melissa

    Reply
  6. Peggy (Edit) Report

    I have 3 kids, Girl 15, 2 boys who are 11 and 6. Mean mommie appeared especially with my daughter for a variety of reasons. I found over the years that although she has a temper that is incredible (and I have shown mine which I never would have imagined I had) it is best to walk away and take a break. I used to chase her up to her room after she was disrespectful or had a tantrum. Let them go to their room. It really is true that it takes two to fight. Later, talk and give consequences when things have setttled down. we tried counselling and got the ususal ADHD diagnosis and I think it made it worse. Sometimes, you know in your head what will help and you just need to do it. For me the anwer was to create better routines, keep a positve voice with her and try to make every action come from a loving place. There’s no magic pill for difficult kids but things are a lot better!

    Reply
  7. Gail (Edit) Report

    It’s nice to see that I’m not the only one who feels that way. I am trying to learn to control “Mean Mom” so that it’s not a knee jerk reaction every time a kid does something. Thanks for insight into a real parent!!

    Reply
  8. Suzanne (Edit) Report

    This is for Renee and the blue ink….before you use Goof Off 2 that was suggested, PLEASE read the product label. It is a very powerful chemical and one that I would have serious concerns about using on skin. Call your pediatrician and ask for their suggestions.

    Reply
  9. Kathy (Edit) Report

    Barbara,

    I am in a situation very similar to yours. I am a single mom, I have raised two daughters and am raising my three sons. My youngest son has real issues with anxiety, is diagnosed with Tourettes Syndrome, and has Autistic tendancies. He is 12 now and even though we went through councelors, psychologists, etc, he is by far the most difficult child to raise. I never felt comforatable with the counceling because some blamed me for my son’s behavior, some blamed my son, but in all honesty, I never felt as if anyone ever understood the situation that I was in.

    I was to the point where everyone was telling me that I had to do something about my son, but no one offered me any real advice as to what to do.

    Then a friend told me about the Total Transformation program. After looking into it, I decided to give it a try, but honestly didn’t believe that I would notice any difference.

    I am truly amazed. It didn’t take me very long to figure out that the thing that needed done with my son is that I was the one who needed to change.

    When I started to listen to the CD’s, I did so in front of my sons. When he asked why I was listening to them, I simply answered that I have, through the years, have done different things to learn to be a better mom. When I started to institute changes in my parenting style, there was grumblings from all of the boys. I simply explained that I was learning on how to coach them to obtain coping, social, and monetary skills. (I know that monetary skills are not a focus with this program, but if I can improve the coping and social skills, then I will work with them on monetary skills too). I told them that these skills are needed for them to learn to be men and are not really taught any more. I blamed myself for not knowing them because I wasn’t raised to be a man, but now that I am learning how to parent soon to be men, I am all for it. I told them straight out, that I love them and I need to prepare them to be successful as adults. (Listen to lesson 4 of the 3rd CD over and over.

    There isn’t a magic wand that takes my child from one extreme to another. I spent 12 years doing all of the wrong things. I didn’t do them on purpose, I didn’t do them because I was selfish or lazy or because I didn’t care. Actually, I thought that I was doing the right things, but there was/is a lot of stress in the family because of my mistakes.

    Once my youngest understood why I was changing my parenting style, he actually was the first to comply (to my surprise). Sometimes it seems as if we take two steps forward and then one step back, but there is no doubt that there is a noticeable positive change. One of my daughters came over to visit and she quietly asked what I did to change my son. He was telling her all about his understanding of the program and was very serious.

    Really, I think that it boils down to control. Because I wasn’t in control (even though I thought that I was), he felt he had to take control and that made his life more stressful. I believe that each day that I prove that I am taking over control, it takes the load off of his shoulders and he doesn’t need to worry about the control.

    Yesterday he called for a ride home from the pool. When I got there, he wanted to walk home with a friend. He asked and I said no (something I wouldn’t be able to do a month ago without serious issues), then he asked again with a please included, and I still said no. Then he asked why and I boldly replied, “Because, I said so.” He quietly turned to his friend and said, “Sorry, I am not allowed to go.” When he got into the car, he huffed, “I am mad at you.” I told him that I understood. I told him something that he didn’t want to hear and he didn’t like it, so it is OK that he is mad at me. He amazingly asked, “Am I suppose to like it?” I told him, “Nope, you are not going to like everything that I tell you and you don’t have to. What you need to do is just what you did, listen to me.”

    Him not knowing if he was suppose to like everything that I say is an indication on how much I need to teach him, but I am thankful that I am learning how to teach him now.

    Reply
  10. Barbara (Edit) Report

    This is for RENEE whose son got BLUE INK all over himself and her house. There is a product called (Goof Off 2) that takes out pen, marker ink, grease & oil. I found this product when I dropped a permanent marker on our new cream color carpet. It took it out instantly and you can’t even tell where the spot was.I have used it to get ink out of clothing also. Works great. You can find it at any hardware, department or grocery store. It’s made by Valspar.

    Reply
  11. minnie mouse (Edit) Report

    This is interesting. I am reading a book right now called ScreamFree Parenting. It’s fascinating. My mother was kind of a screamer. The book has revealed to me that while I pride myself on not being a screamer I can still be emotionally reactive in a way that is not helpful to the process. Thanks for the post.

    Reply
  12. Sherrie (Edit) Report

    Mean Mommy definitely shows up at our house, too. Last week, she screamed, “You kids are making me crazy!” There was dead silence in the house, and then both of my kids cleaned up their rooms without being asked. I don’t want to be mean mommy all the time, but sometimes it works!

    Reply
  13. Megan Devine, LCPC Report

    Barbara: Shopping for a therapist can feel odd – you’ll be sharing your family’s private life with someone you hardly know, and you’ll have to place your trust in them that things will improve for your family. It takes a lot of courage and faith to take that step. Our Parent Support Line specialists often encourage parents to seek out professional support – local resources give you access to specific information and assistance on a consistent basis. On-line support is important as well, but a local therapist will be able to tailor their work to your unique situation.

    So how do you shop for a good therapist? The phone book is loaded with professional clinicians; choosing one is like looking for a needle in a haystack. You need to whittle down the list of possibilities. Ask your friends and family for recommendations; ask your local school guidance counselor. You might ask your family physician, or call your local community health agency for specific recommendations. Once you have a few names and numbers, start calling. Many professionals will speak with you over the phone so that you can get a sense of how they work. Whether you initially meet over the phone or in person, you’ll want to assess whether the therapist will be a good match for your family. A good therapist will listen to your concerns, and tell you if they are able to support your family as you grow and change.
    If you feel that the therapist does not understand, dismisses, or belittles your issues, move on to the next name on your list. You want a clinician who will hold your family with gentleness and respect, while also challenging you to move out of your normal patterns and try some new tools. If you have concerns about a specific diagnosis or behavior, ask what kind of experience and exposure the therapist has with that issue. The number of years the clinician has been in practice is not always a good indication of their skills. Ask a lot of questions: What kind of change can we hope to see if our family works with you? Will you give us tools to practice outside of our sessions? Will we all need to attend each session?

    Remember, you are interviewing potential clinicians, and at the same time, they are interviewing your family to see if their skills match your needs. If you’ve found a clinician you like, and they are not currently taking on new clients (which seems to be happening more and more these days with managed care and health insurance challenges!) ask the clinician for more recommendations – therapists tend to know other therapists in their area who have a similar orientation and practice.

    Above all, don’t give up. I know it’s hard. There are a lot of stories out there of therapy situations gone bad, and there a lot of wonderful stories of successful therapy. You and your family deserve professional, useful support to get you through these tough times. Good luck!

    Reply
  14. Debi G (Edit) Report

    From the age of 3 until he got too big, my son had such explosive rages that I had to physically pin him to the floor until he finally screamed himself out. If I didn’t, he would scratch me, rip my nylons or destroy anything in close proximity. At the time, being a new and single parent, I thought it was just normal tantrums. He slowly trained me over the years to give in to him to avoid outbursts. That is not working well for us now. He’s 15 and a smiling sweetheart when he wants something and a raging maniac when he doesn’t get it. If I knew then what I’m learning now I might not be in this position! Debi

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  15. Barbara (Edit) Report

    Where does one go for counseling? I know it’s very important to receive the best help avaliable. How does one evualate a therapist? (We have been to one who essentially said keep doing the things you are doing He’ll grow out of it) but my fears are real, for this child. B

    Reply
  16. Joe (Edit) Report

    Vicki,
    Because there’s a fine line between mean Mommy(Daddy) and harming the child (emotionally or physically). When I find myself getting angry, I put the child in his room, calm down and come back and talk about it calmly later.

    Reply
  17. Elisabeth Wilkins Report

    Vicky, I think your question brings up a good point. To me, “mean mommy” is about losing control and saying or doing something you’ll regret later. Giving my son consequences and sticking to them is a good thing, but losing my temper and yelling in his face (like I did the last time I was really angry–gulp) feels bad for everyone involved. Like Nicole, I apologize to him when that happens and just think, “Next time I’ll try harder not to lose it.” Being strict in certain situations is OK, but I don’t feel good about being mean. And to Renee, everyone gets angry sometimes, but I think you ultimately handled your blue boy (LOL)–and your temper–very well. After I lose control, I try to explain to my son that everyone gets angry sometimes, and remind him that one of the most important things is to make things right afterward by apologizing (sincerely) and admitting you were wrong. Maybe I’m rationalizing a tiny bit here, but I think that’s an important lesson, too–that it’s human to get angry, but if you’re in the wrong or say something hurtful, your job is to make things right later.

    Reply
  18. Vicky (Edit) Report

    Why is it considered to be a mean Mommie when you are trying to teach your child appropriate behavior? Preparing our children for the future has to start somewhere…..it can be especially difficult for single parents, but it is the first time for all parents when they are parenting for the fist time…..we try an do the best for the ones we love and it is a trial an error…..when it works, bravo, when it doesn’t, just try again…..kids are resilent and they are going to be productive adults because of the time, energy and love that is received in training up a child in the way they should go…….

    Reply
  19. Barbara (Edit) Report

    HELP…a 9yr old intelligent boy who is having anger issues. He yells, hits,punches and is very strong. Tried all the consquences I know, removal of TV,Computor,Bike,favorite play items (for a few hours). Time out in room, chair etc. Normally he is a cooperative, sometimes sweet child. NOTHING seems to phase him. Any help out there? Thanks

    Reply
  20. Renee (Edit) Report

    Ooo, I know Mean Mommy very well. She made an appearance today when her 4 year old son colored himself blue. Like, blueberrie blue. All over. In almost certainly permanent stamp pad ink. It wasn’t the fact that he was blue that set me off. This kind of ‘creative expression’ is not new to me and something I usually am fine with. It’s when I said, ‘stand right there, mommy will be right back’…’stand right there’. I was going to get my camera. I had to. My kid isn’t blue every day. When I returned from my 6 foot journey to grab my camera, my blue child was not in the place where I left him and nano-seconds earlier said ‘stand right there’. He had made his way down the hall, over my new beige carpet, into the bathroom, and was washing his hands. Kudos for trying to take responsibility and clean himself up. But I didn’t see it that way at the time. Now the bathroom sink, wood and counter tiles were all blue. The grout was blue. They were stained. For EVER. THAT, is when Mean Mommy reared her ugly head and grabbed him by the arm and more forcefully than was necessary hauled him into the bathtub. Now I was saying loudly over and over, “Mommy is very, very angry. Mommy has never been this angry before. Mommy is so angry right now’. I felt the rage humming through me and still I was thinking to myself… ‘get a grip, lady. It’s just blue. Don’t break him over some stuff. It’s just blue stuff. It’s not worth strangling the sweet beautiful blue boy in this bath tub over. Calm down. You might need a time out’. After several deep breaths and forcing some perspective on myself, I calmed down enough to gently scrub the blue off, which didn’t come off, and to gently dry his little blue skin off with the white towel, that is now blue. And look at him in the eyes and tell him I was sorry for raising my voice and losing my temper and hurting his arm. And after we hugged, I said, ‘you know, I am still very angry’. He said, so solemly, ‘I know, I just wanted to be blue’. Ahh. I feel like I just got through a major crisis. And now that it has been several hours ago, I can look back and realize it was crazy for Mean Mommy to show up at all. Yes I was tired, it was very hot in our home due to the summer weather, I just started my period, and that darn color blue all over my bathroom caused me to see nothing but red… and green, the color of all the money it is going to cost for me to fix it, because I am a renter and will have to pay for the damage. But none of that trumped my little boy, and I’m glad I got Mean Mommy under control, because tonight me and my son are going to bed happy and with light hearts.

    Reply
  21. jean (Edit) Report

    I, alas, also undergo transformation when tired, etc. I usually give myself a “time-out” in the bathroom, or ask hubby to take over. Several evenings hubby has allowed me to drive, go out for coffee, or a walk. Often he can help solve the situation when I’ve had enough, AND vice versa. It’s important to have a signal between the two of us when this is happening. Most important, is realizing that I am overreacting, and put myself on guard before I blow it (and take a nap, eat a snack, or deep breathing).

    Reply
  22. Nicole (Edit) Report

    This is great. My parents were both screamers, and I try hard not to yell but sometimes it just happens. One thing I do is admit when I’m wrong to my kids when I lose my temper. Then we talk about what they did wrong in the first place and work on that. I think they appreciate my honesty with them. It’s hard to change, but it can be done!

    Reply

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