My twin sons scooted close to one another at the breakfast table as I poured milk over their cereal. Bouncing off of each other, they bumped arms and laughed. My toddler banged her hands on the table, screaming for her sippy cup, while my older son demanded I locate his drawing from yesterday. One of my twins erupted, “Hey! Stop touching me! Stop sitting close to me! Mooomm!”
My anger boiled over into a yell before we’d even finished the first bites of breakfast: “Guys, knock it off!” Guilt set in immediately. I’d done it again.
My voice calmed as I tried to sort out the issues at hand. I felt exasperated with everyone’s behavior—especially my own. I wanted to enjoy a nice, conversational breakfast with my children. I wanted them to be considerate, reasonable, and self-sufficient. Was that too much to ask? (Yes. It was.)
While I wish it wasn’t the case, scenes like this play out at our house more often than I’d like. When we leave for school, when we clean up the house, when it’s bedtime, when it’s mealtime. Perhaps you can relate?
Here are a few principles that help me navigate anger in the little years.
Call It What It Is
Not all anger becomes sin (Eph. 4:26). When our hearts rise up against things that God hates—wicked, disobedient, unloving behavior—we model our righteous and just God. When our children complain about their circumstances or inflict pain on others, we are right to be upset. Anger over the right things for the right reasons can remind us of our vital job to teach our kids to hate wickedness, too. But this righteous anger is never an excuse to treat our children harshly.
Also, not all yelling is sin. If our children run into a busy street, I’m going to yell their names as loudly and forcefully as I can. Screaming their names might save their lives. In this we also image God, who gives us strong warnings when our lives hang in the balance (Rom. 6:23).
But on a daily basis, when we just haven’t had enough coffee and our kids are wrestling again, yelling as a parenting technique isn’t righteous (James 1:20). Allowing anger to burst forth without self-control, moving straight from offense to wrath, doesn’t reflect God’s character. Our Lord is “slow to anger and great in lovingkindness” (Ps. 145:8) showing perfect patience in Christ (1 Tim. 1:16).
When I seek to punish or control my kids with harsh words just because they aren’t behaving exactly the way I want, I need to call my response what it is. It’s not a bad day. It’s not a mom fail. It’s not a joke. It’s sin.
I need to call my response what it is. It’s not a bad day. It’s not a mom fail. It’s not a joke. It’s sin.
And, like all sin, I need to confess it, apologize to my kids, hope in Christ, turn from it, walk forward in freedom from guilt, and enjoy a renewed desire for obedience (1 John 1:9).
I’m probably not going to text my husband or friends every time I yell at the kids, but it’s important for me to consistently confess sinful expressions of anger to others (James 5:16). As I bring it to the forefront of conversations, others can ask me how it’s going and encourage me to repent, hope in Christ’s sufficiency, and obey (Heb. 10:24).
Living in community where others—parents, in-laws, college students, and friends—regularly see how I parent provides accountability. When I notice inconsistencies in my responses—being a “nice mom” when others are around and a harsh one when we’re alone—it’s time to let in the light (1 John 1:7).
Humble transparency also provides necessary safeguards against abusive behaviors. Anger left unchecked can spiral out of control. Any parent who is hurting her children needs to tell someone and get help immediately. A church community of mature Christians is an essential place to start.
Pray and Prepare
When I’m aware of my tendency to let anger give way to unkind parenting, I see patterns emerge. On mornings when I haven’t had enough sleep, the breakfast table feels more like a circus. On afternoons when my soul is parched, the drive home from school feels like I’m trapped in a van full of bears. But in all cases, especially when I’m weak, God provides a way out from temptation (1 Cor. 10:13). I can arm myself with his Word and practical parenting strategies.
Although we can’t always control our circumstances (if only children and hormones did what we wanted!), we can turn to God for wisdom (James 1:5). An older mom once told me she had a lightbulb moment when she went from only asking God to change her children (“God, make them stop crying and whining!”) to asking for grace to endure with patience (“God, give me the strength, self-control, and words to parent them through this”).
When it comes to preventing outbursts of anger, we must remember that the Son of God absorbed the wrath of God in our place (Rom. 3:25). It’s the assurance of good news that motivates us to do good to our children. When I humbly remember the massive debt God forgave me in Christ, I’m far less likely to angrily demand restitution when my child loses a shoe. Before I erupted over sibling squabbles in the car or marker murals on the cabinets, he died for me (Rom. 5:8).
Tomorrow morning will arrive, and I already know we’re low on milk. The toddler will almost certainly melt down again, and the twins will inevitably knock some of their cereal onto the floor. Nothing about tomorrow will be different from any other day—except the fact that I’m determined to look to Christ amid the tears and squabbles. I’m sure I won’t handle it perfectly, but it will bring me to my knees, and that’s a good place for a mom to be.