Eldest was having a bad day. The world was conspiring against her. To make matters worse, Dad was making her do homework. So when I entered the scene with a comment about dinner, I made a convenient target. Like an angry cat, Eldest pounced, her words biting me.
A swarm of angry retorts brewed and pushed up my throat. How dare she speak to me like that? It wasn’t my fault she left her homework until the last minute. And I deserved respect. I’m her mother, after all. And furthermore …
Fortunately, I heard a tiny whisper speaking to my heart, perhaps the Holy Spirit. Who is the mother here? Meaning, who is supposed to be the example of Jesus’ love?
Um … me?
I had to step away a moment. When situations become tense, I often turn hysterical. My body heats up, my heart thuds in my ears, and my hands flap like a senseless chicken. Oh, and I tend to bite back with words intended to make the other person feel bad.
Hmm. I wonder where Eldest learned it from?
It took me a few moments, but I reentered the situation. My thoughts had cleared, so I was able to say, “I’m not your enemy. I’m trying to help you.” Fortunately, it broke the tension.
Sadly, I’m not always so on the ball. I remember one time–a Mother’s Day epic fail MOMent–when Eldest was younger and didn’t want to wear a dress. Instead of stepping away, I yelled something like, “Fine! I’ll make sure Grandma never buys you any more pretty clothes.” Yeah, I seriously said that. Sheesh.
So, what has helped me temper my “angry-word-itis?” One thing is pondering some simple truths:
Pray. I know that sounds like the typical Christian answer to give, but there’s a reason for that. Prayer is powerful. We have the privilege of approaching Jesus, the King of everything, through prayer. Even a tiny, “Help me, Lord,” will do wonders for your soul and mouth. God answers prayer. God grants wisdom to those who ask (James 1:5).
Speak in a soft voice. This one is difficult, especially in the face of tantrums, but by focusing on keeping my voice in check, I can slow down and think. I use this often with Rachel, my daughter with autism and OCD. There are times she will tantrum because the curtains are wrong or I’ve taken the jar opener out of the ball pit where she hid it. The soft voice technique helps me to keep my sanity and to avoid damaging the rapport we’ve worked so hard to build with her.
What would Jesus do? I know the campaign a few years ago left many of us tired of this phrase, but it’s a quick reference that comes to mind easily. And when I’m trying to respond like Jesus, I’m not as focused on myself–my rights, respecting me, how I feel in the moment.
Keep the parenting purpose in mind. Raising kids is much more than an occupation, it’s a divine calling and a mission field. So, is my purpose in this situation to fight back or is it to model a healthy response?
Be willing to apologize. Only Jesus lived a perfect life. There is no shame in apologizing to a child when we’ve made a mistake. In fact, it teaches our children about humility and forgiveness. Admitting when you are wrong models healthy relationships for them, too. But … your apology does not mean the child gets out of the consequences for her choices.
Stick to facts and consequences. It’s easy to derail into angry words in a stressful situation, but sticking to the facts of the situation and allowing for natural consequences can help keep the mouth out of trouble: “You didn’t do your homework. That means you don’t have time for ____.” Or, “You spoke the following disrespectful words:______. Your consequence is to clean the baseboards.”
“A gentle answer turns away wrath.” Proverbs 15: 1.
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