This post has been on my mind for a while and I didn’t want to write it.
It’s not going to be pretty. There are no craft ideas and no recipes. I’m not going to have fun looking through photos to illustrate it and, honestly? I’m not going to look good in any of the anecdotes.
But I know from bitter personal experience that one of the crippling things about anger towards your kids is that you feel ashamed and you feel alone. That makes it really hard to find anger management techniques and amplifies the sense of failure and frustration our heads. If a “me too” story can help just one other family make progress in this area, then I’ll write.
When my computer died a death, I was all set to write a post on Pentecost. I had an amazing cheesecake recipe to share. So much more fun. But if you have ever contemplated throwing cheesecake at your family rather than eating it (or maybe even have!), the good news is, there’s hope. I’m gradually finding that hope, practical solutions and exit strategies from the anger that defined so much of the early years of motherhood for me and I wanted to share some of the places I’ve found it. If you have other ideas to share, get right in there and comment.
So, some ideas to arm you in the battle with anger, from the spiritual and emotional to the practical:
1. Know God’s grace and forgiveness in this area
There is an enemy of our souls who loves to see people imprisoned and families torn apart. He is the Father of lies and he loves to whisper that anger against your children is an unforgivable sin and not something you can come before God with.
If you remember one thing from this post, please make it this. God is bigger than any of our mistakes, even those we repeat over and over. Believing this and repenting is the first step to knowing that there is hope and that you can make progress in this area.
It is all too easy to let shame at our anger destroy our entire relationship with God, leading us into a downward spiral in every area of our lives but don’t believe the lie! God hates sin but He loves His children and He is bigger than your anger. If we say He can’t forgive us, we are actually blaspheming as this doesn’t reflect His true character.
2. Know you are not alone
Most parents struggle with anger, some on a regular basis, some more occasionally. The bible says our enemy prowls like a roaring lion, waiting to destroy us. And what do lions do? They look for the outliers.
Go get embedded with other Christians. Share your struggles with older, wiser Christians who maybe have older or adult children. They will remember the struggle.
If you don’t have any older parents to go to, you may find encouragement elsewhere. We have a copy of The Parenting Book by Nicky and Sila Lee. Their children have written small sections of their own and one admitted his mother was once so incensed with him that she pushed him down the stairs! It made me feel so much less alone to know that Mrs Alpha course herself had struggled with her children. And they seem to have turned out quite nicely!
3. Know that progress is possible
We all have different characters and experience anger differently but, let me tell you, this has been one of my biggest areas of struggle as a parent, exacerbated still further by post-natal depression after my son’s birth. (Interestingly, every Mum I know who’s had PND has told me that it was rage rather than weepiness that characterised their experience of depression).
Having sought advice (and much prayer) from older Christian women and having read around the subject, I’m making huge progress and found the following tips helped a lot.
4. Know your triggers
If you’re going to make a plan for what to do when you’re feeling ready to burst with frustration (see point 5), you’re first going to need to recognise your triggers. It’ll give you a few extra microseconds of time to react more positively. Some triggers can be minimised or avoided (library trips stress anyone else out?!?). Some you can see coming and can pray over or organise better, like the school run. It may be that five minutes less sleep could actually make for a calmer exit.
My biggest personal anger triggers were when my kids unintentionally (or occasionally intentionally) hurt me physically. A rock-hard skull slamming back into my mouth as I dressed a toddler (ouch!) or a handful of skin accidentally pinched during a friendly cuddle.
Other triggers were a child’s defiance making us late somewhere, hard work undone, such as piles of laundry tipped over or my son refusing to go back in the cot in the middle of the night. (Note that many of these triggers were not intended to hurt me – mostly, it’s all normal, simple childish self-centredness, just what goes with the territory of early parenting.)
5. Have a plan
I complained to one older Mum that the gap between stimulus and response seemed so short, especially when I was sleep-deprived, which was…er…always!
She said that the problem was more that I didn’t know what to do in that gap. I had no stock response to the urge to shout and stomp.I needed a game-plan, some go-to anger management techniques.
I’ve tried different tactics in response; deep breaths works for some, I hear (but not well enough for me) and leaving the room is effective but rarely possible when looking after tinies for safety reasons.
One tactic which did work well was shouting “STOP” to myself and putting a hand up like a police officer directing traffic. It drew a line and gives me a moment to think. Clenching and unclenching my hands works well too – some of us experience anger more physically than others, depending on our make-up.
Best of all though was a tip I discovered in Ann Voskamp’s beautiful and amazing book One Thousand Gifts . The book is about the extraordinary healing power of gratitude and had an immense impact on me. Ann has six kids so knows something about how irritating children can be. I suspect a few piles of laundry have been kicked over in her house!
She has used the power of gratitude quite literally to quell anger in herself and it has worked brilliantly as a “fire-extinguisher” for me, or at least a temporary, healthy distraction.
Tintin writhes and resists getting into his car seat when we’re late leaving on the school run? “Thank you, Lord for my strong, healthy son. Thank you for his physical energy. Thank you that we have a car on this rainy day when I’m already late. Thank you for the family who passed on this car seat saving us a huge expense….” and so on.
My daughter rolls on my bed and asks for a cuddle when I’ve just sorted out the laundry into piles to put away? “Thank you, Lord that my daughter is affectionate. Thank you that we have clothes when so many people on our planet are cold or unclothed. Thank you for the lovely comfortable bed we get to sleep in.”
A child’s noggin cracks into my mouth, again?!? “Thank you that I have a child to hold. Thank you that I have healthy teeth!” I get amazingly creative and even laugh at myself sometimes but it really, really helps!
5. Use the power of the Word
After listening to a really inspirational podcast from the God-centred Mom I wrote out several verses pertaining to anger at the front of my prayer journal and read them every morning before I pray. It’s made a huge impact.
By the way, the God-centred Mom podcast is a great resource if you’re cleaning or working with your hands. Be warned, you’ll need the tissues handy for this particular episode. It’s extremely moving.
6. Pray about the pressure points of the day ahead
I actually plan my day the night before. Nerdy, I know, but it helps me to steward my time better. I try and pray through the pressure points in my day that morning. This is a habit I developed over the last year after joinng the Hello Mornings Challenge, an on-line community of women who study the Bible together each morning via a Facebook or Twitter group and who commit to planning their days and setting personal exercise goals (erhem!). It’s been life-changing for me and I can’t recommend it enough. But even praying five minutes before you wake up a cranky toddler can help.
7. Avoid the pressure points where possible
Has anyone else noticed that toddlers are fundamentally incompatible with the 21st Century? They don’t move fast, certainly not in a helpful direction, without a lot of fuss.
Things like allowing more time, where possible. to get things done with your children and getting more sleep for your whole family can make a huge difference. I know it’s easier said than done but I’d rather wrestle with my calendar than with my conscience having lost it with my kids again.
8. Turn the Enemy’s plans back against him.
Use your outbursts as an opportunity to apologise and to seek forgiveness from God and from your children. Let your children learn all about grace in your home.
Our God brings beauty out of ashes. He will heal and restore your family if you ask Him to and come to Him in humility and repentance. And your children may learn more from an imperfect parent who admits their mistakes than from someone who appears perfect.
9. Find resources that speak to you
It’s not all about the spiritual. Do some research and get some good advice. I’ve found the following really helpful in helping improve my skills in keeping my cool.
So, there you have it. And I’ll get that cheesecake recipe to you another time.