Temper, Temper

Most people who know me would say that I’m very even tempered.  Perhaps to a fault, even.  I can take abuse after abuse and keep my calm while trying to resolve the situation.  Indeed, if we’re ever in a situation where we need an even head, I’m the person who makes the call.  When we need someone to be forceful and perhaps even raise their voice a bit, B handles it.  (See?  We compliment each other’s talents nicely!)

However, I have a confession to make.  I actually have a very bad temper.  A horrible one, in fact.  The problem is, my temper doesn’t usually flare against people unless they are very close to me.

Growing up, I was bullied mercilessly, but I rarely lost my temper.  Meanwhile, my sister could make me blow my top with a single word or action.  She was so good at it that she made it into an art form.  She would do something to me designed to make me lose my temper.  I would blow my top and get physical (e.g. push her down).  She would cry to my parents.  They would see her down and me standing over her and I would get punished.  At the time, I thought it was horribly unfair.  It still is, but I understand it more now that I’m a parent.  When you have 2 kids with conflicting stories as to what happened, the best you can do is rely on what you have seen occur.

Later, my sister got married and moved out.  My father became the person who pushed my buttons.  In this case, he didn’t mean to do so.  It was just that I was living back at home after the freedom of college and was having trouble following the “it’s my house, you’ll do it this way” rules.  So we’d fight (verbally, rarely physically), not talk to each other for a week and then (spurred on by my mother who hates conflict) would make up just in time for the next fight to begin.

Once I moved away from my parents, we got along much better.  He’ll still get on my nerves from time to time, but not to the “I’m not talking to you for a week” level.  Now, the people close to me are my wife and my kids.

I’ve written before about how I get quiet during arguments with B.  This is primarily because of my temper.  If I talk while I’m upset and my temper flares, I’m likely to make sweeping generalizing statements that are highly hurtful and not true at all.  This will not only hurt my case (nothing shatters your argument more than a poorly thought out personal attack), but will hurt B’s feelings.  While it might feel better in the short term to rant and rave rather than hold back, it’s better in the long term to calm down before discussing sensitive topics.

That leaves the kids.  Ideally, I’d like to say that I keep an even temper at all times and never yell.  This isn’t an ideal world, though.  I try to keep an even temper and not yell, but lately it seems like the boys have conspired to push my temper to the brink.

First, NHL will refuse to do what we tell him to do and insist that things have to be done the way he wants them done, WHEN he wants them done.  Then, JSL, having just seen his brother get in trouble, will repeat his brother’s actions perfectly.  NHL will yell and scream while JSL will make mocking faces.  My blood starts to boil as I raise my voice telling them to behave.  Finally, I’m yelling outright at them and sending them to their room.

When they’re in their room and I’m calming down, I’ll get hit by a streak of guilt.  They’re testing boundaries and need to be given firm reminders of what is and isn’t appropriate, but I feel awful when I yell at them.  I *want* to be the fun loving parent who plays with them all the time and has a blast.  I don’t want to be the rule-setting parent who comes down hard on them if they decide to scream and try to run away from us in the middle of a store.  However, I have to be both.  It’s a tricky line to walk sometimes.

I definitely have room for improvement in not letting my temper get the best of me.  I’ve had success in the past with the “repeating things three times” method.  (Tell them once.  Say “Second time… [repeated message].”  Then say “THIRD TIME! [repeated message]. Do NOT make me repeat myself AGAIN!”)  I need to force myself to rely on methods like that more than yelling.

Do you ever find yourself losing your temper with your children?  What do you do when this happens?