Two years ago I wrote a three-part series entitled, “Confessions of an angry mom.” [you can read those here: part 1, 2, and 3] Last week, at the invitation of a good friend from Philly days, I spoke about my struggle with anger to a group of moms in Hershey, PA. And as I prepared for this discussion, I realized that in the ensuing two years, what I am proclaiming now is God’s rescue of an angry mom. It’s a rescue that’s still very much in process, but there is a hope and confidence in my Rescuer now because of the intervening time between first identifying the struggle and watching God rescue me again and again and again. And so I am writing again about being an angry mom – this time through the lens of a backward glance of mercy and grace that’s rescued me from myself, and a more confident hope that HE who began a good work in me will carry it to completion (Philippians 1).
***** [excerpts from my talk – thanks to all of the women who were incredibly engaging and kind listeners who let me know that I am not alone in this struggle!] *****
It’s been a long journey for me in my struggle with anger as a mom, and to be honest, I’m still on it. My willful toddlers have become energetic 4-year-old preschoolers. They do not run in opposite directions in Target (usually) and the tantrums have dramatically decreased. And it’s not because I’ve discovered a secret parenting secret. So much of it is developmental on their part. AND YET I will give credit to God for rescuing me from being an angry mom. If anything I share with you will speak into your heart and tell you that there is hope, that you don’t have to be stuck in an endless anger cycle, then my prayers for this morning are answered. I am going to share what’s helped me, and it’s been multifaceted. Your own “anger plan” will be as individual as you are.
(1) What I hope to do is first of all, to let you know that you are not alone! Anger as a mom is so shaming that it keeps us silent, especially in Christian circles. But every time I’ve brought up my struggles with anger, there is always another woman in the room/group/retreat who says, “me too!” We need to walk into the light and be honest with God and one another about our struggles. So I hope that you will reach out and talk to someone about your struggle with anger, whether it’s big or small or somewhere in between.
(2) And secondly, I hope that you will be able to understand what your anger is saying – about you, your life, your heart, your kids, your parenting. Anger has many messages.
(3) Finally, I want you to leave with hope that God loves you in the middle of your anger and that as a Christian, God is even now working to free you from your destructive anger.
Understanding what your anger is saying
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 twins.
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.”
- “You are not meeting my expectations.”
- “I feel helpless to gain control of you.”
- “I must have control.”
- “Life should be perfect. You should behave perfectly.”
- “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.
- “You’re wrong, and I’m going to make you pay.”
- “God has left the building/house/Target store.” [and it’s up to me to provide for myself what I need.]
I have unmet expectations, desires that have become demands, and I need to reexamine those desires as well as readjust my expectations. Maybe I’m expecting more of my child than is developmentally appropriate. Maybe I have turned a good desire into a controlling (idolatrous) demand.
Your anger is ALWAYS saying that something is going on inside you. You need to stop, pause, take a deep breath, and take time to reflect. Your anger should get your attention – it’s like a warning light on the dashboard of your car indicating something is amiss inside.
The message of your anger that you’re reflecting to those around you (husband, kids, friends, parents, in-laws) is always a picture of the message you’re giving God. Every emotion is ultimately directed towards God.
What will rescue you from anger
Rescue from your anger as a mom comes as you realize:
- you need to be rescued (you can’t manage your way out of this)
- God is powerful enough to rescue you and loving enough to rescue you
- You are loved right now, right here, in the very middle of your ugliest mom moment that you would never share with anyone. God knows you intimately (Psalm 139) and loves you completely.
Rest here. You are loved. You – YOU – are loved. God knows you. He compassionately stands with me, not as a judge from afar. Because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, there is no judgment left for you in Christ. Only love. God is with you. Always. His resurrection power is at work to give you what you need to endure with patience.
Colossians 1:11-12 –
“May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Cry out for rescue. Expect rescue. Celebrate past deliverance. This is the example of the Psalms.
Pray and then call someone. A trusted friend/etc. You can’t do this alone.
Accept your limitations, physically and emotionally. You may need medication for a season, or counseling, or preschool, or a weekly babysitter or housecleaner, etc. There is no shame in your limits, but relief can come as you live within them.
Make a plan for how to remember and live out of the reality of your rescue from being an angry mom. Your freedom/rescue plan. Because you are already rescued forever, how can you live free?
Galatians 5:1 –
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
Freedom from …
- Guilt and shame
- Judgment and condemnation
- Hiding your struggles
- Trying harder
- Being controlled by your children
- Drudgery and duty
- Following a certain parenting method
Freedom to …
- Live forgiven and ask for forgiveness
- Engage in community
- Receive and show grace
- Be honest and vulnerable
- Stop trying
- Be the parental authority
- Enjoy your children as the gift they are
- Be the expert on your child
- Walk out of depression
Practical suggestions for making your freedom plan
1. Cry out for rescue. Expect rescue. Celebrate past deliverance. This is the example of the Psalms.
2. Pray and then call someone. A trusted friend, small group leader, mentor, pastor, or counselor (or all of the above! I’ve certainly done that.) You can’t do this alone.
3. Accept your limitations, physically and emotionally. You may need medication for a season, or counseling, or preschool, or a weekly babysitter or housecleaner, etc. There is no shame in your limits, and relief can come as you live within them.
4. Make a plan for how to remember and live out of the reality of your rescue from being an angry mom. Your freedom/rescue plan. Because you are already rescued forever, how can you live free?
Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions by Lysa TerKeurst
She’s Gonna Blow!: Real Help for Moms Dealing with Anger by Julie Barnhill
Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness by Ed Welch
“How Do I Stop Losing It With My Kids?” by William P. Smith (CCEF, New Growth Press, 2008)
ScreamFree Parenting by Hal Edward Runkel
“The Healing of Anger” audio sermon by Dr. Timothy Keller (Redeemer Presbyterian Church, October 17, 2004)
realistic motherhood memoirs
What It Is Is Beautiful by Sarah Dunning Parker – a poetry book on being a mom of young kids
Surprised by Motherhood by Lisa-Jo Baker
Sparkly Green Earrings by Melanie Shankle
Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Melton