Dear David Coleman: I'm being screwed over by builders and I'm taking my anger out on my children
Clinical psychologist David Coleman offers parenting advice in his weekly column.
Q. I recently had a bad experience with some house renovations where the builders really let us down; I was completely fooled by them. I still feel angry with the builders, and at myself for being conned. My problem is that this is impacting how I parent my children. I know that I am getting too cross with them. I am shouting at them and then I feel so guilty. I love being a stay-at-home mum, but I feel like it would be better for them if I went back to work. They have become very emotional and needy and I know this is my fault. What should I do?
David replies: Displacement of anger is incredibly common. Situations can easily arise in work or life that frustrate, annoy, embarrass or infuriate us and, for whatever reason, we are unable to direct that anger appropriately to those involved in the situation.
The key to getting yourself back on track is to begin to process what it was about that experience with the builders that was so upsetting and then to see if there is anything that you can proactively do to resolve it.
Perhaps start by reviewing exactly what happened and try to recall what you felt at each stage. In your review, examine if there were opportunities for you to have done anything different? Could you have influenced what happened or were you entirely at the mercy of other people?
This is not to find fault with yourself, but simply to be able to learn from any mistakes so that you can develop strategies for dealing with similar situations in the future.
While it might not be possible to forgive the builders yet, it may be possible to forgive yourself for being human (and fallible!), for trusting, for hoping and for wishing that things would be easier. Perhaps you were naive, but perhaps that just makes you normal too?
After your review, you may want to look at what remedies, or actions, are open to you with regard to the builders.
If there is something you can do, to make the situation better, then do it. If there isn't then you have to (perhaps grudgingly or disappointedly) let it go. If you have done all you can, there is no point holding onto grievances or guilt. It may just be an exceptionally harsh lesson in life about trust and about the greed or selfishness of others.
Resolving some of your feelings of anger and upset will allow you to return to a more even keel.
It is great that you already seem to recognise that your children are bearing the brunt of your bad mood and self-recrimination.
Instead of being able to deal out doses of anger to the builders who let you down, you are being triggered by small things your children do and over-reacting angrily with the intensity you might prefer to be doling out to the builders.
You are probably correct that this is contributing to some insecurity (visible as neediness like you describe). Bear in mind that your children may not link your bad mood to the building work, but will probably feel that they are responsible, even though they don't quite know why.
Use this insight.
So, when your children misbehave, as I am sure they do from time to time, be aware and alert to the intensity of your own response. If it seems to you like an over-reaction then you can, and should, dial it back. Explain to your children that you are in a bad mood, or that you feel angry with the builders.
Let them know, clearly, that this is not their fault. Apologise if you have been overly harsh with them. Build back up lots of positive interactions with them, at other times, to balance out any occasions where you have been too angry with them.
Your children are lucky to have a parent who can be at home with them full-time. You also love the job of being a full-time parent. This is a win-win. Don't be disheartened because things are difficult now; in six months, or a year, or when the house is properly renovated, this might just seem like a bad dream, so don't make drastic changes in the middle of a potentially short-term crisis.
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