01/13/2015 10:49 am ET Updated Mar 15, 2015

My Anger Is Hurting My Children

My twins are only two and a half but I get extremely angry when they don't listen. I can go from zero to sixty in a way that is scary. I try to meet their requests/demands but they complain non-stop while I'm doing the best I can. (I work full-time and husband is home with them -- stress is also a factor for sure.) My husband stays calm and even tempered and either ignores their shouts or measuredly responds and teaches. Like many mothers, my anger surprises me as it has never come out like this in my many years on this earth. I feel ashamed but I can't seem to control myself.

I'm glad you wrote in with this question. You may be surprised to hear how many parents secretly struggle with rage, even ones who seem to have it all together often confess privately to me that they are ashamed of how often they lose their temper with their children, often over seemingly small things. Here are my thoughts:

• Get support. Your children are clearly behaving in ways that upset you, but chances are, you're also just plain tired. When we're exhausted or stretched thin, it can be difficult to impossible to maintain a calm tone while little ones are creating havoc. And you have toddler twins! Do things that remind you that you're a person and not just a Request Fulfillment Machine! Please use sitters or swap child care with other parents so you have time to refill your tank--whether that means a date night with your husband, a yoga class, or just time sitting on a park bench, watching the clouds go by.

• Consider the triggers. I just completed a new book and in it, I talk extensively about the importance of looking at what old buttons are getting pushed when we lose our cool with our kids. You mention the fact that they don't listen. Of course that is a common complaint for parents, but if you have a particularly difficult time staying calm when your twins tune you out, it could be that you're being visited by unresolved hurt around being ignored or feeling invisible. Counseling may be highly beneficial for you, not only to address the anger, but to provide you with a time and a place where you get to be heard.

• Adjust your expectations. I'm a fan of Byron Katie's work, which invites us to look at the stressful thoughts that precipitate our upset. You cannot get angry without believing something that contradicts the way things are; in other words, it is only possible to lose your cool when your kids don't listen to you if you think they should listen to you. Now, I know many parents will say, "Of course my kids should listen to me!" Our inner lawyers do a terrific job of building a case for why reality should line up with our expectations. The problem is, when we fight with how things are, we unleash hurt, sadness and fury. Consider the reasons your kids should tune you out, rather than building a case for why they shouldn't, and you may find it easier to keep your cool.

If you find yourself teetering dangerously close to the edge of physical or emotional abuse, walk away and pick up the phone to get some immediate support. There is no shame in needing the calming voice of someone who understands how hard it can be to manage anger.

Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected. She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.

To learn more about her online parenting courses and support, visit her Facebook page or sign up for her free newsletter.

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