Parental rage (1): why you can get so angry at your children

In the first of a two-part article, Charlene Aquilina discusses how parents may lose their temper with their kids even if they love them more than anything else in the world
Photo: Shutterstock.com

Parenthood changes your life completely. Every parenting phase brings with it beautiful aspects, but also new obstacles. Although very often social media focuses on that which is beautiful − and it is important that we celebrate this − it is also important that we create more awareness about the extent to which one can be emotionally affected as a parent.

For example, a parent may experience strong emotions of anger towards their offspring. Here I will be describing this phenomenon which is known as ‘parental rage’, as well as discuss where this might be coming from and what one can do about it.

What does ‘parental rage’ mean?

‘Parental rage’ is not a diagnosis, but is a word that one can use to describe a deep emotion of anger related to the raising of children. An individual may be the calmest person in the world, however when they start parenting, it could be that they encounter certain situations which press buttons that they never knew existed before. These might be originating from their own childhood and past experiences, as well as experiences related to the major transition when one becomes a parent.

That very same emotion, which manifests itself as anger, might be hiding other deeper emotions such as sadness, solitude, lethargy, frustration, anxiety and confusion, among others.

Although one might be grateful and content that they are a parent, this does not exclude the fact that there are many challenges and that parenthood is rather tiring.

One might also miss their former life, where there could have been more independence, more opportunities or career investment, more enjoyment together as a couple, or more time for hobby/leisure activities, etc. When one becomes a parent, there is a possibility that one ‘loses their identity’ for a short while, until one gradually finds it again, and continues to flourish with their new role as a parent.

“It is our responsibility, as parents, to learn to understand, control and express our emotions”

When one experiences ‘parental rage’ and loses their temper in an uncontrolled manner with their children, there is a significant possibility that they would experience remorse and feelings of guilt later on. That same person could also start to have doubts as to whether they are a good parent or not.

We know that there isn’t any perfect parent, but we can be good enough parents, where we reflect, we ask for an apology when we are wrong and we learn from our experiences. Continuous criticism is never beneficial. Therefore, when we suddenly feel that great anger, it is important that we pause for a while, take a breath and see what can calm us down. We might also try to figure out where this anger might be coming from, as well as what we can do about it in turn.

Factors related to ‘parental rage’ include lack of sleep, hormonal change after pregnancy, feelings of stress, financial stress, relationship problems with the partner/spouse, difficulty related to childcare, unmet emotional needs and strong simulation of our senses.

How can ‘parental rage’ affect the relationship with our partner?

Each and every emotion is valid and important; it emerges for some reason or another and has a specific function. Therefore, we are not here to judge our emotions, but rather so that we are able to accept what we are feeling and to work on it, so as to be able to express it in a healthier manner.

When an individual starts to feel emotions of anger and sadness, among others, it is always important that one communicates about this with his/her partner upon feeling calmer. Communication is one of the cornerstones for a more secure and a stronger relationship. If we feel ourselves becoming distant from our partner, it is important that we take action as soon as possible, and that we are not afraid of searching for further help where this is necessary.

How can ‘parental rage’ affect the relationship with our children?

When as parents we regularly use derogatory language with our children, we would be increasing the possibility that they would feel themselves underserving of love or worthless. This could increase unruly behaviour, as well as physical symptoms, such as feeling unwell. Children might also start to find it more difficult to concentrate, to play and to learn new things.

As parents we should never be abusive towards our children, both physically and emotionally. Violence and aggression cannot be justified; they cause a lot of harm. Research shows that children who come from an upbringing where there was abuse are more likely to suffer from emotional problems in the future and are less self-confident.

It is, therefore, our responsibility, as parents, to learn to understand, to control and to express our emotions. If we ourselves are not capable of doing so, how can we expect this from our children? The children’s brain would still be developing, and it would not yet be capable of controlling certain impulses and emotions.

It is our duty as parents that we support our children throughout this process that, yes, it requires a lot of patience and support, and even more patience.

Charlene Aquilina is a clinical psychologist and family therapist. This article is being published in collaboration with Positive Parenting Malta.

Part two will be published tomorrow. For more parenting articles, click here. For more Child articles, follow this link.

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