III. What’s a Grumpy Mom to Do?

Irritation happens. What to do?

In the moment: we feel a flare up of irritation.

Acknowledging and allowing the emotion, we say to ourself “I feel irritated, and that’s okay.”

We take a moment to focus on our breath, saying the words to ourself: “breathing in, breathing out.” This slows us down, calms our nervous system and restores a sense of control. Placing a hand on our heart adds warmth and safety; letting our exhale be an audible sigh releases tension.

Breathing in, we imagine calm and compassion for ourself, our kids and the situation, whatever it may be. Breathing out, we let go of irritation for the burned bacon, parking ticket, or bowl of oatmeal upturned onto the carpet. 

All this may take 20-30 seconds.

Of course, we take care of our child and address whatever needs attention. When we can do so while calm rather than irritated, we are much more kindly, clearheaded and effective.

What if irritation sticks around? Well, irritation, grumpiness, actually all emotions arise out of what’s going on in our brain- our thoughts. So, we can pay attention to what we are thinking. We may be spinning some thoughts over and over: “That kid! It’s a no parking zone! Doesn’t he pay attention? Does he think I’m gonna pay for the ticket?” 

Can you see how thinking those thoughts would cause agitation? And when agitated, how would we likely handle the situation? Probably in an angry and accusative way, without clear thought, without firm grounding.

So, when we notice we are spinning in thoughts, making ourself agitated, fueling actions that aren’t helpful, we can ask ourself: 

 How else can I look at this?

 Is there another way to think about it? 

 What are the basic facts of the situation? 

 Is it helpful to be angry at him? 

 What was it like to get my first ticket?

 How do I want to feel toward him?

 Could this be an opportunity for my son to take responsibility for his actions?

 Can I be firm about that and also compassionate as he deals with his first parking ticket?

In this case, the irritation sticking around was an opportunity to notice and take responsibility for our thoughts. To look inward and redirect our brain. We became mindful of the adult responsibilities he has now that he is driving. We have an opportunity to help him negotiate the system, perhaps discuss how he will earn the money to pay for it, and of course, learn to pay better attention in future.

In this scenario, we redirected our thoughts, and transformed irritation into clarity, resolution and connection. 

In the first scenario, we borrowed wisdom from meditation traditions and neuroscience to turn irritation into kindness and calm.

In each way we find opportunity to learn and grow as parents, and as human beings.

II. Some Good Things To Know

Attention, Moms! Whether your kids are babes in arms, are almost old enough to join the Army or maybe even have their own army of kids, sometimes you get grumpy with them. Irritated, frustrated, impatient, angry, resentful.

You will probably think the reason you are grumpy is something like: your little one dumped her oatmeal on the carpet, your son got a parking ticket or the bacon burned.

But your grumpiness isn’t caused by the oatmeal, ticket, bacon or anything your kids do or say. You are grumpy because of what you are thinking about, for example, your daughter dumping the oatmeal. Perhaps that she shouldn’t have done that, or now you’ll be late for work, or she did that out of spite, or clumsiness, or whatever. 

How do I know this? Because no matter what happens, you get to choose how you respond to it. What you make it mean. You can choose what to think about the oatmeal or anything else. How you feel will depend on what you think.

That said, let’s say you are irritated about the oatmeal. You might feel like slamming a door and yelling at your little one. 

If you are able to stop yourself from acting out of irritation, from speaking unkind words, is that the end of it? What then happens with your negative feelings, with your negative thoughts?

Irritation or anger that is turned inward will eventually make its way out, perhaps as a slow drip, perhaps in a outburst. The thought that caused the irritation also still remains, unexamined and unprocessed. How we behave with our kids is important, but so too is how we feel and what we think. 

I have read that our brains produce 60 thousand thoughts a day, and 80% of those thoughts tend to be negative. This is because our brain is constantly looking for problems, alerting us, protecting us from danger.

So, when negative thoughts pop up, we can remind ourselves that nothing has gone wrong, that our brain is just doing its job. 

We can remind ourselves that no matter what happens with oatmeal, bacon, tickets or our kids, we can choose what we want to think about it. 

We can learn healthy ways to deal with negative emotions.

Next week we’ll get into specifics. See you back here for III. What’s a Mom to Actually Do?

I. Confessions of a Harried Mom

When I had my first kid, in my twenties, I didn’t have much of a filter. I said what came to mind and mopped up any messes later.

When I had my second kid I was in my thirties, and I had learned my lesson. Or had I? I didn’t want to be a mean mom. I had learned enough to (usually) hold my tongue when I was angry or frustrated. But I hadn’t learned what to do with those unlaunched, unkind thoughts. 

Those thoughts like:

You should know this by now.

Why do you make it so hard?

Can’t you see I’m doing something right now? 

I was surprised when this second son said to me, years later: You do this passive aggressive thing, Mom.

But it makes sense to me now, looking back. There must have been tons of times when I didn’t actually say unkind words out loud to him, but the irritation behind the words would find their way out through my tone of voice or the look on my face. 

So what is the solution? Moms are human. Even the loviest moms get irritated and impatient sometimes. What can we do with those grumpy thoughts that rise up unbidden? 

Turns out, there is a lot you can do. 

So this is gonna be a three-parter. Check back to this space for upcoming parts II and III:

II. Some Really Good Things To Know

III. What’s a Mom to Actually Do?