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My two-year-old daughter, Lorelai, kept pulling incessantly on my sleeve saying, “Momma, momma, momma,” trying anything she could think of to distract my attention away from the sign I was painting. In case you and I are meeting for the first time— I run an online sign shop while staying at home with my little one.
On this particular day, I was behind on work… this sign had to get done today along with a few others. She’d been a little needy all morning having woken early from a bad dream. There had already been lots of fussing, tantrums, and demanding for something just to refuse it as soon as I offered it to her. And it was getting on my last nerve.
I felt guilty for my mounting frustration that I was sure she could sense—her sweet little face just craved Mommy’s time and attention. She had no idea what I was actually up against. What the work meant for her too— allowing me the luxury of being home with her every day. I softened a bit and looked her in the eye—“Sweet Pea—just give Mommy a few more minutes to get this done and then we can go play outside together.”
“Mommy, NO!” She yelled intensely and yanked my arm down creating a big black streak of paint across the rows of scripted lettering I’d been carefully working on.
“LORELAI!” I screamed, my temper spinning wildly out of control. “Damn it!” (Yep… just being real. I said it.) “LORD! How am I supposed to DO all of this??? Lorelai, UGGG. GO. PLAY!!! Now I have to fix this.”
She burst into tears and so did I.
Seriously… how does this even happen? I have a life that many people only dream of and I’m careful to count my blessings daily. So how does it get so hard sometimes? Impossible almost?
A few minutes passed and I cooled down. I scooped up my tearful toddler and pulled her close into a bear hug. I felt her little body relax and she began to collect herself too.
Then I pulled her back, propped her on my knees, and looked her in the eyes. “Sweet Pea,” I said, “I love you so very much. You mean the world to me… and the way I just reacted and spoke to you was wrong. I am so sorry for speaking harshly and losing my patience. Will you please forgive me?”
“Thank you, Lorelai. Now listen, I know it’s hard to understand when mommy needs to get some work done when you want my attention. But we need to be a team so mommy can keep working from home and we can be together every day. OK?”
“What that means is that I need you to be patient and play on your own when I ask you to. It is not acceptable to demand what you want and be physically aggressive to get your way. When you yanked my arm before it caused a big mess on this sign… see?” I held up the sign for her to see the streak. “Now I need to ask you to be patient even longer because it will take extra time to correct this. But I promise, if you’ll work with me and be patient when I need to get work done, we can have even more fun together later. OK?”
“Thank you, Sweet Pea. Can you please say ‘I’m sorry’ to Mommy for being demanding and using physical aggression?”
“Thank you, Lorelai. I forgive you.” I pulled her back into a tight hug, “God put me in your life to teach you how to succeed and that involves learning self-control. I’ve seen you use it before and I know you can do it again! Can you please go play for a little bit while I fix this sign? Then we can go outside and play together for a while before nap time.”
She toddled off and I heaved a big sigh, looking at the sign and devising a way to fix the black streak.
Before I became a mom, I remember seeing women erupt with unexplainable anger and seeming overreaction at their children’s antics. It didn’t make any sense to me—the response appeared to be so uncalled for and over the top. And then my daughter was born and I became a mother. A passionately in love with my daughter yet sleep-deprived, over-extended, harried, and sometimes desperate mother.
The whole thing started slowly—and when my daughter was an infant—I was more likely to blow up at my husband or a family member than my bundle of joy when I was stressed. But as the toddler years have come upon us, the whole scenario has changed…
All of a sudden, I became acutely aware of Mom Anger developing inside me and I was shocked at its power. Sometimes such an extreme response came from deep within my soul with little to no notice, and I felt powerless to harness it. And what followed was unspeakable shame and guilt weighing on my heart.
I’d sworn I would never be one of those women.
Listen friend—it is NOT just you.
You are NOT a terrible mom.
And we can absolutely overcome this together…
We can grow, improve, and maybe even eliminate mom anger altogether. As I began digging in the depths of myself to discover what was feeding my anger, I realized that I DO NOT ever have to be out of control if I take a more proactive approach. I’ve noticed a marked improvement since I began employing the strategies I’m sharing today and thought some other moms might benefit, too.
Here are some strategies that I use when I feel that distinctive Mom Anger coming on:
1) I ask myself some questions to focus my mind on what’s going on inside of me instead of around me. This requires multi-faceting introspection. Some of it is practical and some of it is emotional.
1. What do I need right now?
-Am I overscheduled and need more downtime? Do I need to set better boundaries? (An AWESOME book for this is Boundaries by Drs. Cloud & Townsend.)
-Am I taking regular time for me to refuel and feel like a whole person instead of only a mom?
-Am I equipped to discipline and manage my children in this season or could I use more information? (Such as reading a parenting book or chatting with a mom I respect who has already parented children through this stage.)
2. What is the real root of this anger? Is it really about the kids?
-Most of us bring wounds from our past into our current relationships—including our parent-child relationships. These wounds can cause us to overreact when our buttons get pushed.
-Am I feeling out of control which makes me lash out to regain control?
-Am I feeling unloved or rejected which makes me feel scared and edgy?
-It’s different for everyone, and if we want to grow in all of our relationships we need to pursue healing for these root issues. Our family loves the ministry Restoring Relationships. I highly recommend their “Online Journey” because it will walk you through the steps to identify and heal those root issues at your own pace and in the comfort and privacy of your own home. (Here’s my Restoring Relationships story if you’re curious.)
-Address soul wounds and root issues that cause me to overreact.
3. How do I want my children to remember these moments?
-Just because we didn’t respond perfectly doesn’t mean God can’t use it for good! We can take these mistakes and let them be powerful teaching tools for our kids. Just like in my example above, we can demonstrate humility and repentance by owning up to our behavior and apologizing to our kids. We can take the opportunity to teach our kids about things like patience, self-control, accountability, and repentance. I started talking to Lorelai this way when she was as young as 9 months old. When we speak biblical truth, the words penetrate the limitations of age and understanding and the seeds go into the young spirit of a child. They’ll understand more than you think and you’ll be equipping them early on for Godliness and righteous living.
-Psychologists also say that moments of discipline, when our children have been humbled, are powerful opportunities for bonding. You can break the curse of rejection on your generational line by disciplining appropriately and then extending loving arms of acceptance for the child to show them that you are rejecting their unacceptable behavior, but you’ll never reject them.
2) I take accountability before God, my children, and anyone else in the “splash zone.”
Repent: Experience a change of heart where you internally acknowledge you were wrong and desire to make it right.
Apologize: Sincerely and verbally apologize for your actions. It’s a good idea to be very specific in your apology and restate exactly what you did wrong and how it hurt someone.
Ask for forgiveness: Sometimes this is the most important step to help the person you offended. It requires a spiritual and emotional decision by them and will often create a softened moment of reconciliation.
I don’t know about you, but when someone does me wrong, there’s NOTHING I appreciate more than if they take accountability and sincerely apologize. Did your parents ever apologize to you when then made a mistake? I think it’s a POWERFUL tool we can employ and demonstrate when Mom Anger gets the best of us.
Just like I explained in the story above—when I mess up, I take a minute to look my daughter (or husband, or friend, or family member) in the eyes and take accountability. I own up to what I know I did wrong and I apologize. And in an act of true humility, while I’m in front of them, I look up to heaven and ask God to forgive me too. If we want our kids to be accountable, near to God, humble individuals, we will have to demonstrate it first.
3) I preemptively employ Discipline before bad behavior gets out of hand.
This doesn’t work 100% if the time, but I’ll bet it works 90% of the time! I’ve noticed that I personally blow up when I’ve waited too long to correct bad behavior. I believe we need never become enraged if we address disobedience quickly.
I always tell other moms that if they give their kids more than 2-3 warnings before administering discipline, they’re waiting too long and it’s adding to their frustration and exhaustion. Do you know what I mean? If you feel like you’re constantly correcting bad behavior and nagging your kids to obey, something is out of balance.
Here’s what I typically do for my 2 year old. In this example, my daughter needs to come to me for one reason or another.
-Give a verbal instruction. “Lorelai, come here please.”
-Give a heightened verbal warning. “Lorelai, look at me. You need to OBEY. Come here.”
-Give a heightened verbal warning with a warning of coming discipline. “Lorelai, do you need to be disciplined? I asked you to come here right now.”
-I immediately discipline as appropriate with a time out, removal of privilege, or a spanking on her bottom depending on the situation. Since coming when called can be a matter of safety, this particular form of disobedience usually warrants a spanking.
I’m very consistent with this and my daughter knows I’ll follow through with discipline so, to be honest, I RARELY have to discipline her. She typically obeys on or before the third warning. (We’ll see if this continues once she’s three. LOL!)
But don’t just take it from me—there’s a phenomenal best-selling book called Dare to Discipline by Dr. James Dobson. I really believe it will help you feel equipped, confident, and powerful when governing your children. I review it often.
The point is— if you struggle with mom anger largely because your kids won’t listen—this is an area you should give serious consideration to.
4) I schedule regular breaks.
Since I work at home and take care of my daughter full time, I make sure to give myself as much time off as I reasonably can. Usually 1-2 nights per week my husband will take over when he gets home from work and I take a few hours to read, watch something mindless, or spend time with a friend.
I also plan a night or two away every few months. It requires careful planning and budgeting, but this gift I give myself makes me a better mom and wife, and makes me a happier, more fulfilled person.
P.S.—If your husband helps you out in the same way, make sure you also give him regular time to pursue his interests and have some down time!
If your husband is unavailable or you’re a single mom— don’t let that be an excuse to neglect down time. Find a good friend, family member, or other moms, and help each other out.
5) I make “Nap time” or “Down time” mandatory for 2 hours every day.
One of my best friends (and mom of 4!) taught me this strategy when I became a new mom. She told me that even when my daughter stops napping, I need to require her to stay quietly in her room for 2 hours every day. It’s just as important for me as it is for her.
You can design this time however you choose to— allowing them to read, plan, or even have some screen time. I really don’t think there’s a right or wrong to this– just make sure you give both yourself and your kids the break. If you struggle to enforce this, I totally get it! But be empowered! Get that Dare to Discipline book and develop some strategies to make it happen.
6) I always set expectations for my daughter.
Several months ago I noticed a pattern. When we experienced moments of tension that led to Mom Anger, it was often when plans changed or something took my daughter off guard. The unexpected change caused my toddler to throw a fit, and I would get exasperated dealing with the fit. Now granted, life isn’t always predictable and I refuse to make my daughter’s childhood one big marshmallow that fails to prepare her for actual life. BUT kids are especially at a disadvantage since we make a lot of their choices for them. If they know what’s coming up, it’s easier for them to go with the flow.
Here are some ways that I set expectations:
-At the beginning of each day, I tell my daughter what to expect during the day and I make it fun. I list off the major things that will be happening—especially if anything is out of the ordinary.
-When we’re at a play date or doing something fun, I let her know ahead of time when it will end. I’ll typically give her both a 15 minute heads up and a 5 minute heads up before it’s almost time to leave.
-When plans are changing, I tell my daughter and explain why as best I can. (Ex. “Lorelai, I know I told you we were going to the park to play this morning, but unfortunately it’s raining and now we can’t go. I’m so sorry—I know you were looking forward to it. Is there something fun and special we can do together at home since we need to stay indoors?”) I offer reasonable empathy if she is upset, but I do not coddle or enable a tantrum.
-I also set expectations for behavior:
a) “Lorelai, remember how I told you we are having dinner at a restaurant tonight? Well, a restaurant is a place that is inside with mostly grown-ups. We’re going to have fun together, but we need to sit still at the table and use our inside voices. I know you can do it! There will be crayons to color with and a few quiet toys in your bag you can play with at the table.”
b) “We’re going to have a great time at our play date today! Just like always, I’m going to give you a heads up when it’s almost time to leave. I want you to have so much fun, and I expect you to have a good attitude when we need to head home. You can help clean up and then give your friend a hug goodbye and say ‘thank you’ before we leave.”
c) I do the same thing with manners, trips to the store, airplane rides/travel, showing appreciation for gifts, responding to new situations, and interacting with people. It doesn’t always work perfectly, but more often than not it does! And when it doesn’t, I take the opportunity to have a follow up conversation. J
7) I pray and study the Word.
I attribute a lot of my progress in the area of Mom Anger to complete dependence on God and making time to study the bible and rest in His presence. At the end of the day, we can’t give our children what we don’t have—and love, patience, wisdom— everything good—comes from Jesus. The more I stay plugged into Him, the more I walk in victory from His overflow.
I hope, above all, that you feel encouraged by what I’ve shared. I’m not proud of the moments when I’ve lost my temper, but I’m grateful I can always make it right, and I’m very sincere when I say that these strategies have helped. I’m losing my cool less and less and I have come to a place where I can see it coming in advance and make different choices before it’s too late. My PRAYER is that you can feel better about it, too, knowing you’re not alone and resolutely taking the steps you need to for yourself and your babies. I would welcome your comments, reflections, suggestions, etc in the comments below!
Before I say goodbye, I have a prayer that you can pray when things are getting heated and a list of scriptures about anger you can meditate on to receive wisdom from God on the subject! As always- don’t take my word for it! Search out the truth from the Creator of the Universe and the original, ultimate parent.
Dear Heavenly Father,
I know you’re here with me in this moment even though there’s a battle raging inside of me. I’m caught between knowing I’m guilty of ungodly anger and still feeling desperate right now. I feel terrible for how I respond when I become overwhelmed, but my anger is all too real. Help me Jesus!
Please forgive me, Lord, for lacking self-control today. Please help me to forgive myself. Holy Spirit fill me back up right now. Give me strength, patience, compassion and tenderness in the place of my overwhelm, anger, and exhaustion.
Give me the grace to respond correctly next time and to take accountability and apologize to my children when I fall short. Please help them forget the times I mess up—and cover, shield, and protect their hearts from all things evil—including evil that comes out of me.
Lord I’m asking you to draw to me every person, resource, and word of encouragement I need to succeed in this season. Help me to place boundaries everywhere they are needed. Give me the wisdom and confidence to discipline my children in the right timing with the right heart-attitude.
Lord, please meet me at my place of greatest need and heal anything in me that isn’t whole. I pray, Lord, that I would become more of you and less of me with each passing day.
Thank you for being a safe harbor—a loving Father who sees the hearts of His Children and offers compassion. Thank you for empowering me to change. Thank you for grace and forgiveness.
I ask these things in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Scriptures to Meditate on for Anger:
Better to be patient than powerful; better to have self-control than to conquer a city. –Proverbs 16:32
Sensible people control their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs. –Proverbs 19:11
It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and an angry woman. –Proverbs 21:19
Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control. –Proverbs 25:28
The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride. –Ecclesiastes 7:8
Don’t let your spirit rush to be angry, for anger abides in the heart of fools. –Ecclesiastes 7:9
“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry… -Ephesians 4:26
Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. –Ephesians 4:31
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. –Ephesians 4:32
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. -James 1:19-20