When my four year old isn’t sure what to do or say, he scrunches up his adorable little nose and squints his eyes. Usually he also shows me his teeth in the cheesiest grin you could imagine. Sometimes, though, the smile does not accompany the grimace. Sometimes his mouth hangs wide open as he wails in pain and confusion.
It was time for bed, Mama said, but the hall was empty and the rooms made awesome echoes when he roared into them. Bingham thumped like a T-Rex dinosaur, and made his little brother giggle and shriek with delight. Suddenly, a terrifying low growl came from the bathroom. “Bingham and Billy, why are you not in the bathroom? I told you that it’s time for you to go potty. Get in here. NOW.” Bingham and his brother stopped in their dinosaur tracks. A couple of moments elapsed and the voice continued more intensely, “NOW!” Slowly, if not cautiously, the boys made their way to the bathroom. “OH MY GOODNESS GET IN HERE NOW! IT IS TIME FOR YOU TO GO TO BED! I NEED YOU TO GO TO BED!!” Screamed Mama. Standing in front of his brother in the bathroom doorway, Bingham looked up at his angry mom. His lips trembled, and then all at once his face contorted itself and a cry escaped his mouth. Giant tears began rolling down his cheeks.
It was time for bed. It had been a long day. It hadn’t really been a bad day, but almost like a book or movie with too many endings. The house was mostly quiet as the boys had moved their ruckus upstairs. Mama let out a sigh and felt the sadness creep into her bones. She was missing the boys’ father, her coparent. If he was here, she felt she might be able to keep going and to do bedtime well tonight. But he wasn’t here. He wasn’t ever going to be here. A loud shriek pulled her out of her head and she climbed the stairs to meet the boys in the bathroom. When she reached the door, she was instantly frustrated that the boys were not where she had told them to go. Instead, they were making incredible amounts of noise and bounding about everywhere except where they were supposed to be. With great irritation, she called them into the bathroom. She went through the bedtime routine steps in her mind: “go potty, pull-ups and pajamas, brush teeth, bed, Bible story, sing, pray, sleep. We are so close. We can do this.” The boys still weren’t in the bathroom. “OH MY GOODNESS GET IN HERE NOW! IT IS TIME FOR YOU TO GO TO BED! I NEED YOU TO GO TO BED!!” She yelled. The volume of her voice actually shocked her. It seemed that maybe her kids were listening now, because there they were in the hallway… but they were STILL being loud and NOT doing what she had asked them to do. “I AM SERIOUS RIGHT NOW! BE QUIET, GO POTTY, IT’S TIME FOR BED! YOU…” And then she realized that she had hurt her precious boy. She hadn’t meant to, she was exhausted and upset, and feeling ready to collapse into bed herself… but she did yell in anger, and she was filled with remorse. Spreading her arms she went to him and dropped to her knees. Her arms gently brought him to her chest as she sighed, “Oh, Bingham. I’m so sorry. I should not have yelled at you. I love you and I am sorry. Will you please forgive me?” She pulled back just enough to see him nod, and she hugged him again.
I could give you a thousand reasons why that scenario played out the way that it did. I could list a million excuses for my behavior, or report the number of times my kids disobeyed in disrespectful rebellion during the day… but the thing I want to address is the temper that seems to so easily entangle me and catch my kids.
Lately, I’ve been convicted to share this particular sin-struggle with others for my own accountability and also to potentially encourage others who have similar struggles. From talking with other moms, I’ve learned that I am not the only one that has this issue with inappropriately expressing my frustration… that yells at her kids. This is a very difficult thing for me to admit because it is so contrary to who I want to be as a mother. It hurts my heart more than almost anything else to see my beloved boys in pain, and there are just no words to describe the kind of regret I feel when I know that I am the cause of that hurt. It’s also hard to admit because I haven’t found a fix-all solution; this is not a past-tense issue. I haven’t tied this up and thrown it behind me; there’s no pretty bow.
The thing is, yelling in anger at my kids is NOT ok. I don’t mean to say that raising my voice in certain circumstances is never appropriate. If my child is in danger and not hearing me, I might have to raise my voice in order to get his attention, like I would before he ran into a busy street. But regardless of my children’s behavior, letting my tongue loose to lash out at my children is not right. James 3:6 says, “…the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” Woah. So where do I go from here? How do I overcome this struggle of mine? How do I keep my children safe from my mommy anger?
Although I do not have a specific answer to these questions, I have found a few things that help me prepare for the times I’m tempted to yell at my kids, and also some things that help me in the moment.
- Pray like crazy
- Memorize scripture (the Spirit brings it to mind when my anger flares, John 14:26). Some favorites:
- “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1 ESV)
- “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” (Proverbs 17:27 ESV)
- “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19 ESV)
- “Be angry and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity” (Ephesians 4:26-27 ESV).
- Find someone who can hold you accountable to your goal
- Take a parenting assessment and class
The other night, after another flare-up of my voice which left my throat complaining at me, I sat down and took a fifteen minute parenting assessment through Connected Families. The assessment was the first thing I did to begin a 6-week Discipline That Connects Course. As a single, working mom of two pre-schoolers, I do not have time for a long class, but THIS one is online, available at my own pace, and broken up so reasonably that I can’t easily look past it as an investment for my family. The six sessions are each 45-75 minutes long in entirety but are divided into generally 3-5 minute videos, with the shortest being 1:36 and the longest being 11:02. The goal of the course is to teach “a simple but profound parenting approach that builds authentic trust and respect in families.” I have a long way to go, but the assessment and first session I took helped me realize that I’m not as far gone as I thought I was. With God’s help and the practical things I learn in this course, I have hope that I’ll get closer to overcoming this struggle and maintaining a good relationship with my boys.
In the moment:
- Inhale, exhale
- Pray like crazy
- Text (or call) a friend
- Go into another room for 5 minutes
We eventually finished our bathroom routine, found comfy pajamas and even laughed a little. I read a story and put the book back on the shelf, then headed over to tuck Billy into his bedtime burrito. I kissed him on the forehead and told him I loved him. Next I went to Bing to “tuck tuck” the covers around him. Bingham looked up at me with furrowed eyebrows and pursed lips. “Mama,” he said, “Are you happy at me?” My hand went to his left cheek and I brushed his temple with my thumb, just like I used to when he was a baby. “Yes, Bingham” I said with a smile. Bingham beamed from ear to ear. “Thank you for forgiving me for yelling at you earlier, and thank you for obeying me. I’m glad that we could have some good time together tonight.” When I prayed, I thanked God for forgiving me of my sins and asked him to help me to be the best mom that I can be for the children.
I am not there, but with God’s help and some practical changes to my processing and implementing of faith-filled discipline, I know I’m going to grow as a mom, and I’m getting closer each day to overcoming my mommy anger.
Featured photo from CloudVisual
Deer photo Vincent van Zalinge
*Advertising Disclosure: I will be compensated for each registration for the Discipline That Connects With Your Child’s Heart course that is made by October 28, 2017 using my affiliate link. I strongly recommend the class, whether or not I receive any compensation, and plan to review the course after I’ve completed it.