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I can't remember the last time that I was good and truly angry. All of the other emotions that often turn into anger, yes. Sadness, embarrassment, overwhelm, annoyance, impatience, confusion, anxiety, and plain old tiredness. I think these emotions often segue into anger because it's more comfortable for some people to be angry than to feel vulnerable. Anger has the illusion of empowerment. There's a saying something like, if you're not angry, you're not paying attention. I get the idea behind it, especially looking at things from a broad perspective. There are so many things in this world that one could get angry about.
I think anger can prompt people into a more active role in a personal situation, but does it bring about positive change? Does anger at injustice prompt healthy solutions, or even steps toward healthy solutions?
What about anger within our families? Now, I'm not the mama who never raises her voice or says a mean word. I lash out at times, especially at my kids, not because I think I have the right to, but because I'm human. Even with the ideals of respectful, peaceful parenting, no one is immune to temperamental moods. If my words or actions turn harsh, I often follow with an apology, and a simple explanation. "I'm not angry at you, I'm . . . " (stressed, overwhelmed, whatever I am in the moment). "I'm sorry that I reacted that way."
I think parental anger often stems from a feeling of desperately wanting control over a child's behavior.
Maybe most parents think that they have the right to control their children's behavior. Not just a right, but a responsibility to do so, perhaps. Then, if certain behaviors are not controlled it becomes a matter of utmost importance. What if we take a radical step back from control and say that children have the right to determine their own behavior? Not in a vacuum, not void of parental input, but with parents as loving partners trying to help them navigate this confusing world. What if we see their missteps, not as a personal affront, not as a challenge to our authority, but as a signal that they need more sweetness, more positive input and loving guidance? That's the opposite of punishment, no?
Punishment: "You screwed up; you deserve to feel worse about it than you already do." This comes across through lecturing, time outs, loss of privileges, spanking, shaming, etc.
What if after that thing they do that seems wrong or drives us crazy, we see that they are simply less-experienced people than we are and that we might have unrealistic expectations of them. This takes some of the personal sting out of it. Then, we can work towards mutually agreeable solutions, rather than "because I said so" answers.
I really want my children to be kind, generous, interesting people, but I don't force them to share, or carry on conversations that they don't want to participate in, or take classes they are not interested in, or eat things they don't like. I do encourage them to be thoughtful of others' feelings as they are able, and respectful of other people's personal space and belongings.
This might seem all good for an unschooler, but what about when a child has school obligations that are unyielding? When Camille chose to go to school, I helped her to do so. I helped her by packing lunches and making sure there were clean clothes for her. I offered homework help if she wanted it, a ride to school if she missed the bus, a reminder of a late hour in the evening. Ultimately, it was her choice when to go to bed, to get up in the morning, to get on the bus, to participate in the school's expectations, etc. She chose to participate in all of those things willingly and eagerly, every day, for most of a school year, until it became obvious to all of us that unschooling was a better fit for her education.
Even with something like school in the picture, we could choose to be partners (friends, even) to our children, rather than their gatekeeper, their punish-er, or their adversary.
I wonder why anger towards children and control of them seems to be held in such high esteem. While, friendliness, joyful partnering, kindness and respect, these parental traits are often ridiculed. The thinking is, children will become spoiled, parents will get walked all over, in short, nothing less than total chaos will ensue. This has been so far from my experience. When problems do arise, between siblings, parent-child, or outside of the family, we address those issues. We work towards a better choice the next time, and we continue to seek a balance.
It's not a perfect existence, but it's a good life. This.
Camille, age 9, throwing a hatchet and lighting a fire