To counter angry parenting, make room for love

Being slow to anger is no easy task.
Our Faith

It crossed my mind recently that what I really need to be the parent I want to be is a personality transplant.

When I think of the parents I most admire, in part because of their effectiveness but also just because they’re nice to be around, I see a shared set of qualities: They’re even-tempered, gentle, consistent, and easygoing. While I have plenty of positive personality traits, most people who know me well would agree that these are not some of them.

I have never been, nor will I likely ever be, described as laid back. High strung is more my wiring. At its best, this manifests as energetic, bubbly, hardworking, and efficient. At its worst, I’m critical, prone to irritability, easily angered, and too quick to verbally snap at the people who happen to be around me in my moments of frustration.

While I’ve never particularly liked these aspects of my disposition, I don’t recall them troubling me as much in the past as they do now that I am a parent. Perhaps this is attributable to rosy retrospection, and I’m just not remembering the details of the distress the problem historically caused. Or perhaps the magnitude of my irritation has increased since the addition of two high octane toddlers and their antics (bless them) into my life. Or perhaps I simply did not feel that the shadow side of my being—to use Carl Jung’s term—was causing enough negative impact for me to be concerned prior to my becoming responsible for shaping the moral and emotional development of perceptive, behavior-mimicking small humans.


Whatever the explanation, suffice it to say I am fully aware that aspects of my personality are, at this phase of my existence, a notable problem.

A few weeks ago, my 4-year-old asked who would be doing her and her 2-year-old sister’s bedtime, and after learning that it would be me, matter-of-factly stated this wasn’t her preference. In a spirit of growth and openness, I asked why, and her given reason was that “Daddy is more calm.” There is zero part of me that would disagree with this statement—my husband is more placid than I am in 10 out of 10 instances, and I’m at the lowest point of the serenity spectrum by the end of the day. Yet I was caught somewhat off guard by her observation. I had been working on not losing my cool since the new year, and I thought I was doing better with bedtime. I followed up by asking what Daddy does to make the transition to sleep more peaceful, and her answer was that he “doesn’t tell us to hurry up.”

Touché. The multistep process that stands between chaos and blissful quiet can take agonizingly long, and yes, I have the tendency to hurry them through it. But while I have some regret over my inability to embrace the present moment with zen and peace, this is hardly the worst of my irritable parenting problems. Much worse is to consider the behavior that I’m modeling when I slam cupboards and engage in power struggles. Much worse is to think of the emotional regulation that I’m not teaching when I yell that I’m JUST. SO. MAD. Much worse is hearing my 4-year-old wail, “I’m sorry for being the way that I am!!!” after I’ve death-glared her ebullient—if at times, a tad-bit obnoxious—spirit into submission.

No, I’m sorry for being the way that I am.


I’m trying to change, really I am.

In many ways, I understand that this process—of seeing our areas of needed growth, of attempting to stretch ourselves and become better, of succeeding and of failing—is the essence of the human journey. Our physical bodies may reach maturation in adolescence, and our brains may peak at 25 (that’s a sobering thought), but, in theory, we have until our dying day to grow emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. I have a strong belief in the capacity of humans to evolve and expand, and typically I relish the challenge.

But sometimes the Sisyphean nature of attempted self-growth gets me down.

Sometimes I just want a personality transplant.


Short of this option, I turn, once again, to a faith that I’m finding matters less and less to me in terms of providing large, metaphysical concepts of how the world works and more and more in terms of how it guides me into being a better person on the planet.

In this case, the piece of my faith to which I keep returning is Psalm 145, the sacred song describing God as slow to anger. Made in the image of God, I believe that humans have the capacity to strengthen the divine spark within us, which we can in part do by striving to emulate the God we know through scripture and revelation. Given my ongoing battle with vexation, the description of God as “slow to anger” is one of the ends to which I’m continually working, and it has become a mantra for me.

Recently, however, it dawned on me to read the rest of the psalm, where I found God also described as abundantly good, merciful, abounding in love, and full of compassion. I had been focusing entirely on the “slow to anger” piece, but maybe the collection of attributes shouldn’t be separated from one another. If one—be it God or a human—is slow to anger, the space is created for something else, hopefully, if we’re intentional about it, goodness and mercy and love. And if by decreasing anger we make space for kindness, can’t the opposite also be true? By increasing our love, can we box out anger?

I think so, or at least I hope so, and this changes my task at hand from attempting to be less irritated at my children to trying to show more love and mercy. In practical terms, this simply means more hugs, more singing, and more laughing. It’s replacing a grumpy sigh with a cheerful “mistakes happen; let’s fix it” and substituting phrases such as, “I cannot stand your whining/baby-talk/bickering” with walking away calmly and knowing that the behavior is just as likely to dissipate with time as it is with my hissing corrections.


If it sounds Pollyanna-ish, well, maybe it is. But being irritable wasn’t improving my children’s behavior, and willing myself through gritted teeth to feel less angry wasn’t refining my disposition. If nothing else, reframing “I need to be slower to anger” into “Let me give more love” strengthens my sense of agency. Because while I felt out of control in eradicating my anger, I know that I’m fully capable of showing my children, whom I adore, more love.

Although, hey, if God in their abundant goodness, mercy, love, and compassion divinely intervenes and grants me a personality transplant—or maybe just a personality makeover—I’ll take that, too.


This article also appears in the July 2023 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 88, No. 7, pages 43-44). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Image: Shutterstock/Vectorium


About the author

Teresa Coda

Teresa Coda works in parish faith formation. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two young daughters.

Add comment