Catharsis - FamilyEducation

Catharsis

April 05,2011
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

On Thursday last week, I got angry. I did on Friday, too. I don't often get angry. I work hard on keeping perspective, and on practicing internal (and external) deep breathing when I have to. Years of parenting and years of modeling calm behavior to L. during his meltdowns have paid off, I think, and when faced with conflict I almost unconsciously do what I once had to so consciously do: check myself, lower my voice, relax my shoulders, take a step back in physical space, separate that roller-coaster rush of emotions into easily managed compartments. It also helps that I don't like conflict.

"You're so patiently Zen about everything all the time," a friend told me recently. I squirmed inside, because I know I'm not. Not really

While it is important sometimes to get angry, it's not, I believe, helpful to let yourself be caught up in a storm cloud. Sometimes we can't avoid confrontations: they do have an air-clearing quality about them that can help both parties move on.

Still, it's hard to be a parent, a parent of a child with special needs, a wife, a teacher, a colleague, a friend, a daughter, a sister, a human being who cares and not ever come into contact with your own anger.

On Thursday a student was terribly rude to me in class. I had to confront him, and I was angry. I think he needed to know that I was angry, but I still felt ugly inside when I went back to my office. I felt angry that my student's behavior had led me to that frustrated place, to my raised voice and blood pressure, to the storm cloud that tossed me in its grip. It took me about an hour to find my way out of that place and still, even then, the bad feelings lingered on. I think this, for me, is why anger can be so destructive--it not only spreads to others, but it eats away at you, too, even if you don't think you're letting it.

On Friday I found myself caught up in that storm cloud again. This anger was born out of frustration with L.'s school that had been building up for weeks, and from those mama-bear feelings that can take hold of you by surprise. They rise out of you with a force like nothing else. If it's true what they say about the underworld not having anywhere near the fury of a woman scorned then this holds doubly true of a mama who feels her child has been wronged in some way. Over the years I've heard plenty of stories from parents in our AS support group who've gone head-to-head with school staff; sometimes I would listen and wince inside, imagining the messiness of it all, the emotions spilled out like paint, staining everything in its path. I guess we've been lucky, in a way, that we've worked so well with the good resource staff at L.'s school--maybe that's what fueled our recent frustration: high expectations that crashed down in pretty alarming ways last week. It's been a disappointing school year, and I'm sad about it. Lately it seems that everyone's been very good at telling us what they think is wrong, but no one seems able to offer any solutions.

I've been thinking a lot about anger lately, as we help L. learn how to deal with his own, and we help T. learn how to deal with his. Living with someone whose moods are so unpredictable has taken its toll on all of us--this year more than others. Life with L. involves the constant weighing of one battle against another, and constant strategizing--some days more than others. We've had a tough year and our home, over the course of many months, has become a battlefield--almost without our realizing it. Scott and I have been doing a lot of  handing out sweeping consequences to L. in the dictatorial, no-explanations-necessary-because-we-said-so manner of parenting we always tried hard NOT to model.

And I guess I've been feeling kind of angry about it all, kind of alone, and kind of pushed-to-breaking-point, too.

All this time helping L. cope with his anger, and I didn't realize the need to acknowledge my own.