We’ve all been there. The pressure has built up over hours. We are ready to explode. But wait … you don’t need to become Angry Dad.
I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that some of my most vivid childhood memories of my father are of moments when he lost his temper. My dad was terrifying when he was angry, and I was always terrified of being responsible for making him angry.
That’s how it seemed at the time, anyway: in reality my dad wasn’t particularly scary at all; my fear of angering him was more a fear of my own guilt than of his explosive rage.
He wasn’t a very angry man, either. My dad has always been a fairly gentle, mild-mannered gent, who had his moments of anger like anyone else, but wasn’t more prone to fury than the rest of us.
Nevertheless, his occasional flashes of anger still burn bright in my memory, and there’s a lesson in that: it’s our moments of high emotion that will stick with our kids.
In the heat of the moment, we rarely consider how our mood is going to affect our children in the long term, but if we were asked, I doubt we’d say we hope our kids remember us as angry dads.
For one thing, it’s a cliche, isn’t it, the angry dad? It’s a staple of sitcoms, the father driven to distraction by his family’s shenanigans, ranting and blustering his way through life. Homer Simpson, Archie Bunker, the guy from That ’70s Show … it’s an ancient stereotype. And the last thing you want to do as a real-life father is reinforce stereotypes.
There are more concrete reasons to strive to not be an angry dad, of course. An angry dad IS scary, and it’s awful to think your kids might be scared of you. Any dad worth his salt wants his children to think of him with love, pride and admiration, not fear.
Then there’s the simple fact that when we’re angry, we’re just worse at fathering. Anger clouds your thinking and blurs your judgement — when you lose your temper you’re less likely to make good decisions, and being a good father is all about the quality of your decisions.
And yet anger is inevitable, because fathers, as much as we might wish it to be otherwise, are human. We can restrain our anger, we can keep it under wraps, we can train ourselves to not let it overcome us, but we can never banish it.
There’ll always be moments when anger hits and we just feel like screaming all the swear words we’ve ever known to release the pressure.
Moreover, anger is not without its uses as a dad. There are times it can be helpful to let the child know that what they did has angered you.
As I recall well from my own childhood, angering Dad is something to be actively avoided, so informing a child that a certain activity is likely to anger Dad is a great way to persuade them to actively avoid that activity.
So it’s a matter of balance. Of making sure the inevitable moments of understandable anger don’t become excessive outbursts of irrational rage. Of not letting the useful awareness of fatherly anger become an ever-present terror of “Dad’s yelling”.
Most of all, it’s about remembering, when you feel your anger at your kids rising, that they’re just kids, and you’re the grown-up, and it’s your job to make sure that distinction remains operational. I know I don’t always find that easy.
“His occasional flashes of anger still burn bright in my memory, and there’s a lesson in that: it’s our moments of high emotion that will stick with our kids.”
I’m not a particularly angry person, but there are times I can blow up, when the kids are being disobedient, or squabbling amongst themselves, or just being generally annoying. I’ve lost my temper plenty of times — but I’ve never felt proud of myself afterwards. That’s got to tell you something.
But there are ways you can avoid turning into Angry Dad, guidelines you can make a part of your fathering technique to ensure anger doesn’t get the better of you, and your rage doesn’t come to define you, and your kids’ experience.
Firstly, it’s important to take pre-emptive action — make your move before you get angry. Most dads will, pretty early in their kids’ lives, learn to identify the ways in which the rugrats push their buttons.
Knowing that, you can see the signs early, and lay down the law before they push you over the edge. Far preferable to calmly say to a child, “Please stop that” than to yell and scream at them because you didn’t say it quickly enough.
If you know something might make you angry if it continues for another two minutes, nip it in the bud right now. And make it entirely clear to the young ones exactly what they can and cannot do. If you get angry at them for something you never warned them about, all they’ll get out of it is a keen sense of injustice.
When you do feel that anger bubbling up, train yourself to be slow to action.
As I said, anger clouds your thinking, and when you’re enraged you act on impulse. If you learn to recognise your anger, you’ll be able to hold back, even if just for a few seconds — that might be the breathing space you need.
And I do mean “breathing space”. You’re losing your temper: it’s time for the old “deep breath and count to 10” trick.
Remember that a toddler is likely to be far less in control of their emotions than you are: if you lose it, what you’ll get is two people bawling pointlessly at each other.
Take a breath, take your time, and as angry as you feel, and as much as you might be inclined to vent, try to act only based on thought, not feeling.
It should go without saying that when you do act to discipline your child, physical violence is a total no-no: Angry Dad is a bad look, but Violent Dad is a nightmare.
Beyond that, though, calm and cool should be your watchwords. That’s not to say a dad should never raise his voice or let his emotions show: it’s that when you’re dealing with a young, still-developing mind, you need to show that you’re in charge not just of them, but of yourself.
You need to be able to explain why what they’ve done is wrong, and why the discipline you’re doling out is your choice. Simply blasting them with the full force of your frustration won’t teach them any lesson about their own behaviour: it’ll just teach them that Dad can yell louder than they can.
Anger is nothing to be ashamed of: it’s a normal part of being human, and we all feel it from time to time.
But letting anger get in the way of your relationship with your kids can be disastrous: having a healthy relationship with your own temper will help teach your children to do the same — and the result will be the healthy relationship between you and them.
READ MORE FROM BEN POBJIE:
- 7 ways dads do things differently to mums
- How dads can protect their daughters from loneliness and self-doubt
- You don’t need a list to tell you how to be a ‘good dad’