Monday, July 7, 2014


I recently wrote about being a parent who is slow to get angry with their children. A mother of four who read the article wrote me an email agreeing with everything I’d written but asking that essential question: How? Practically speaking, how do I become a slowly angered parent? Her question is one that many of us have asked. We see the beauty of grace contrasted with the ugliness that yet lingers within us and we find our hearts asking those questions. How do I change? How do I grow? How do I more and more become a parent who is slow to anger and abounding in love?

I can only attempt to answer these questions as someone who is en route, who is but halfway there, who yet knows much failure even amid much grace. These thoughts emerge from the heart of a mother who hasn’t arrived but who is still travelling. What follows are not theoretical or from the past, but are intensely fresh, personal, present, and real.

As parents, before we can change what we do, we often need to first change how we think. At first glance, identifying thought patterns might seem purely theoretical and not of much practical help. But if what we do is often the overflow of how we think, perhaps that’s a good place to begin.

4 Helpful Realizations

1. Realize that the times when we, as parents, are easily angered are often moments ripe with opportunity to teach our children.

The moments when we are naturally angered are often those times when we can teach our children about life, about sin, about grace. Conflict is a part of life in sin filled, broken world. For our children’s entire lives, whether that be in two years when they’re six or in thirty years when they’re parents themselves, they’re going to be dealing with conflict. Often in those moments when we’re easily angered, our instinct is to get things back to a state of peace and quiet as speedily and effortlessly as possible. The children are whining or fighting so we angrily snarl, Enough. Stop it right now! I don’t want to hear it! What a waste of an opportunity. We ought to be willing to take the time to patiently talk, listen, and teach. In our haste to get back to peace, we often want to skip the most important part: their heart.

2. Realize that angry parenting is often deeply selfish.

In our worst parenting moments, think of the words that so often escape our lips. I’m so sick of this. I’m sick and tired of you guys fighting. I don’t want to hear one more whining word. I’ve had it up to here! What’s striking about all these phrases (and maybe even as you read them you heard your own voice) is that they’re all about me. They’re selfish. They’re phrases that give us a glimpse of our heart—our anger is about us and how their behavior is disrupting our life.

But parenting isn’t about us being sick of whining or fighting, is it? Ultimately parenting isn’t about us at all. It’s about our children. It’s about putting ourselves aside to love and nurture and teach and guide them. A quickly angered mother is a selfish mother. I’m angry because the peace and quiet of MY car ride or MY home is being disrupted. It can be helpful to realize afresh the intrinsically selfish quality of the easily angered parent and to then remember that grace-filled parenting is about caring more about others than ourselves.

3. Realize that being easily angered is less about lack of control and more about lack of desire.

The picture underneath is one that has circulated on Facebook.

(photo credit: Message with a Bottle Facebook Page)

This resonates, doesn’t it? It’s meant to be humorous, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with smiling and seeing the lighter side of an experience that many of us share. It’s good to remember that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. But within the humour of this picture, there’s a deeper reality at play: in public, whether that be at the playground with friends or at church on a Sunday morning, when our kids do stuff that makes us mad, we often handle it differently (better, and with more grace!) than if we were at home by ourselves. We’re more patient, aren’t we? More gentle. More kind. More tempered. In other words, we’re better parents. We really do have the self control in the moments of frustration. We really do have the capacity to respond the way we should. When I’m at home, quiet, private, unnoticed by others, it’s not that I lack the control to do what’s right, it’s that I lack the desire.

There’s a sadness in this, isn’t there? It’s sad because, truly, when we think about it, we care way more about what our children see, hear, and think about their mother than we do about what strangers at the park or friends at church think about us. More than that, we care way more about what God thinks about us, too. And yet so often our actions would indicate otherwise. It can be helpful to remember that how we respond really is a choice, and that the people who matter most (our children, our Father) see our parenting all the time.

4. Realize that becoming a slow-to-anger parent is often about reprogramming the muscle memory of the heart.

Much of our time in parenthood is spent reacting to things our children do, and we all have patterns of reaction in our lives. When we reflect upon how we habitually react in moments of frustration, we’re able to discern our own pattern of reaction. For many who are quickly angered, the muscle memory of the heart is to react in anger instead of to react in grace. When we find ourselves habitually reacting in anger instead of reacting in grace, it means we need to repent and then form new heart habits. Eventually, with time and with much grace, we create a new rhythm that changes the muscle memory of our heart.

4 Practical Suggestions

1. Prepare in advance.

In the morning, before the day begins to unfold and certainly before it begins to unravel, anticipate that your children will occasionally do frustrating things that annoy you and get under your skin, and then prepare in advance to react with grace instead of in anger. Plan this! Think about it, know it’s coming, and then plan to respond in grace. Each day our children are going to do many things that are funny and lovely and wonderful and that bring us joy and make us laugh. But with just as much certainty, our kids are going to do things that irritate and anger us. Why does it seem to catch us unprepared so that all we’re doing is reacting?  Before the moments come, spend time praying and preparing your heart to react in grace. We don’t just want to go through parenthood reacting. We want to be proactively changing.

2. Reflect at the end of the day.

When it’s been a good, joy-filled day with your children, take a few moments to reflect upon why things went well and why you reacted in grace instead of anger. And similarly, when it’s been a difficult day and you’ve been angry and sinful, take a few minutes to reflect upon why it was a rough day. You might be surprised at the clarity of patterns and themes that emerge with this little exercise. One mark of mature, sanctified Christians is that they are often people who can identify those things which cause them to stumble, and also those things which help them soar.

3. Get enough sleep.

This doesn’t apply to everyone, but for many, many mothers that I’ve talked with, it holds true that lack of sleep leads to lack of grace in our interaction with our children. When we’re tired, we’re irritable. And when we’re irritable, we are prone to becoming quickly angered instead of patient and gracious. Granted, there are some seasons where sufficient rest is impossible. But in the many other times when staying up too late is a choice, we ought to remember that it’s the people who matter to us most who will be on the receiving end of our tired, angry responses.

4. Avoid rushing.

When we’re rushing somewhere with our children, when we’re running late, when we haven’t allotted enough time, it can very easily lead to frustrated, angry, impatient words. It doesn’t take being a parent for very long to realize that, with young children, the simplest things can take way longer than we ever thought possible. It’s just the way it is. In my own reflection on life with my little ones, a simple but helpful detail in how my heart and our family functions has been to become more organized and, along with this, to ensure that we have ample time to do whatever it is we need to do. Of course this isn’t always possible and there are many disclaimers that I’m sure come to mind. But when it’s within our power to do so, avoiding rushing is a simple yet helpful little tool to employ.

Why We Have Tremendous Hope

Parenting is such a journey, isn’t it? There are days when it seems like God’s grace pours into us and out of us into our children. There’s laughter. There’s joy. There’s good stuff happening in our home and we’re filled with hope and excitement for the days ahead. Then there are other days... Days where it seems like anger and tears have been the theme. But even during hard times, we have every reason to have tremendous hope. We're not alone. Truly, in our failures and in our joys alike, we're not doing this parenting thing alone. We live our lives beneath the shadow of His wings, and even as we parent our little ones, we’re being parented by a Father who loves us, is with us, and is helping us every step along the way.