Last Updated on March 19, 2018

Now that the cat’s out of the bag on my anger problem — and I’m finding I’m not alone (a huge thanks for the honesty, ladies!) — I figure I should continue to chronicle a little bit of my journey — you know, at least for the next 20 years or so. As one commenter on Tracey’s post wonderfully stated, “Hi, I’m ___, and I have an anger problem.”

A couple of weeks ago on a road trip, I initiated a heart-to-heart with my husband regarding my approach with our strong-willed child, who was going through a serious and exasperating stage of fit-throwing. I’ve raised three other children not to throw fits, mind you, but they all tried it out for a brief season at one point (which seemed to last forever). Each of my kids has required special effort at this point, particularly with my anger problem. So I was looking for the consistently wise intuition of my husband, who didn’t seem to get as steamed.

“You tend to discipline with your tone of voice,” he gently pointed out.

Of course, my immediate internal reaction was to get defensive (yeah, forget the part that I asked the guy for advice). But the truth: I didn’t really have a leg to stand on. He was right.

When I discipline in anger, I teach my kids that my anger is the threshold to look for — so that they know when to stop.

Later on the road trip, in a book where I was turning to for entertainment, mind you, I learned that when I discipline in anger, I teach my kids that my anger is the threshold to look for — so that they know when to stop. Translation: I’m not stopping because you told me to or because I know it’s wrong, but because you’re about to blow your top. Hmm. I think you might mean it this time. … Maybe I should run.

It reminded me of a parenting analogy I’d heard from Dr. James Dobson that I’d aspired to but rarely attained. Picture a cop pulling someone over, he said. Now cops never have to throw a fit when they walk calmly to your window, but your heart’s speeding faster than you were illegally driving. Are you afraid because of some fed-up look they’re casting through your windshield? Nope. You wisely fear their authority. You know they can give you the consequence they told you about for ignoring that little white posted sign — giving the consequence you (gulp) deserve with a little riiip off that white notepad. They don’t have to throw down their clipboard there on the asphalt and spew, “What did I tell you? Why did you do that?! These people are driving me crazy! I have had it!” But they have the power to make us obey the speed limit simply by glimpsing a row of lights on the top of a car (or was that a bike rack?).

So when my little guy presents through his poor behavior the wordless questions that all children ask — Do you love me? and Can I do whatever I want? I have been trying to answer with calm confidence. “Yes” to the first, Buddy, and “No way” to the second. When he throws a fit, I walk calmly over to him (uh, most of the time) and give him the immediate consequence he came to expect.  Surprise, surprise: the fit-throwing frequency — his and mine — has seriously diminished at my house, as has the stress level of multiple people.

One small step for Mom, one giant step for the Breitensteins.

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  1. Wise, wise words, Janel. Thanks for the reminder–even for a mom of 7-15 yr olds!

  2. Janel Breitenstein says:

    Thanks, Lisa–kind of convicting to read this after writing this not so long ago and realize I'm still struggling with the same stuff. My life seems living proof of our moment-by-moment need of God…!

  3. Wow, excellent illustrations. Mind sharing the source? (i.e. Dobson book, interview, etc. and your source of reading entertainment).

  4. Joyce Carlson says:

    Thanks! I needed to read this today.

  5. Janel Breitenstein says:

    So glad it’s helpful; hoping other moms won’t injure their families in some of the ways my anger has done to my family!

    The Dobson illustration was from a DVD series entitled “Essentials of Discipline”. I would definitely recommend it. And the quote was actually from a (very) secular memoir entitled “Lit” by author and poet Mary Karr, who became a Catholic following her alcoholism. I definitely wouldn’t recommed this as freely, and the references to parenting are actually few and far between. 🙂 It was read more for educational purposes (to enhance my writing style) and cultural reasons (to understand).

  6. Lisette Reyes says:

    Hi there I read, this today and I know it's an old article entry but I do hope you are still blogging. I couldn't help but break down and cry. i am sobbing so hard. I cant type clear so pleaase pardon any typos.My son has ADHD, and I suffer from an inoperable brain tumor, and I just seem to be angry alot, and my son says mommy you are mean, and I wonder why? but I am angry alot because I cant seem to handle his adhd. he is always having anger fits too, so I am not sure if its from me or from his fathers abandonment and lies. He always tries to get my attention and I seem to say hold on minute, wait til later, but he gets angry,has a fit or throws whatever and then I get angry, I yell at him and then it just gets to the point I can't take him anymore, send him to his room or upstairs to his grandmas house. He is 9 yrs old and not on any medication, and it starting to affect his grades in school, he was always a honor roll student and now he went fron "A" to "D", and I am worried, I am seeking professional help for him, but in the meantime, what should I do for myself. He attends church and can not even sit through the session, he embarrasses me everywhere I dont like going anywhere with him, I just close myself up at home and I refuse to leave the house because I am afraid of what people have to say about him acting like a monkey. He just wont listen to me i let him play outside to exert his energy but I think something is wrong with me and I just don't know how much longer i can't take it, i feel like I am going to explode, i have no friends, no social life, and my mother always screams at me telling me that he needs to be take here and there, but I am doing the best that i can, under certain circumstances. i am disabled , and suffere severe migraines and seizures, she drives me nuts, i tell her i dont feel well enough, if she can help, and she just wants to take guardianship over him, i tell her no, because i would have to find his father and then go to court and i have no energy and cant handle all this drama, but all she has to do is give moral support, but my whole 39 yrs she hasnt helped me morally she is a hard woman, she let me move back under specific rules but I have no life, no friends,and I am a prisoner under her house. I try the best mom i can and I dont know how, and feel so bad for my son,.

  7. Lisette,

    Thank you so much for your honesty–for pouring out your heart here. My heart breaks for you. I am standing here praying for you as I type. Though I haven't gone through what you've gone through, I have struggled against the hopelessness I feel in my anger. I want to respond to you in a personal way, so I'll attempt to contact you through your e-mail address.

    For now, let me assure you first that you are not alone: that Jesus is with you there at your mom's house in the midst of such physical pain and a son that feels out of your control and a broken relationship with your mom. He promises you, Lisette, that He's your refuge, your strength, your ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1). I'm praying tonight that He causes you feel that promise deeply: that it envelops you and you can fall into it.

    He also promises you that we are more than conquerors through this powerful God who loves us–loves you, completely, right there in the midst of you feeling so isolated, hurting, and struggling with anger (Romans 8:37). He is helping me in very real ways to overcome my anger. I know He can give you what you need to be a great mom to your son. I personally find a lot of hope in the promise that He will give me everything I need for life and godliness (1 Peter 1:3). I am praying right now that He will fill you to the brim with hope, faith, and perseverance.

    I would hug you if I could!! Keep going, Lisette. Hang in there. God *will* be faithful to you. You are deeply loved.