Last Updated on June 22, 2018

I used to be such an agreeable person.

Has anyone else been amazed by the force of emotion your children can produce within you? I admit with shame that one of my greatest adjustments with having multiple children lies simply in dealing with the irritability and anger I can feel:

  • The dog wants out when I am late going somewhere (again),
  • my blood sugar is low from forgetting breakfast,
  • and my sleep-deprived mind takes in my disaster of a living room
  • while my infant cries ceaselessly, pulling my frizzed-out hair
  • as I nearly break my neck on another rogue Matchbox car
  • while my toddler has a potty accident on the carpet
  • and my preschooler does something mean-spirited I’ve specifically requested he NOT do that basically results in some dumping of a box full of toys with seventy-two educational little pieces.

I find myself there on autopilot, doing things that won’t work in an attempt to just get everything to STOP and OBEY, for the love of Mike, like trying to find the snooze button. In fact, I do occasionally hear myself telling one of them “Please, please just stop that.” or “Why are you doing that?! Please, NO!” or something equally effective, like “Why are you crying?” to a child who won’t be able to communicate with words for another nine months.

Now, if I stop and think, then I remember that I have been blessed with training that can actually help me to deal with these things in a godly, productive, even divinely patient way. Instead, too often I find myself asking my kids for forgiveness yet again for overreacting, being impatient, not being angry in a godly way, and generally NOT acting like Jesus—or in a way I’d like them to act when they’re angry. (As a sidenote, it does not help that I don’t really remember my own steady mother flipping out.)

I remember feeling a great deal of empathy as I read Gary Thomas’ Sacred Parenting (highly recommended!), where he opens his chapter “Burning Love” with the illustration of a pastor who gave a sermon on anger and asked for church members who needed special prayer for this to come forward. He apparently had nineteen members respond—all of them mothers of young children.

Anger is such a forceful emotion. God, as Thomas iterates, had a reason for giving it to us. God’s own anger is against sin:

“This means that motivation is everything when it comes to anger. The difference between righteous anger and unrighteous anger ultimately comes down to why we feel angry, what we feel angry about, and what we do with our anger.”

Thomas essentially describes anger as a tool—a force that can motivate us to do that right thing, and “requires a certain spiritual sophistication to wield it appropriately.”

And I love this:

“God gets angry because he cares. God gets angry because the stakes are so high … The greater our emotional involvement [as parents], the greater our potential to get really angry, because we care so deeply about what happens to those we love and to our relationship with them.”

But, he cautions, acting out of woundedness toward our children makes it all about us. God calls me to act in such a way that it’s all about our children, and their relationship to Him

With a statement like that, maybe you feel like me. I hate anger. It’s pretty much a sealed deal that I’m going to sin. Royally. Thomas counters,

“[I]f we want to become mature, we have to learn to walk in an alley where sin appears inevitable but ought to be avoided. We are told, ‘In your anger do not sin’ (Psalm 4:4, Ephesians 4:26) … I believe we are to treat anger like a potentially toxic, yet highly potent and controlled, medicine. At times it must be prescribed, but we should handle it carefully and limit its use.” Love, after all, is not easily angered (1 Corinthians 13:5).

I still find myself searching for very practical methods of keeping myself in check, and would very much welcome your ideas that work for you! For me—leaving enough time so I’m not late (i.e. not attempting to do too much before I rush out the door); getting rest; not skipping a meal; asking my husband to handle a situation I can’t; and (duh) keeping in step with the Spirit so I’m already in an attitude of prayer when my son steps on my foot as he argues with his brother, who chucks one of my knicknacks at his sibling—which misses him but hits me and the baby.

Thank you Lord, for loving my holiness enough to give me kids.

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  1. Jennifer Dyer says:

    I blow it every day. Some of my most powerful childhood memories involve my own parents apologizing to me for making a mistake like losing their temper. I can’t think of a better way to teach our children about maintaining relationships than to be real with them. I think showing our imperfections and being honest about them is more powerful than trying to be perfect.

  2. Allison Yokeley says:

    You just described my life. Just today I am in a store with my three boys. The five year old is running through the aisles in the store. My two-year and one year old are in the double stroller and the two-year old bites my one-year old for no apparent reason. I found myself saying can we all just please behave for mommy so I can finish my shopping. I have been feeling burned out lately so I thought maybe reading Proverbs 31, the Virtuous Woman, would empower me. It only made me angry with her because she seems to have it all together and more. My wonderful husband said to me that I need to be restored and suggested reading Psalm 23. It was exactly what I needed. I have read it three times today already and it just soothes my soul.

  3. Janel, thanks for sharing your thoughts in a real way. Sometimes I need a time out as much as my children do if for no other reason than to cool down and pray. I take heart in 1 John 1:8-9

  4. Janel Breitenstein says:

    Boy, do I hear you on that, Allison. My children were particularly defiant this week, and with everything else, I felt myself just trying to dwell on 2 Corinthians 12:9…his strength made perfect in my weakness (which was soooo evident!). May He be the lifter of your head today!

  5. Janel, I love reading your entries on the new blog- you and your colleagues are doing a great job. Since we first talked about this a few months ago, I’ve thought much about these ideas of why moms of young children deal with anger so often. Reading this post today was another great reminder for me to not let anger characterize my day, but instead: love, joy, peace, patience… and the list goes on.

  6. Christina Clardy says:

    The Family Life blog was recommended to me by a friend. So, I am new, as of today, to reading it. Thank you for addressing an issue that is so real to moms. I became the mom to 2 girls in the last year and a half. We adopted my neice, who is 3 1/2, and have a 10 month old. I always prided myself on my patience with children, as my former occupation included working with some tough kids. Being a mom has shown me just how far away from being like Christ I am, just in case, I ever think I have "arrived". It is hard, but good. Those things that take powerful effort are often the things that are the most rewarding (especially if we do it in Christ!), and this is certainly true when it comes to parenting. I too have often thought, "Thank you Lord, for loving my holiness enough to give me kids."

  7. I am so glad I stumbled upon this today. I have been seeking a mentor and considering a psychiatrist because I thought for sure that I was alone in this struggle. I never wanted children, never babysat and frankly never knew how to be one-on-one with a child until having my own. Having two girls (4 and 5) has been my biggest joy, but when everything starts happening at once, I feel overwhelmed and I blow up. (To quote Bill Cosby, “Alright! I don’t want anyone in this house touching anyone else as long as they live!”) My husband/their dad is so willing to do anything I ask, but I wait until its hitting the fan before I feel the need to request help and then it comes out as frustrated yelling rather than a gentle, loving plea. I hear myself and hate it but by then, I’m so worked up I don’t feel powerful enough to use God’s self-control to stop myself. Has anyone found any Bible studies/books/sermons that address “preK coping skills”? Thanks, Janel!