Parenting While Angry
PARENTING WHILE ANGRY: An Open Letter to My Clients Originally published on Mediate.com in December 2020
Both of you have contacted me about parenting. This topic is important. It is really more important than how you divide your assets.
You have only one son. This is your chance for each of you to be the wonderful parent that Andrew needs and deserves. How you treat him and how you treat each other will have an enormous effect on him and the person he grows up to be. Mediation is a good place to discuss your parenting concerns.
There are things you can do to make this divorce worse for everyone involved. Please don’t fight often in front of him, and/or make him feel that he must choose which parent to love. He loves both of you; he deserves love from both of you.
It is natural for people to go through angry phases when they are divorcing. At our next mediation session, we can talk about ways to make this divorce as smooth as possible for Andrew. There will be changes, no matter what happens next. How you handle yourselves now will show Andrew how adults behave when they are stressed. So please, if tension builds up, go for a walk, make a cup of tea, or breathe deeply — but don’t put Andrew in the middle of it.
Anger is a universal experience. It can create positive change, or it can be purely reactive and destructive. There is a lesson that I wish I had learned back when my only child was about seventeen. She is an adult now, but parts of the memory are still vivid.
We are both introverts; she is more introverted than I am. At that time, my day job included teaching conflict resolution skills to seventh graders. We were carrying things in from the car, arguing, and getting angrier and angrier. I can’t remember why we were angry, but the issue led to a melt-down for both of us. I decided to teach her how to de-escalate tension — right when we were in the middle of it.
She exploded: “Don’t you try your mediation bullxxxx on me!” She stomped into the house, slamming doors as she retreated.
How would I handle it now? I would make a choice. I would choose not to engage with her while angry. I would not let my anger meet her anger on the battlefield of the moment. I would notice my breathing and repeat to myself “breathe in, hold for three, breathe out.” After a few of these, maybe three or six or ten, my stress would start to recede. Later, when we were calmer, we could talk through the situation.
We might create boundaries, note what triggers each of us, and be respectful in finding ways to deal with them.
It was hard then; it is still hard. I cannot make anyone else change. I can change only myself and my reactions. In mediation, we can explore new ways of communicating that may be helpful for future conversations about Andrew and his developmental milestones.
Georgia Daniels, J.D., Mediator