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The Moment I Realized I Had to Change the Way I Parent

Photograph by Getty Images

I'm not saying I used to have an anger management problem, but there's a certain period in my life where I seem to have been replaced in all photos by the Incredible Hulk. My skin tone was a suspicious shade of kelly green, steam could be seen shooting out of my ears, and my clothes were in various stages of ripped as my muscled puffed up with rage.

It didn't take much to set me off: The cashier at the drug store who relayed the message from the pharmacist that my prescription wasn't ready on time was a frequent target of my ire. Same for the waiter who failed to anticipate my need for less ice, not more, in my drink refill. My sister had a way of making me seethe just by the time of day when she chose to call. People who were happy-go-lucky, sad for no reason, or seemingly crazy, and all the customer service people everywhere also made me erupt often enough to inspire Old Faithful write to ask for pointers.

I used to blame my anger on being a New Yorker. In some ways, I still do; I left New York for the mountains of Colorado nearly 13 years ago and have been increasingly less angry ever since. Truth be told, though, I've been the least angry in the past eight years than I've ever been—because it was eight years ago that I became a mom.

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A story in "The Onion" from 2013, "Father Teaches Son How to Fly Into Rage Over Completely Inconsequential Bullshit," recently popped up on my Facebook feed (yes, the piece is three years old, but who among us can argue against the evergreen nature of the poetry that is "The Onion"). Instead of just reading the headline, which is usually all you need to get the full picture with an "Onion" story, I read the whole thing. Mostly because I was worried it was actually about me. Then I remembered that I've changed my ways and sighed with relief.

In fact, I remember the day it all changed. I was driving around looking for a parking spot, my mother-in-law in the passenger seat beside me and my preschooler in the back. I spotted someone pulling out of a space and waited. But then the driver decided I hadn't given him enough room to back out, even though I knew he had ample space. When I wouldn't reverse a few more inches, he put his car back into park, smirked at me, crossed his arms and said he wouldn't give me the spot.

That's when I rolled down my window and started screaming.

While I try to make a point to model the behaviors I'd like to see them adopt, I make even more of a point not to act how I don't want them to.

My mother-in-law sat in horrified silence, clearly wondering what her son had gotten himself into by marrying me. My daughter started crying. And I kept yelling. Over a parking spot. I sat there for a good 10 minutes having a full-blown tantrum before finally driving away while still managing to keep an eye out for the guy, hoping I'd run into him again so I could holler in his face instead of through the car windshield. You know, just in case my body language and middle fingers hadn't sent him a clear enough message.

Later that evening, my daughter relayed to my husband what had transpired.

"Mommy said bad words and got a car in trouble," she explained.

She then went on to force my younger daughter into a game wherein one played the good driver and the other the bad one. Needless to say, the bad one got yelled at, sent into time out, and received no dessert.

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I'm not sure why that was the moment something clicked with me, although I'll guess it probably had to do with a very small child articulating — and then replicating — her mother's astonishingly inappropriate behavior.

I've used the time since to really think about how my kids use me as their example. For everything. For better or worse. While I try to make a point to model the behaviors I'd like to see them adopt, I make even more of a point not to act how I don't want them to. It's easy to use manners and be considerate of others. Harder, though, can be keeping it together and staying graceful when anger bubbles below the surface.

I'm far from perfect and my anger at my daughters is no small thing when I have to ask for the 14th time in two minutes for them to brush their teeth. However, if parents spent less time trying to turn their kids into good people and more time trying to make them less asshole-y (especially so they don't warrant their own story in "The Onion"— the world will easily be a better place.

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