A few weeks ago I came downstairs to find my son chewing on my newly purchased Apple Airpods. He had destroyed them. I didn’t leave them out. I put them in their charging case in a drawer. He found them though. Then he pulled them out and ate them. I lost my temper.
I’m not prone to violence. I can’t remember any time in my life where I’ve gotten so angry I’ve had to put my hands on someone. Anger for me is mostly about yelling and swearing. I’m a big loud person. And I’ve got a bit of resting “I’m going to punch you” face. So when dad flies off the handle around here, it’s not really great for anyone. So I try not to do it. I try really hard. I’m a work in progress. But aren’t we all.
There are three helpful thoughts that help me fail less often.
1-Being angry and behaving angrily aren’t the same thing. Never getting angry as a special needs parent is a nonsensical goal. Anyone that tells you it isn’t is selling something. If you pay $200 for magical Airpods, and they make your life more enjoyable and then your 12 year old who is big enough and smart enough to find them but has a compulsion for eating most things he can put in his mouth and chew, feeling angry is reasonable. It’s human. And it’s not particularly healthy to not acknowledge it. How you behave when angry is a choice. And what makes us grown human men and not animals is the delta between how we could behave and how we do.
2-We are men. Our wives and children are not. We are relatively big and scary. When we fly off the handle, the blast radius is substantial. This consequence is nearly invisible to us. It is not to our kids. It’s especially not to our special needs kids who often struggle with context and nuance and therefore don’t get that we aren’t necessarily mad at them, going to hurt them, or stuck in a raving state forever. The toll we exact on our families with anger is steep.
3-Anger is mostly about expectations. And expectations are a choice. Though it does happen, I rarely lose my temper with my special needs son Aidan. I lose it hourly with my other two kids. The difference is the tell. I don’t quite have my expectations dialed in right with them. With Aidan, I know anything is in play. Expectations are minimal. (I ought to be allowed to have Airpods though dammit) It doesn’t mean I don’t hold him accountable or push for him to improve. It just means that when he doesn’t, that was already priced into the market. And I just roll with it. Recognizing that our triggers are related to how we thought something was going to go helps us set mental markers in advance.
The best one I start with is the one that reminds us that as parents, we control much less than we think. Another great one is to acknowledge, intentionally, that our kids are not extensions or reflections of anyone but themselves. It’s our reactions that are our own.We’re human. We get angry. Behaving less angrily less often is the goal.
Nothing works better than an apology when we blow up. Because anger isn’t necessarily something to apologize for. Behaving like a lunatic when you are, is.