The other day, an online personality I admire shared a graphic with three helps to stop the yelling. Here were the tips (in summary):
- Believe that you can change.
- Look to Jesus for strength.
- Ask friends for help.
So true. And also ... so general. This could also be labeled as a list of tips for starting a new diet, or quitting smoking. While I wouldn't pull back an ounce on any of these assertions, let's zero in a bit more on strategies that apply directly to those angry mom moments or days. The struggle is real, amiright?
Pedal Back on the Guilt and Shame
When you yell at your precious children, or even just give them that "oh no you don't" evil-eye, and especially when you see them crumble into a puddle of tears, you feel just awful.
Appropriate shame and guilt have their natural place. They raise a red flag when we're doing something we know we shouldn't, or something that threatens to damage a relationship. They prompt us to make changes and to make things right.
But so many moms have over-active guilt and shame sensors. We can get ourselves into real downward spirals of blame that neither lead to positive change, nor can be processed in an healthy way.
Why? Because we accept responsibility for things that are not our fault. No amount of apologizing or self-control can change things that you didn't cause in the first place.
Anger is a natural human reaction. Anger is a healthy response to cruelty and injustice. If you can watch harm come to someone you love without anger, you may have a different problem: apathy.
The Bible separates out feelings of anger from actual sin.
Be angry and do not sin. ~ Psalm 4:4a
How about that? The Psalmist warns us not to sin in our anger. There is a difference between being angry, and allowing that anger to drive us to destructive speech and behavior.
I've heard some Christian authors and speakers say that it's OK to be angry on behalf of others, but not angry about injustices or wrongs done to ourselves. I disagree.
We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Warning bells of protection should sound for our own safety just as they do for the safety of others. The question is: what do you do in response to those warning bells?
Ask Yourself Why
As we discussed last week, anger results from a disconnect between expectations and reality. So take a moment to examine both the expectations and the reality. Here are a few thoughts to ponder, though these lists are by no means exclusive.
- Are your expectations reasonable? Are you expecting a three-year-old to play quietly by himself for longer than he's able, or a tween to manage strong, scary emotions better than she's able?
- Are your expectations based on things you didn't communicate? I do this all the time. I expect people to get through the door (and out of my way) much faster when I'm really tired and/or carrying a heavy baby. (Oops.)
- Are your expectations something you'd require of yourself? Do you expect your children to turn off negative emotions like a light switch? Do you expect your children to enjoy all the work they do or all the food you make?
- Is your child actually not listening, or did he fail to understand? Is this a character issue, or a skill/maturity/developmental issue?
- It may seem like your teen is lashing out to hurt you. But is that really true? Are you the target, or are you just an innocent bystander to a hormone storm or the messiness of transitioning from childhood to adulthood?
- Is your anger in this area uncovering a need (of yours or of the family) that is not being met? Are there larger changes that need to take place to prevent repeat difficulties?
Speak the Truth in Love (to Yourself)
Above, I quoted the first part of Psalm 4:4. Here's the verse in it's entirety.
Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.
Sometimes an important piece of being angry and yet not sinning is processing. Alone. Silently.
We can't always physically go somewhere to be alone (like when we're in the grocery store check-out and the kids are melting down). In these cases, the best option is to take a moment to be mentally "alone" with your own thoughts so that you can process.
(Easier said than done, I know. But it does get easier with practice.)
Maybe you've sorted through your expectations and the reality. Maybe your expectations were perfectly acceptable ... and the reality of the situation was perfectly ... not. What now?
- Honesty is still the best policy. It doesn't help to tell yourself there isn't a problem when there is. It's OK to conclude that what someone else did was wrong.
- Think about how you can explain the problem in a way that expresses a desire for closeness, not a desire for separation.
Instead of: I am so sick of your behavior so I'd like to drive you away from me.
Express: This situation is causing tension in our relationship and I'd really like to do what we can to remove that obstacle.
- Consider your own sins and weaknesses. Jesus knew what he was talking about when he urged us to take the log out of our own eyes first. That doesn't mean you need to admit that you're to blame for this situation. But it does mean that we recognize that we have ongoing struggles, too, just like the child we need to correct.
Set Reasonable Expectations (for Yourself, Mom!)
Not only is it important to set reasonable expectations for those around us, it's also important to set reasonable expectations for ourselves. There's no better way create the perfect storm for mom-anger than expecting more of yourself than is reasonable.
Just like you're kids, you're not ideal. No, I'm not trying to insult you. You're a fabulous mom. But you're not the "ideal" mom. You are you.
The "ideal" mom could take all the children to the library and not stress about their behavior (or keep them all perfectly in line). But can you?
The "ideal" mom could strew fun craft supplies (including glitter) and rejoice in the happy mess of creativity. But can you?
The "ideal" mom could spend the afternoon reading aloud to her children or doing science experiments with them instead of having some time to herself. But can you?
Who is this "ideal" mom? Well, she's the imaginary friend inside your head who constantly wags her finger at you when you are less than "ideal". She's probably a composite of all the moms you know and all the moms you don't but think you do because you follow them on Instagram.
Is That Really the Choice?
Please don't set expectations for yourself based on the mom you're not.
Which is better: reading aloud with your children or scrolling Facebook without them?
Wait. Don't answer that. Because in your home, that might be a false choice. Those two options might not actually exist. It really might be more like this.
Which is better: scrolling Facebook while observing your children lovingly ... from a healthy, not-within-touching distance or getting really irritated with your children who are sticky and wiggly and pressed up against you to see the pictures in the book you're (supposed to be) reading to them?
I'm not promoting a life pattern of screen addition and neglected children. I'm just saying that the right choice for a particular moment might be the non-"ideal" choice that helps you avoid a situation in which you wouldn't have the composure to be patient and sweet.
Nature walks may be better for your children than television. But television and a little recoup time for you is better for your children than being yelled at by their overstretched mom.
You are Body and Soul
The fact of the matter is that we are made up of both bodies and souls. And the two are very closely interwoven, affecting each other in surprising ways.
I have often felt as though I have only one tank of energy and all expenditures - physical, emotional, spiritual, mental, social - draw from that one, single tank. Physical exhaustion also means that I also don't have much extra bandwidth for relationship struggles. Emotional strain leaves me physically depleted.
Don't make decisions simply on the basis of what you believe you should be or be able to do. Make decisions based on the real day you are living right now. That includes things like:
- How much sleep you got last nigh
- How much (and what) you've had to eat today
- Where you are in your cycle
- Other life stressors that are affecting your level of emotional energy (financial trouble, extended-family drama, marriage problems, etc.)
I know (because I know how a mom-brain works) that you're already thinking of counter-arguments. "But it's my fault I stayed up so late last night. Why should my kids suffer?" Or "Well, I shouldn't have had leftover pizza for breakfast. Shouldn't I just suck it up and pay the consequences?"
It's true that we should be willing to let the consequences of our own choices fall on us rather than on others. But that can take many shapes.
It may mean driving your child to piano practice instead of skipping and taking a nap. It's not your kid's (or the piano teacher's) fault you were up to 2 a.m. reading.
However, it also might mean canceling the trip to the playground you had planned and perhaps having to admit to your children that you're feeling rundown because of your 2 a.m. reading habit.
It may be more loving to disappoint them (and apologize if needed) than to put yourself in a position where you are likely to lose your temper and do worse damage to the relationship than a disappointment.
Discern the Habits that they are "Catching"
You've heard the saying, "More is caught than taught," right? It's one thing to teach our children what to do and say. But it's another thing altogether to consistently model healthy relationship interaction.
Perhaps you're beginning to realize that some of the behaviors that make you so angry (especially as regards sibling interaction) are actually a kid-version of the grown-up struggles you have with anger and relationships! Yikes!
You need help. And they need help. So how are you supposed to help them, when you yourself need help and have room to grow? Well, that's the beauty of grace-filled parenting.
We' don't parent from a place of perfection. We are not the "experts" on high, handing down the instructions to our inferiors. Rather, we are deeply aware of our ongoing need for growth and continual learning. And what we learn and how we grow overflows to our children as they see the beauty of humility and self-examination in practice.