Humming, I prepared to make a pitcher of orange juice. As I picked up the open can of mix, my two-and-a-half-year-old son, Anthony, jumped onto a stepstool to watch and knocked my arm, splattering orange-juice concentrate everywhere.
"You stupid little fool!" I shouted right in his face. "Can't you do anything without making a mess? All you ever do is make more work for me to do!" Anthony covered his face and broke into tears. I was unrelenting. "You drive me crazy! Get out of this kitchen and don't come back until I tell you to!"
As soon as I heard him sobbing in his bedroom, my tantrum subsided. Filled with remorse, I walked slowly to Anthony's room and sat down on the edge of his tiny bed. He knew why I came to him; we'd been through this cycle of anger so many times, it was routine. Anthony crawled into my lap, touched my face, and whispered, "I f'give you, Momma."
As I looked into Anthony's sweet face, I knew exactly what he felt. As a child I'd been on the receiving end of my mother's violent outbursts. No matter how careful or "perfect" I was, she'd become furious with me and call me names, often shoving and hitting me, too. Early in my life, I'd concluded something had to be wrong with me. It wrenched my heart to think I was putting my child through the same pain and that he could grow up to continue this cycle of anger.
I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I had no idea how to change. I was like a bomb on the verge of exploding. My son was afraid of me; my relationship with my husband, Steven, was, at best, strained. Raised in a gentle, loving family, Steven couldn't understand my volatile temper. He was pulling away from me, and I lived in fear he'd take my son and leave me if I didn't gain some self-control.1