It’s 3:30am and your 4 month old daughter is awake for the second time tonight. Your wife breastfed her an hour ago and is, of course, exhausted. You’re pacing with your daughter in the living room and her blood curdling screams are relentless… she’s hardly taking a breath in between wails. You’re doing your best to keep your cool, breathe… it’s hard, really hard. You’re thinking about everything you will have to do at work tomorrow, how much you want to go back to bed, and your blood is starting to boil. No one warned you about managing your anger as a parent.
It’s your first vacation as a new family. Masks are off, work has been super stressful and now it’s time to chill, have fun and let loose a little. You’ve just arrived at your AirBnB with your wife and your 7 month old baby boy. The weather is gorgeous; it’s a perfect day to play golf or go to the beach. And you just read that there’s a new beer garden that just opened up five minutes away. But before you can even unpack and settle in, your son is hot and sweaty, he’s feverish and now you are googling UrgentCare clinics in the area. All you can think about is how you’ve lost your freedom. ARRRGGGHHH!!
Moments like these make Dads mad. The adjustments that take place after you have kids have a way of triggering extremely intense emotions, and can contribute to fathers feeling guilty or ashamed. As a psychotherapist who specializes in working with men, I have seen it over and over. But all is not lost!
Managing Your Anger as a Parent
- First, it’s important to conceptualize what anger is. Here’s how I describe it: a feeling that comes over us when something important or precious to us is threatened.
- In the first example above, the Dad is pacing around the living room with his daughter while his sense of what’s normal is being threatened, along with his peace of mind, his sleep and his confidence in his own mastery and competence. “If I were any good at this, wouldn’t she be asleep in my arms right now?”
- In the second example, the Dad is excited about his time off and suddenly what’s being threatened? His freedom, his ability to relax, enjoy himself, and any form of self-care. “For frig’s sake, why does he have to pick now to get sick?”
- I invite you to ask yourself, what turns you into a mad dad? Think about the last time you blew up or got frustrated and irritated — what pushed your buttons? In that moment, what was getting threatened? Whatever that is, if you can name it, I’ll bet you it’s really important to you. So take a deep breath and try to name it. In learning how to manage your anger, it’s essential to see that anger arises for a really good reason.
Alright, here’s the key point to remember — getting mad does NOT mean you’re a bad person. In fact, it just means you’re human, and that’s what your kid needs you to be. Getting mad, Dad, is a normal emotion and when you learn to take a step back and see the root cause, then you will have taken the most important step in learning how to manage your anger as a parent.
About The Author
John C. Carr, LICSW, is a licensed independent clinical social worker/psychotherapist based in Boston Ma. He specializes in supporting men and new fathers to be actively involved, consciously aware and well equipped to be their best selves. His book “Becoming a Dad: The First Three Years,” has sold more than 50,000 copies and is part of the Great Expectations Series. John lives in the suburbs of Boston with his wife and three children.