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Turning Anger into a Peaceful Heart

If your partner is a lightning rod for your irritation with the kids. Some of this is inevitable, especially if you're spending long stretches alone with young children. It's just a lot easier for him to be a kind of shock absorber if you let him know that you're venting about the children, and not angry with him personally. And you can deal with your irritation with the kids directly, by doing what's possible to change things so they're less grating on you.

If your kids are a lightning rod for your irritation with your partner. Merely becoming aware of this usually makes it stop, since it's about the last thing most moms would ever want to do. And it's a wake-up call to address issues forthrightly with your partner.

If issues with your job are spilling over onto your family. Please take a look at this article.

If your childhood is getting mixed into your anger. Like getting really mad at one child picking on another because that's what happened to you. Or becoming tense and irritable at meals because your dad would usually be drunk by then. At this point, you know lots of ways to deal with childhood issues transferred into the present, so simply naming them to yourself will start you on a path of separating them from the here-and-now realities of your life, and working with them in their own right.

If you're taking things too personally. Young children generally have no idea of their impact on their moms and dads. It's not realistic to expect the same empathy or consideration for yourself from your child that you would from another adult. Kids are like a force of nature; it's not personal when a bull knocks over dishes in a china shop.

And its not just your kids. The intentions we attribute to others make a big difference in how we feel. An ancient Chinese parable says it well: Imagine you are sitting on a small boat on a river in the fog. Suddenly there is a loud crash against your boat and you are tipped over into the cold water. You come up sputtering and see that another boat full of laughing people has intentionally run into you; how do you feel? Now imagine the same situation, the same crash and dunking, but this time you come up sputtering and see that a submerged log has drifted into your boat; how do you feel?

For better or worse, the world is basically one log after another - whether it's your son's snit fit, policies at the preschool, or your boss's latest brainstorm - and none of it is about you personally. Even reactions that seem to be about you, such as a partner's criticism, were set in motion long ago, shaped by a biology, culture, and individual history that have nothing to do with you. Nobody likes getting whacked by "logs," and of course it makes sense to manage them as skillfully as possible. But if you can treat them more like impersonal facts, they won't make you as angry.

If you feel frustrated. Motherhood contains inescapable frustrations, and frustration is a major trigger for anger. For example, there's no way anyone could possibly do everything on your daily to-do list in one day; you can't pursue your career while staying home, but you can't be with your kids while you're at work; and you can't make your partner see it your way if he genuinely disagrees. All completely normal - and routinely maddening. One way to cope is to admit to yourself, and perhaps to others, that you cannot change the situation: basically, you give up. Doing so usually brings a kind of peace. It also sends a healthy message that you can't do it all, and you shouldn't have to try. And it sometimes gets other people, such as your partner, to help out more.

Another way to cope with frustration is to lower your standards: if you're more willing for your son to wear yesterday's grass-stained jumpsuit, you'll feel less cranky about the seven interruptions that got in the way of the laundry. You could also focus your attention on what you are doing or could be doing to improve the situation rather than on the places where you're being stymied. Or think about the future when the source of frustration will have ended: most things involving children really do get better over time.

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From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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