I’m a new dad and I sometimes get incredibly angry when my son cries. Of course I haven’t acted on my anger, but I’m feeling really guilty that I get so mad in the first place. I’ve always been a pretty patient guy, but I don’t think I’ve ever had such intense feelings before. Am I a bad parent?
Babies have an amazing capacity to bring out feelings in us that are powerful, unfamiliar, and sometimes scary. On the positive side, we get to experience being on the receiving end and the giving end of unconditional love — something I don’t believe exists between adults. On the negative side, there are the feelings you described. We’d all like to believe that we’d throw ourselves in front of a moving train to save our children, but every once in a while they make us so furious that we think (very briefly) of throwing them in front of the train. I know that sounds horrible, but here’s a reality check: Everyone has feelings like that. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying to you or doesn’t have children. So, no, you’re not a bad parent at all.
That said, while there’s nothing wrong with feeling intense anger, it’s what you do with it that can be a problem. Here are some suggestions that can help you get your anger under control.
• Figure out the source. Sometimes it’s the child’s actual behavior. Other times, it could be a health problem, pressure at work, relationship troubles, or just a really rotten day.
• Think like a child. For the most part, babies aren’t able to control their behavior. Crying is normal, and babies will do it for as much as a few hours a day (if it goes on longer than that, have a talk with your pediatrician). Your son’s cries may seem like a deliberate plot to annoy you, but they aren’t.
• Listen. Sometimes babies cry for no particular reason, but other times it’s because they’re hungry, tired, overstimulated, or uncomfortable. If you pay close attention, you’ll learn to decipher your baby’s language. You won’t get it right every time, but the feeling you get when your baby stops crying because you responded appropriately to his needs is incredible.
• Get out. When you start feeling that blinding fury around your baby, the best thing you can do for him and for yourself is to put him someplace safe (a crib is best) and get out of the room for a few minutes. Babies can feel tension in the air, and staying near your son when you’re angry will make him cry even more — and could push you closer to doing something you’d regret for the rest of your life.
• Learn to laugh. As your child gets older, you’ll need to keep your sense of humor. Putting a slice of Velveeta cheese into the DVD player or flushing your car keys down the toilet can cause some damage, but they can also be pretty funny.
• Watch what you say — and what you do. This one is for slightly older kids but it’s good to start thinking about it now. Avoid mixed messages: Screaming at your son to stop screaming won’t help. And stick to “I” messages: It’s more effective to say, “I don’t like it when you write on the wall with lipstick,” than “You’re a bad boy because you wrote on the wall.” And keep in mind that your child will learn more about how he should act when he’s angry from watching you than from time-outs and long-winded explanations.
If you have a question for Armin Brott or for one of our other parenting columnists, please email Express editor Robert Gammon at [email protected]