The following is a guest post written by Charity Hawkins, author of The Homeschool Experiment.
It was a late Wednesday night after church. I had planned to give my three kids a snack then send them immediately to brush their teeth and get ready for bed. My husband was working late, and I was ready to be done with the day.
Then my eight-year-old son asked if he could play “Jingle Bells,” for me on the piano, and I was so thrilled that he was finally excited about piano that I said yes. Then my six-year-old daughter begged to play. Of course, my three-year-old son wanted a turn next.
The minutes were ticking by and I thought, why did I ever agree to this anyway? We were an hour past bedtime already. I could feel my blood pressure rising. Then my son and daughter started bickering—one being bossy, the other whining. Nobody was listening to me.
“Stop it!” I snapped. Like a whip. “Go. Brush. Your. Teeth. You’re done.”
Eyes wide, the kids stared at me, frightened, then hurried to obey.
I won. But at what cost?
You see, I tend to struggle with anger. I didn’t realize it so much until I had children, until I saw their tender faces crumple, saw tears roll down their cheeks.
As if their hearts were glass, and I crushed them in my furious fist.
I’ve wept many times over the harsh words I’ve spoken to my children, wishing I could take them back. Sometimes it’s like approaching a cliff: I know I’m getting close, I can feel myself beginning to get “irritated,” or “annoyed,” or “frustrated,” (all code words for angry), and then, before I know it, I’m yelling.
That night at the piano I didn’t yell, but I got too close to the edge. I was speaking and acting in anger, and my kids felt it, and they deserve better.
That night I wrote in my Anger Journal, or renamed in a positive light, my Gentleness Journal. This is one practical tool I’ve found very helpful in understanding why I get angry and how to prevent it in the future.
Here are some questions I ask in my journal:
What happened BEFORE I got angry?
My main triggers:
- I’ve let my children wheedle, beg, or argue their way into getting their way, but I am mad that they pressured me into it.
- The kids have been disobeying for a while and I’ve been ignoring it.
- Things are chaotic, messes are being made, and no one is listening to me.
- They are fighting and being mean to each other.
- They are embarrassing me in public (like the check-out line at Super Wal-Mart, which I’m convinced was designed by Satan).
- General irritation that’s not at all their fault (usually hormonal or I’m just exhausted by life).
What could I do NEXT TIME to respond better?
- Give my children LOTS of practice waiting for things in life so they are more patient, less demanding, and don’t expect to get their way all the time. (This might be the number one parenting advice I’d give a mom with a toddler.)
- Consistently correct disobedience instead of waiting until I’m mad.
- Say no gently but firmly if I really don’t want them doing something. Remember that it’s good for them to get practice at not getting their way.
- When things are chaotic, and I feel those bubbles of irritation (anger) at the flour spilled all over the floor or whatever it is, take a break. If we keep plowing ahead, I’m going to blow.
- Separate the kids until they can calm down and stop yelling at each other.
- Pray. A lot. Try to avoid horrendous situations like Super Wal-Mart during nap time.
- EXERCISE. This helps me in every way imaginable. During my husband’s busy season I force myself to go to the YMCA at least twice a week (even though I still sometimes feel guilty about it) because I know it makes me a happier, calmer mama for my kids.
I also have some questions that remind me to be proactive in gentleness too: Did you speak gently but firmly when giving instructions? Did you expect the kids to listen and obey, but consistently and kindly correct them if they didn’t? Did you praise each child for what they did right today?
These have all been helpful as I walk the path to be a gentler mother.
Today my two oldest were begging to help me sort their clothes in the attic, and I acquiesced. But within about three minutes they were driving me nuts. I was trying to focus and sort eight years’ worth of baby and children’s clothes, complete with approximately twenty-seven thousand mismatched socks.
They had promised to be quiet but couldn’t manage to keep themselves from skipping around clutching at all their old toys, grabbing clothes willy-nilly, and incessant question-asking. I began to get annoyed (angry).
I realized I needed to just say no. So I told them, “Thank you for your hearts to help, guys, I really appreciate it, but I just don’t have anything you can help with right now. When I get to the point you can help, I promise I will let you know.” I held firm, even when they cried in disappointment. But that’s okay. Sometimes I will need to say no to things.
It’s much better to say “no” or “wait” on the front end with gentleness, than to let my children talk me into something and explode in anger later.
It was a small step, but I’m thankful for it. It’s a long road, this road of motherhood, so I want to celebrate each step in the right direction.
Do you struggle with anger at your children? What are some strategies you’ve found to deal with it?