How an Orthodontic Retainer May Have Changed Everything

How an Orthodontic Retainer May Have Changed Everything

November 7, 2023 0 By Laura

Today, my son brought me his retainer in a panic. 

“It’s broken! Look at it! It’s cracked! A piece is missing!”

I inspected the retainer, and sure enough, there was an obvious piece missing from the side. My normal response to this would be several steps above my son’s level of panic. Anger and frustration and mumbling things under my breath about responsibility and taking care of our things and respecting property… that would be my typical response. I’m trying really hard to be better, but anger often bubbles under the surface, and sometimes, something small will just pop the bubble and push me into overwhelming frustration. 

But tonight was different. I was exhausted and tapped out. Usually that makes my fuse shorter, but tonight, it was different. It was like I had no energy left to use on being angry, so I just wasn’t angry. My son was all worked up, and I imagine he expected me to join him in his fury, and we would band together to seek justice and discover the cause behind the broken retainer (aka, which sibling did it). But I simply asked him to try to put it in his mouth. He said it didn’t fit, so I calmly told him to put it in the case and get in bed.

I legitimately think he was confused by my calmness and was thinking it was just the calm before the storm, and I was going to blow my lid any second. (That’s a different issue for a different day. Mom rage is a real thing, but I’m constantly working on addressing things that anger me in a calm and healthy way.) But I didn’t blow up or yell or huff and puff. I told him I was tired and worn out and didn’t have any energy remaining to use toward being angry, so I simply wasn’t angry. He stared at me in disbelief and I couldn’t help but snicker. 

Honestly, it was something I’ve never experienced before, and it was weird. Funny, almost. Logically, I should be mad. And I’m not thrilled about it, of course. I don’t want to go back to the orthodontist and spend however much money it costs to replace it. But I’m not furious about it, and I would have expected myself to be. A few months ago, the retainer was lost for several days, and I was furious. 

But I feel like tonight was a big first step toward overcoming anger. 

It made me realize that I really can choose where to put my energy, and I don’t have to spend my energy being angry. I knew this logically, but actually experiencing it in this way transformed a lot for me. I tell my kids all the time, “You can be angry, but you can’t be mean.” Every time I say it, I cringe a little and feel like I need to hold up a mirror in front of my face and repeat it to myself. So this experience was a big breakthrough for me. I was not happy about the situation, but my actions and words were controlled and kind.

I can now see that anger works in a similar way to worry. (Although some anger is totally reasonable and fine and justified, and anger as an emotion isn’t a bad thing–it’s when anger makes us mean that it becomes problematic.) 

But anger is seriously just like worrying–it doesn’t actually fix anything or make you feel better. It’s just an icky feeling to feel while you’re already not thrilled, and it doesn’t add anything positive to the situation. 

I hope that the next time I feel the temptation to be angry, I remember this feeling and the silly retainer that didn’t make me angry, and I hope I can choose not to spend my energy being angry.