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It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad world

By Justine Dorton

Can we please talk about anger? No one wants to talk about it. No one wants to admit they ever get angry. I didn’t really even know I had any anger in me until I had children. Ben, my first child, was only a few weeks old. It was sometime after midnight and before 6 a.m., and Ben was awake. Awake for the fortieth time that night. Awake and screaming for unknown reasons. I stammered out of bed, and anger swelled up from my feet, through my legs, and settled in my chest. I was fuming. Why wouldn’t this child sleep? What need could he possibly have that I had not already met during one of the previous 39 visits?

This angry feeling took me quite off guard. Up to this point, my sweet child, my beautiful new baby, was a miracle to behold. He hadn’t slept through the night on any of his previous nights with us, but I was angelically patient with him. This night, however, would signify the break from my past self. It signified my first meeting with “the end of my rope”. I had never really even felt anger before, not like this. I frankly didn’t even know I could have these feelings in me. I was under-rested, and over-loaded. Many reading this will understand these feelings.

Maybe that’s why I liked Ailene Long’s piece so much from our Spring 2005 issue.

So, let’s fast forward around 9 years. Anger is more a managed part of my life. I feel anger, at some point, every week of my life. I hate to see that in writing. I hate that it has truth to it. But it does.

I found myself out of control a few days ago, when two of my children attempted to fill the basement with water for unknown reasons. Fuming and yelling, I threw towels toward them, hollering about water damage, hundreds of dollars coming out of their allowance, I think I may have even called them criminals at some point (“what’s a criminal??” my 6 year old stammered out through her tears.) I hadn’t been this angry in some time, and when my husband got home, offering to skip his Mutual meeting with the Young Men so I could leave and go for a drive alone, I declined. I did not want to feel better. I wanted to keep being angry. When I started to calm down, I would pull the picture of water pouring out of the bathroom door into my mind to keep me good and mad.

Hours later, when I had inevitably calmed down, I reflected on that desire to hang on to my anger. I sat on the couch in my bedroom and sobbed. I don’t want to be a parent anymore, I cried to no one in particular. I obviously don’t have what it takes. I hate feeling angry, I hate watching myself yell. I hate seeing how I am ruining my children. The problem with these emotions, of course, is that they constitute a part of the natural man. They represent everything we are supposed to shun. Feelings of anger, inadequacy, hurt, self-loathing, they all intertwine with the adversary’s plan.

Of course, I don’t think seriously about giving up. But the idea of sitting on my couch, telling my husband that I am done being a parent somehow consoles me. To merely verbalize my own inabilities soothes my aching nervous system. Where did this horrible monster inside of me come from? The answers are too obvious for me to readily accept.

I shared the story of my flooded basement with my friends at playgroup. I told them the problem and the run-down of what happened. I did not, however, tell them I would have liked to walk out of the house and come back in a year. I didn’t tell them about how I was hording my anger and keeping it close to me so I could keep myself from feeling better. I didn’t tell them about sobbing for ½ an hour in my bedroom later that night for all the conflicting feelings that were coursing through me.

This, I know, can be attributed as “MY PROBLEM.” I, until recently, thought it was solely, “my problem.” I am beginning to believe otherwise. At the very least, I am clinging to the hope that I am not the only woman in America who has these feelings, and actively works to try and subdue them from sight.

There is certainly a level of necessity in not baring all for the world to see every moment of the day. We as a society would never accomplish anything if we laid everything bare and were always blubbering about our innermost feelings to anyone that would listen. I am not talking about that kind of disclosure. I am, however, talking about finding out that you are not alone. It’s the kind of feeling you get when you see someone else’s child throwing a huge screaming fit at the grocery store. I always exhale a healthy sigh when I see those scenes. It means I am not alone. It means that woman trying to ignore the screaming mass of flesh stuffed into the cart understands part of me. And I understand her. Without speaking to each other, one more crack has been placed in my wall of misunderstanding and fear.

And when Ailene says things like, “It’s so hard!…It’s impossible!” I somehow feel I’ve found a kindred spirit. Am I a crazy lady? Yeah, don’t answer that.

About Justine Dorton

Justine is a mother to five children, and has a husband lodged somewhere (probably in the den). She is not very fond of speaking of herself in third person.

16 thoughts on “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad world”

  1. I vividly remember the anger fest that I had during my trip home last year. My husband and I were in the process of buying our first house and dealing with a three-month separation while we were waiting for the closing date. I think I managed to yell at everyone during my trip, my kids, parents, in-laws, hubby. I just felt so out of control and was reaching that point in my mothering career where, like Ailene, I couldn't remember why I chose to have my two boys.

    It\'s ironic because I was just talking to a friend last night who shared a similar experience with me. And I can say with the utmost authority that you\'re definitely not alone.

    But, I can\'t seem to get out of my mind that vision of the \"perfect\" mother that doesn\'t do this. Does she exist? Probably not. But, goodness I feel far far away from her.  And maybe that's OK.

  2. That's the problem with Mother's Day. All our darling children stand up at the front of the church and sing about patient, loving, kind mothers, and we all look around and think, "Where? Not me!"

    I maintained the calm mother image pretty well for the first couple of kids, but somewhere between number 3 and number 5 it all fell apart. Sometimes I wonder if that just means I have too many kids, but then I look at them and marvel at what great people they are–all 5 of them–in spite of me and my limitations. And I then remember that this is God's work, not mine.

    Once I was telling my husband once how much pressure I feel to live up to the ideal of motherhood, and he said, "Yes, but I'm supposed to lead our family the way Christ leads the church. Isn't that pressure?" I had never judged him so harshly–I recognize his mortal limitations and love him anyway. So I'm trying to remember to see myself in the same way.

  3. Although I have to say I loved Ailene's essay for a totally different reason. It spoke to me as someone who has experienced the difficulty of "interning" in a new job as a stay at home mom, and as someone who continues to struggle with reconciling a desire to impact the world with the seemingly small and sometimes mundane quality of life at home with small children. I love the way she creates such memorable "snapshots." A year and a half after we published this I still remember the hot kitchen, the flamingo pose, and that stunning moment of clarity when the spirit spoke to her.

  4. I'm sure the pressure we feel to fulfill our roles is something we are supposed to slough off. If I feel this much pressure even after I die, I need to be better at dealing with it!

    I actually think I'm getting better. Strangely enough, I am mostly able to feel better about my job here when I am staying home more, not running around town, not spending money, and getting enough exercise. It's all connected for me. If I am overspending, overeating, overindulging, I am waaaayyy less patient with everyone around me.

  5. I have spent a lot of time being scared of my anger, and scared of my children's anger. And I've tried to scare THEM about their anger too (they're already scared of mine!) One memorable day many years ago I yelled at my son, who was yelling at my daughter, "YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH YOUR TEMPER! AND SOMEDAY, YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE KIDS AND YOU'RE GOING TO HURT THEIR FEELINGS!!"

    Yeah. Classic.

    I've relaxed considerably about many things, but anger is still a sticky spot for me. The scriptures are clear about the problems with anger, and I want to subdue it and eliminate it. But I think one cause of my ongoing struggle with depression is a lack of capacity to deal with my anger. Stuffing it doesn't work well.

  6. When I walked into my first Native American Church ceremony (which for me was a stepping stone to returning to activity in the LDS church) everyone told me I was incredibly angry and needed to deal with it. I didn't know what they were talking about. I didn't feel angry. They kept trying to get me to jump and yell and make noise and FEEL MY FEELINGS, and I thought they were all crazy. That's how much I had surpressed those feelings. I think that's really common in LDS culture. I meet alot of women with calm smiles and anger seeping out all over the place. I believe that LDS women surpress anger because we're trying so hard to be Christlike, loving, longsuffering, etc., but the result–dishonest, unfocused anger–is so much MORE hurtful to those around us.

  7. Interesting comments. I certainly know I’m not alone. I remember seeing the “Monstor Mom” footage in the news a couple of years back. The mother smacked her daughter several times as they were fussing over getting in the car seat. The media was outraged. The child was removed from the mother’s care. I felt everybody was scapegoating her and trying to pretend they had no idea what sort of insanity could lead a person to do something like that. It’s more like they were trying deflect any notion that emotion dwells in all of us, including them. How about offering a little empathy and some real help in the form of an anger management class and help connecting with other women on a regular basis? What about teaching her how to sit down with her daughter and apologize/repent? I was horrified because it could just as easily have been me, especially in those days. I feel I’ve really moved past the worst of it, but it’s through a determined process of giving my life over to Jesus Christ. When I make the Savior my central priority, everything else slips into place or slips away.

  8. Emily, I remember that footage, and I remember feeling so badly for that child and for that woman.

    Kathy, so wierd to hear yourself in your kids isn't it?

    Here's my latest. I keep the baby moniter on 24/7. Every time I look at it, I know that someone else in the house can hear me. It has also occured to me that someone else in a neighboring house could potentially be on the same channel. Strangely, it has also reminded me that the Lord is always aware of what I'm doing.

    Cooky, I know. But it works.

  9. Thanks for bringing up this topic, Justine. I am really with you here. One of the first times that I told my husband how angry I felt, while handing him our daughter in the middle of the night to let me have a break, told me in total innocence, "Kristen, she doesn't know what she's doing. You can't be mad."

    Now, two months later, he knows what I mean, and what I feel on a daily basis! There really is this unspoken, "You're not allowed to feel angry or you're a bad person/parent" rule that exists. I think knowing what triggers you, and being able to monitor your rising blood pressure are absolutely critical. I talk to myself throughout the day, because (yes, because I'm insane) it is a very real way of measuring my stress and anger level with myself. I know when I'm talking a million words a second and my tone and volume are getting agitated..it's time to do something!!

    Great post today Justine. Thanks.

  10. It's not that I don't feel anger, it's much more frequent though that I feel anger with myself for failing to meet some unreasonable expectation that I set for myself. That never ends well for my kids. I love what Emily said and find that true for myself as well, if I am really doing the little things to remain close to the Savior, then I can accept how I feel, and deal with it in a way that's not harmful to anyone, including myself.

  11. The difficulty for me is not burying emotions and feelings, yet not letting them bubble over in a boiling mess of anger. I want to feel deeply, and experience things richly, but sometimes find myself "turning off" to protect myself from becoming angry. I don't want my children to learn that it's ok to just un-hook from life when things are hard.

    Finding a way to breath in the feelings without exhaling with fire-breath. The decade of practice has certainly helped me get better, but I know I'll be working on it my entire life.

    Keeping a prayer in my heart has certainly become a real thing for me. I'm starting to understand what that means. Keeping my dialogue going with the Lord all day has helped a lot.

  12. You know, I'm wondering if we are culturally uncomfortable with big feelings of any kind–extreme grief, outrageous happiness, boiling anger. It seems like we value control, which is not exactly conducive to expression. Only once in my thirty-three years have I heard someone over the age of twelve actually sob.

    I have a confession to make as far as anger goes (late hours are always conducive to confession, are they not?). I get horribly, terribly angry at our dog. I actually rage at the poor thing. Poop on the kitchen floor and chewed up flower plants simply send me over the edge. Perhaps I am oooozing anger all of the time, as Angie said, and the dog just bears the brunt of it.

    Admittedly, I am not a dog person, which in itself is a bit of a fatal flaw. I would really like to be a dog person. My mother is a dog person, and so is her mother. The dog people I know are really wonderful individuals. My husband tells me dogs are great because they are so loving, but to me it just feels like they need affection all of the time, and I simply cannot stand one more thing needing something from me. I have set my face like a flint against those blasted brown puppy dog eyes!

    So my challenge is, along with not being angry at my children (who also poop and chew flowers), to learn to love the dog. I actually feel that if I could climb that Everest, my other anger issues would resolve themselves.

  13. Melissa–My husband studied the Middle East for his graduate program and I remember him making a comment about the extreme emotions that were shown at the Yassar Arafat funeral procession. I also remember Azar Nafisi's description of the funeral processions of Ayatollah Khomeni in her book, Reading Lolita in Tehran. These two description/remembrances make me also wonder if culture plays a role in how we feel it is acceptable to display those raw emotions. I would hate to think that we must hide them, burying them inside until they fester and explode. But, I also think there is wisdom in not letting others be traumatized by the inapropriate expression of our sensitive and intimate feelings. I wonder how much of the hiding of our true feelings is pride and how much is safekeeping others from information that it is not in their rights to know?

  14. I recently wrote (here) about a C.S. Lewis quote discussing the hidden rats in our cellars – the natural-man tendencies that rear their ugly heads when we are surprised (like rats who usually have time to scurry out of sight unless the light is suddenly turned on). The point he then makes is that we cannot extinguish such rats on our own. We need the Savior's help. While we strive to do what we can, I think sometimes we might forget to really "remember" Him and let Him help us, and turn to Him to change our hearts. At least I know that is part of my problem. 🙂

    I have always been an expressive person. I was raised in an expressive family. And the older I get, the more I realize that negative expressions are not good things (neither is guilt, however). We are to act, not to be acted upon. But what I am holding onto, lest guilt take over (which it easily can do) is that this is a process. I think the key is repentance and praying with all the energy of heart for charity to gradually infuse our souls. We need to quickly apologize (especially to our children, so they can learn that process and have fear replaced with love).

    A friend of mine told me that her mother faced this challenge with anger for two decades. (Lovely. I am too impatient to wait that long!) I don't think the Lord expects perfection. I don't think He wants us to fester and explode. But clearly it's not just the explosion of anger that is the problem. It's also what leads us to that point.

    So what I am wondering is how we might deal with the festering and fuming before it reaches explosion point? I'm not coming at this as someone who knows the answer, because I don't. I need the answer. I like tricks like the monitor someone mentioned, which really is a reminder of important doctrine: that the Savior can always hear. What other tricks can we play on ourselves (sometimes that's all we can do!) so we can better remember the Savior and choose some other emotion, a different perspective, whatever may help us step out of that moment when anger wants to possess us? I believe this is in part a skill that can be practiced. I think communication and asking for help might be part of the answer at times. I just would love a discussion about how to prevent getting to the point of explosion.

    I appreciate those willing to share their struggles. I think this is actually one way to deal with this challenge: to not pretend it's not there.

    Sorry for the long comment….

  15. For me, anger is a symptom of something else being held too tightly. And, most usually, it's me holding back sorrow or fear, and those feelings getting expressed as anger instead.

    I really liked what ya'll were saying about LDS culture and repressing emotions. It's not a part of the gospel to do that, but I sure saw a lot of folks pushing those emotions down into little balls in the pit of their stomachs when they were in college, and in my ward "out in the mission field" as well. Noone wants to "show weakness." Everyone wants to do the right thing. We should want to do the right things.

    But, since none of us is perfect, we make due by pretending– "who me? I neeeever get angry, I never feel scared that I'm falling short, I never worry late at night about money or health or my aging parents. I do not have children that run in circles during family home evening and smear chocolate on every piece of school clothing they own. Of course not. We're a nineteen fifties family from Life Magazine– I wear pearls in the kitchen while baking things from scratch, and vacuum in high heels. My husband wears a suit and tie to work and comes home promptly at five thirty, and my children always play nicely and pick up after themselves. There are no discipline problems, and I don't need to watch Nanny 911 to pick up tips."

    And therefore, as a favorite college classic said, "Fester Fester Fester. Rot Rot Rot."

    It isn't until we truly realize that we don't have to be perfect to be loved by God, that the Atonement applies to us precsely within our perfections, and that (thank heavens) nobody else's house is really as clean the day before you come to visit as it is when you arrive, that we can begin to appease those issues of not feeling as if we are not enough…

    But I digress into the essay I'm finishing for next issue…… More on "enough" later….-HB


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