A wise physician once told me that she teaches medical students anger directed at you is often fear instead. I think understanding what lurks behind anger is key to working with families. Well, key to working with anyone actually.
I was in a meeting at work this week when my cell buzzed with a call. Twice. I left the room to answer the phone.
I missed the call and listened to the voice mail. It was my son’s school phoning. There had been an ‘incident’ at the school, and no he wasn’t hurt, nobody was hurt, but could I call back. I looked at the time. It was 25 minutes until dismissal and my husband was due to pick him up.
Here’s what I felt deep inside in quick succession: a flush of shame, a touch of annoyance, followed by a slow burning rumble of rage. The shame of getting a call from the principal. The annoyance of being pulled out of a meeting, assumption to call ‘mom’ first, when they know damn well my husband works from home and the dismissal bell was about to ring. I called my husband and asked him to head to the school early, and went back to the meeting, my face flushed and my heart rattled.
After finding out the details, I felt agitated at the escalation of an event that the school termed an ‘incident’ that I would call ’12 year old boy mischief.’ This agitation mixed with the shame and annoyance very quickly devolved into anger. I carried around this anger – which felt like a suitcase full of rocks – well into the evening. I went to bed early at 9 pm to try to rid myself of the day. Two days later, I can feel the residual of this rage. It feels like a bad hangover.
If I pause to unpack that suitcase full of angry rocks, I find something interesting. Buried deep inside that suitcase is shame. The shame of being a bad mom for having a kid who is sitting in the principal’s office. The shame mixed with guilt about being at work (maybe if I was at home, he’d wouldn’t ‘misbehave?’). The shame about not being able to magically and telepathically control the behaviour of my child while he was at school.
All I could do when I got home was to hug my son and tell him I loved him even when he made mistakes. Even when other people were angry at him. I told him that I made mistakes too. I told him tomorrow was another day. His eyes were downcast, his mouth was etched into a frown and I knew he felt the shame too. This made me even more angry.
This is where the Mama Bear is born – from this suitcase full of anger. So educators & health professionals, the next time you encounter an ‘complaining’ dad, a ‘hysterical’ mom, a ‘crazy’ parent, a ‘difficult’ caregiver, stop before you label them. Recognize that this anger comes from a biological need to protect our loved ones. Underneath that is sometimes shame, fear and hurt. (Well, sometimes we are just MAD. AT YOU. But that’s another blog post).
I’d suggest taking the time to pause and try to understand the meaning behind the anger, to garner some empathy in your heart and then to demonstrate some compassion. Try not to label, blame, finger-point or counter-punch with anger back at us. Poking an angry Mama Bear in the eye with a stick absolutely does not help. Instead, a little bit of kindness will go a long long way. The most important thing to consider is: how might I feel if it was me?