Anger is an emotion that men access very easily and often when personal resources are stretched to the limit. A temper is also the emotion that is often directed at children and spouses.
It has long been accepted that the introduction of children into a relationship brings with it a variety of modifications that couples have to make. Early morning awakenings, late nights with restless babies, stress and sleep deprivation are just a few of the ‘child-induced’ spin-offs.
Many mothers notice they are more inclined to dissolve into tears at the slightest upset whilst men, on the other hand, manifest their emotions in different ways.
where anger comes from
As well as ‘sleep deprivation’ there are several key factors that can influence men to become angry with their partners and family.
Fuses are shortened significantly when routines and life patterns are altered. Children throw these patterns into disarray as parents struggle to fit their lives around the needs of the child. Fathers therefore find it difficult to successfully combine full-time employment with full-time fathering.
Family commitments can mean that sport and leisure activities are reduced, giving fathers less opportunity to debrief and de-stress.
Having an added focus of a child (or two) lessens ‘couple time’. Men and women often find that intimacy is reduced. After a period of decreased proximity, couples may find themselves feeling like ‘relationship strangers’.
Extended family members and friends, hoping to help by taking on responsibilities of the new baby, may inadvertently disrupt the couple and family balance.
telltale signs of anger
What are the signs or indicators that fathers may be experiencing some stress that could in turn lead to angry outbursts and generally disgruntled Dads?
battling the anger
Men tend to let actions speak louder than words. While in many cases this is an admirable quality, by keeping ‘mum’ (no pun intended!) or by not telling anybody else, men tend to internalize their grievances and ‘feed’ the anger. The saying that ‘a problem shared is a problem halved‘ is old but true!
If fathers deny or repress their emotions, the anger, frustration and stress that has built up over a period of time will eventually need to be released and often the venting that occurs has consequences for other members of the family.
Therefore, one sign of a dad not coping with the pressure of child rearing is a father who becomes sullen and withdrawn. Fathers may become distant from children and partners in an attempt NOT to hurt or get angry with them. Conversely, a dad who becomes ‘snappy’ and extremely reactive may be externalising the signs of anger.
unusual behavior – not coping
Men who start behaving uncharacteristically may be in some need of intervention. Examples of this could be anything from dropping out of some or all social functions, or perhaps relying on alcohol, cigarettes and drugs to cope with family situations.
In some cases men won’t recognize the tell-tale outbursts and angry exchanges with family members as being detrimental. They may try to deny anything is wrong perhaps in the hope that with the passing of time and a little bit more sleep things will rectify themselves. Generally, though, spouses and family members will be able to detect when these changes, however subtle, are occurring.
get help someone other than the partner
The real challenge is in how to bring these behaviors to the attention of the dad without seeming judgmental and over the top. To ensure complete family integrity it is sometimes easiest to let someone completely neutral be the person who takes dad aside for a quiet chat about how he’s coping.
Extended family members and good friends can act as great sources of support for both mothers and fathers who are finding daily parental responsibilities really hard work! Men find it less threatening, more helpful and, in many cases, enlightening if they can interface with someone who has experienced some of the same pressures and who can chat with some authority on the subject.
If situations get out of hand, another option for spouses is the involvement of a health professional such as a registered psychologist or a trusted doctor. This professional can provide a buffer between the family and the father and can retain the privacy of the individual undergoing the stress and anger issues. These people are professionals who have learned the tried and true methods of dealing with people at both ends of the emotional continuum and all the varying degrees in between.
Unfortunately, the role of ‘parent’ is greatly undervalued in our society and we are not paid ‘corporate’ salaries for caring for our children. We will probably always encounter those examples of fathers who seem drawn to anger and angry outbursts purely because there is not enough time in the day to work, sleep, eat, exercise and look after their families.
anger management tips for dads
Help, however, is within easy reach. Here are some tips to help fathers and their families deal with anger if it occurs. Even more encouraging are the preventative ways to minimize the possibility for anger to surface in the first place.
men need to talk if they are feeling angry
When in doubt… shout! Let people know when you are feeling overworked and underpaid. Men leave it until the last minute to let others know they need support and help. It is not a shameful thing to feel angry and out of control. Rather it is something that needs to be shared and worked through. When we weigh up the options, asking for support is the easier way to go. Anger can lead to domestic violence that benefits no one and sets dangerous examples for children who often witness these outbursts.
dads also need time out
This is not just a strategy for badly behaved children! Sometimes a well timed walk in the park, an evening out at a movie, or a weekend away can recharge the batteries and allow someone who is very stressed to regain a much needed sense of perspective. Remember that ‘time out’ measures need to be implemented before a pattern of angry responses becomes the norm.
learn to say NO
We spend a lot of time saying ‘No’ to our children, particularly when they are babies. Yet as adults, fathers need to re-learn the word. Saying ‘No’ to overtime at work, saying ‘No’ to party invitations and saying ‘No’ to big nights out with the boys all need to be considered when sleep and family time is limited.
Men must learn they need to look after themselves and their health before they can expect to effectively care for the needs of their families.
To a certain degree anger is an acceptable part of men’s behavioural repertoire. However, it is when the anger is directed at others that problems arise. So as partners, family members, friends and co-workers of men who may have anger as an issue we have a responsibility to look out for the tell-tale signs and break the cycle before it begins!
Sara Chatwin, Registered Psychologist