Today I had the privilege of being part of a panel discussion on the topic of “Nurturing Emotional Health as a Mom” with our church’s moms’ ministry, entitled (appropriately) “Nurture.” I learned so much from my preparation as well as from my fellow panelists. And so I wanted to share here part of what I shared today, in hopes that you too will know (1) you are not alone (2) God meets you (3) you can change. I am experiencing all of that and more in this journey. A journey of “imperfect progress” to quote Lysa TerKeurst in Unglued.
Anger and fear/anxiety are often two sides of a coin. They are two responses to feeling out of control and two ways to seek to regain control. I have lived in both places, and I often still do. Anxiety used to be my prevalent and familiar emotional response to out-of-control situations, like a pending job transition or move, pregnancy with twins, bed rest while pregnant with twins due to preterm labor, trying to feed newborn twins, and the run-of-the-mill daily issues like budget, income, and people pleasing. Anger I was not so familiar with from the inside out. Until my precious daughters reached about 18 months, when they began turning from babies with predominantly physical neediness of me to toddlers with extreme emotional demands of me and a huge emotionality of their own that they brought to each day. I began losing it in angry outbursts, almost but not quite as frequently as they would erupt in a toddler temper tantrum. It became as if we would set each other off. I felt out of control and at the end of my emotional resources. Completely, utterly drained, with no hope until preschool of any relief or refreshment. And I don’t know about you, but as often as I hear “it goes by so quickly!” and really want to believe that, it does not help me to get through these very draining days and weeks that feel as though they are eternal in length and demands.
My anger continued to increase, despite my best efforts at prayer, seeking help, trying to be more self-controlled. And I think that’s part of the problem. It’s not about me being self-controlled, but about me being more Spirit-controlled. I’m learning ways to manage heat-of-the-moment anger and seeking God to heal me of the roots of my sinful anger, preventative care of my heart and soul. My anger is often my temper tantrum against God. I began keeping an anger log – tracking the times when I got angry, what I did in response to what was happening around me, why I became angry – looking at what I wanted in that moment, and then seeking God’s help for biblical truth to fortify my heart.
I noticed the many ways that anger can manifest itself – not only the loud yelling or outbursts, but also criticism, sarcasm, a lingering bitterness or resentment. The object of my anger was not always the one(s) I was acting angry towards. Sometimes I was angry at myself for getting angry; other times I was feeling resentful towards my husband and directing it towards my kids; and yet other times I was upset with my kids but taking it out in an angry resentment towards my husband. Ultimately, I was angry with a God I viewed as controlling yet distant. Far from caring, compassionate, and intimately involved in my day to day battles as a mom to twin toddlers.
Some of the messages of my anger were:
- “I don’t deserve this. I deserve better treatment, more respect, kids who listen to me, etc.”
- “I feel so emotionally overwhelmed that I don’t know what else to do.”
- “I need a break”
- “You’re getting in the way of what I want.” [Usually peace and quiet and kids who can self-parent – to quote Paul Tripp in his parenting series “Getting to the Heart of Parenting.”]
- “You are not meeting my expectations.”
- “I feel helpless to gain control of you.”
- “CALM ME DOWN!” This last one I am indebted to Hal Runkel’s book, ScreamFree Parenting for, in which he discusses the need to take responsibility for my reactions toward my kids. Saying “you make me angry” just isn’t true. I get angry when others get in the way of what I want/think I deserve/expect in the moment.
I began with a lot of repentance, first toward God (the real target of my anger), then my husband (who would sometimes get fired upon), and most often, my daughters. Who, though often the ones seemingly triggering my anger, were the ones I sinned against in my angry yelling at them and out-of-control fly-off-the-handle moments. I talked to friends, honestly admitting my anger, asking for prayer, and finding that I wasn’t so alone as I thought I was. Hence this blog post, and our morning’s discussion, and each of you who find that this resonates with you. We are not alone! And that is the first and most important step in dealing with anger as a mom. Stay tuned for more in the next few days.