No matter how well you handle stress, you’ll inevitably have a moment (or two or ten) when you lose your shit in front of those you care about. Maybe you yell about something that doesn’t really matter, or your fuse will be short in response to an everyday, frustrating kid moment, or you’ll go off on your partner for something that didn’t merit such intensity (or it did, but you’d typically be able to wait until you cool off internally and address it with him/her later).
Parents can experience a surprising degree of shame after a lose your shit moment, perhaps because our idealized image of a good parent places a very high virtue on patience. In other words, we imagine that to be a good parent, we should have an endless supply of emotional restraint and the eternal wherewithal to invoke it. The truth is, how we approach ourselves and our loved ones after the fact is far more important than avoiding a lose your shit moment in the first place. There are significant lessons to be learned from rupture and repair, far more than possible if you never show imperfections in the first place.
Of course I lose my sh*t. Some days my fuse is short and some days my kids, or my partner does things that really piss me off.
What To Do (Bites)
Address your child
The most important thing is to acknowledge the possible impact on your child. Often the negative effects of a traumatic experience are caused by a lack of acknowledgment rather than by the traumatic episode itself. It’s fine to apologize and explain what you were feeling, but don’t overly dwell on your distress or guilt with your kid, which can be a burden to her. Acknowledge that you had a blow up even though this isn’t how you like to deal with being upset, and that this might have created upset or worry in them. Then ask clearly and directly how he/she feels. These are all vital to the “repair” stage. Give her time to voice her reactions and to ask you questions, and let her know that neither of you were in any danger. You might end with “ok, if you have anything else on your mind about what happened, let’s talk about it,” keeping the window open for conversation and the sharing of feelings. With younger, less verbal children, you might do some of this through play and gentle tones.
Losing it on occasion is within the realm of healthy functioning. If it’s happening frequently, it’s probably time to address whatever underlying issues are there, whether on your own, with a friend, or with a mental health professional. But, if this is a once in while occurrence, first acknowledge that you were feeling overwhelmed and check in with the conditions that created the blow up. Did you take on too much that day? Was there something that could have been left for later/tomorrow? Could someone have helped out? Were you still upset about something brewing between you and your partner from last week? Disrupted sleep? Observe the conditions if possible, and see which are external and changeable.
No promises for next time
Do not promise yourself this is never going to happen again, even if that is your intention. You may set yourself up for a shame spiral if you do wind up losing your cool. Instead, if you do notice that the conditions are in place for a blow up, and you recognize some of the precursors (feelings of tightness in your chest, picking your kid up from daycare, being home without your partner for a couple of days…), practice recognizing that you are vulnerable to a blow up. That’s it. Just notice. You may be able to circumvent it. If not, start over with bite one above and move through: address your child, address yourself, no promises for next time…
Take a time-out for yourself. When you’re feeling on the verge, tell your child that you’re taking a time-out to cool your temper. It’s good mentoring and getting away from the situation can help.
Plan other options for the time when you might lose it again. What might you have done or said instead? The point is not to stew in regret but to implant an action plan for future scenarios in your mind, just in case these conditions come up again.
Breathing, meditation and strategizing around transitions (we have a bite for that too!) are handy strategies for managing stress.
Hope you found this helpful! Got a topic you’d like some wisdom on? Let us know.