“It’s hard to know the difference between parenting and bullying,” admits Matt, father of two and one of a growing number of parents seeking help to control what they see as unacceptable levels of anger towards their children. Matt is an articulate and successful self-employed businessman in his 40s. After he split up from their mother five years ago, his two sons, then 11 and 14, started to act up by answering back, skipping homework, drinking and taking drugs. It marked the start of a phase of intense anger for Matt, who eventually sought help.
“I have on a few occasions grabbed my eldest son by the scruff of his neck and shouted in his face. I couldn’t understand why they don’t do what I want them to do. Even now they make me question my skills as a parent.”
He’s not alone.
Over two decades, Mike Fisher has seen first-hand the effect of anger on children and their parents. Since setting up the British Association of Anger Managementin 1999, he has worked with tens of thousands of people, helping them to manage and understand their anger. For the past 13 years he has also delivered one-day workshops specifically aimed at parental anger, for Ealing council in west London. The course is always heavily oversubscribed.
“We always have to turn people away and put them on a waiting list for the next one,” says Kate Subanney, Ealing’s parent commissioner, whose idea it was to get Mike involved.
The parents she sends his way have all been referred to her by social services, the NHS, police, or solicitors, but Mike is quick to dispel any assumption that they come from one demographic. “I’d say at least 20% are middle-class parents and are particularly well-educated and affluent. Yet social services are involved. It really is across the board.”
What is the atmosphere like at the beginning of his courses? “The parents are often apprehensive, scared, and suspicious. They feel like failures. We all assume that other parents are better than us, they are more equipped. But when people come to these courses, and they start hearing each other’s stories, they realise we’re all challenged with the same things.”
The parents are there because the stakes are high: unless they work on their anger, their children could be taken away. Or they have to learn how to control their anger before they are allowed to see their children at all. I imagine, in this context, that Mike has heard some shocking things. “We don’t go into what goes on behind closed doors. We only get a tenth of the story, if we’re lucky,” he says.
There is a taboo attached to parental anger – when Ealing council advertised Mike’s courses as Anger Management for Parents, hardly anyone showed up. “There is too much shame. We had to rename it Understanding Anger in Parents,” says Mike.
But we know anger is there. With depressing regularity, angry parents pushed to their limits make the news. But, as Mike says, non-fatal episodes of anger cause long-term damage too. According to him, anger is the number one threat to not just our health but also the wellbeing of the 18.7 million families in Britain. Does he think the problem is getting worse? Are we getting angrier?
Read the whole article on The Guardian