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The Parent's PartFixing Ourselves First     << Ch. 15 >>
Scorners set a city aflame, but wise men turn away anger..
- Proverbs 29:8

Training Mom
We are under a divine mandate to train our children. So far, I�ve written an entire book about how to do this and now I�m close to the end and it�s time to face up to the biggest challenge of all � training ourselves. We can try to follow all the discipline and Tomato Staking rules, watch for character problems, ambush, outlast, lecture, and so on and so forth, but if we are hypocrites ourselves in the way we live and in our own attitudes, we will eventually have serious problems with our children, probably sooner than later. We may get outward obedience, but we will lose our children�s hearts, and we may indeed permanently hinder their relationship with Christ. So stop now and clean up your act, so that you can be the mom you want to be, leading your beloved children to godliness of both action and heart, and ultimately to a life of love and devotion to God. "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." - Matthew 7:5

I�m not going to grill you about habits and deeds here, I think most of you know which of those types of things you need to change in your life and how to do it. (Just do it.) Rather, I�m going to skip right to the issue that is by far the most damaging to your relationship with your children � the issue of Mom�s ability to control her own emotions.

If you have a problem in this area, I know that your conscience is smiting you right now. You know that I am speaking about irritability, frustration, and anger. If we are unable to control our own tempers, how can we teach our children to control theirs? We feel guilty for even trying. Be assured that all our good childrearing efforts will be tragically undermined if we are unkind, unfair, and angry in the way we treat our children. 

On the other hand, if we learn to control our own emotions, we will be far better equipped to teach our children how to control theirs. I hope you will be encouraged here, by the testimony of other moms who are working on this same issue, and will glean some tidbits of information that will be keys for you, to achieving control over your own spirit, giving you the ability to successfully apply all the other teachings in this book.

"...do not exasperate your children, that they may not lose heart." 
- Colossians 3:21

Mom's Emotions
Leonie: I have a sad heart tonight.� I just lost a showdown with my five dear children who have not been getting on well lately at all. I'm constantly battling bad attitudes. They snap and snarl at each other at the slightest provocation. No "soft answers," no patience, no mercy toward each other. You get the picture.

Now, here's what makes me really sad. I'm sure this all comes from me! I'm always on the verge of exploding. I am angry, I yell and lash out.

When I talked to my ten-year-old son tonight, he cried and said his heart is "full of anger and ugliness and it keeps spilling out." I cried too, as I considered that my sin has created the same feeling in him. He has watched me and "learned" how to react to stress and demands by snapping at others!

Is there a way to undo this damage? I really want the joy of God in my family. How do I become a calm, serene, cheerful, joyful mommy? Help me please.

Elizabeth: I used to be very easily frustrated, so I can truly relate to your problem. Things were far worse when my oldest ones were little because I didn't know how to parent effectively. Things were often bordering on chaos, and predictably, my frustrations were often near the explosion point. Then I changed my parenting ways and the situation improved immensely. Once I knew what to do when my children misbehaved, I wasn't nearly so subject to being annoyed by their misbehavior. But, alas, other things besides the children still annoyed and irritated me, and my agitation still had a negative effect on the entire family.

For example, I would get all bent out of shape over something as small as an accidental spill or a dropped can of soup. I'd voice my displeasure with, "Shoot!", almost before the can hit the floor. Then I'd let my anger swell and I'd start complaining to myself with, �Life is so rough,� and �Why is it always me?,� and �Why can�t anything ever go right?,� and so on ad nauseam. If the kids were around I�d let my anger spill over on them too.

Then my face would turn red with embarrassment and I'd tear up as I started to feel guilty for losing my temper, snapping at my innocent children, and thinking such selfish, ungrateful thoughts. Finally I'd end this emotional ordeal in a state of depression by beating myself up for being a complete and total failure as a Christian, a wife, a mother, and even a person. I'd repent in dust and ashes and pray that it would never happen again, but, of course it would, and I'd repeat the cycle again and again.

Finally, I changed my perspective. I decided to view my irritability as an extremely serious sin, not just an unfortunate personality flaw. I decided to view losing my temper as totally unacceptable and completely forbidden. Instead of seeking to �improve�, I determined to �quit�. I changed to viewing anger as poison, not just as a small bothersome bad habit. Big difference.

Henceforth, I began to ponder this "poison" many times a day and prepare for it, instead of waiting until a frustrating incident came along, producing its impulsive response. I determined that anger or irritation was NOT AN OPTION, period. My resolve was to be alert and ready, not passively doing nothing until sin was knocking at the door. I purposed that despite anything that might occur, I'd find some way to maintain control. I WOULD NOT become angry!

I still dropped that can of soup now and then, but I was alert to my responses and each time chose one that was different from the one I�d grown accustomed to. As that can slipped out of my grasp I would think, "Relax. It's just a can of soup. Getting upset is ridiculous, ungodly, and WRONG, and it is NOT AN OPTION. It's just a can of soup. So what if it hits my foot or makes a mess? I'm going to smile, and just take care of things and move on."

What a help that was! Yes, I still occasionally messed up. After all, I'd had many years of practice being easily annoyed. But I could immediately see a big difference and I kept at it. To make this work, I had to keep pondering my newfound abhorrence of anger. I had to keep thinking, "Getting angry is NOT AN OPTION", and "This is NOT something to get upset about", and "I will deal this some other way". Within six months, I defeated the habit of being constantly annoyed and irritated. To be released of that burden is nothing short of glorious.

So how are things now? Well, last week I was opening the lid on my chili at Wendy's and splashed chili all over my blouse. What was my reaction? Well fifteen or twenty years ago it would have been to be flushed with anger and irritation and a "Why me?" attitude. This time none of that even crossed my mind. It really did not occur to me to be angry. Instead, my mind analyzed the situation and dealt with it: "Hmmm, those are really large spots. Not attractive at all. Good thing we�re on our way home. I wonder what the best way to get this off is. I wonder what I would have done if this had happened on our way out to that meeting. I wonder if I would have tried to wash it out in the rest room or what. I'm sure glad it happened now instead." Actually, it was almost amusing the way I silently thought through the whole scenario without really reacting emotionally at all. How wonderful this new spirit is!

My message to you is this: You CAN change. I did. You will have to be your own parent though, and train yourself. If you know how to train your children, that will help you train yourself. Are you focusing on the details? Are you nipping things in the bud -- taking care of the "little foxes" that are "ruining the vineyard"? (Song of Solomon 2:15 - "Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that are ruining the vineyards...") You must cultivate and ponder a HATRED for anger continually, vigilantly watch for it and be prepared at the very first inner sign, to overcome evil with good by replacing angry reactions with calmness and godly, right thoughts.

Watch yourself closely, raise your standards, and train yourself to be godly, just as you want your children to be godly. Remember that your children can and will change as you do, IF you do.

Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.
- I Peter 2:1-3

A Critical Spirit
Leslie: Critical and mean... unpleasant adjectives that describe both me and my daughter. I realize now that I am not a very nice mommy. My frustrated heart taints my spirit and echoes in my voice. 

I like my children most of the time. They are a joy and I'm happy being their mom. I know that there is no greater calling. But sadly, I am aware that the wrong attitudes I hold so much of the time, have done significant damage to them. My daughter, now seven, is highly critical and possesses a sharp tongue � qualities that I strongly suspect were learned from me. I am praying hard for God to work both on me and my daughter.

My question is this, do I pray and let God work, or do I discipline her for her harsh words? She has been an exemplary child for the most part -- quick to obey, cheerful, diligent, and kind � until recently. But now I�m noticing her mouth becoming sarcastic and snide and I hate it. Oh, Elizabeth, help!

Elizabeth: Should you "pray and let God work"? WHAT!? I mean�what exactly are you expecting God to do? God has put you in authority over your child for the purpose of raising a godly child. So don't expect Him to take over the job He gave to you.

He has already convicted you, that you are the source of your daughter�s critical spirit and that you need to change. So get going. First, start obeying Him. Stop your own sharp tongue! Stop the criticism. Make this your top priority.

Remember what Proverbs says about an excellent wife: "She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue." - Proverbs 31:26. Watch yourself, and instead of criticisms, give encouragement and praise. If you can't be kind, generous, or sympathetic, when you ought to be, say nothing. Above all, train yourself not to be angry.

Should you discipline your daughter, even though you are not yet perfect? Absolutely! Apply whatever discipline is needed to correct her tongue, but make sure she understands that it is her heart that is wrong and needs changing. Help her to "think" differently. Help her to replace her discouraging, mean words with kind, edifying ones. 

A critical spirit is often rooted in pride or ungratefulness. Tell her plainly that you intend to discipline her every time you hear her critical mouth. Tell her that after she is disciplined, she will be required to think of three sincere compliments to give the person she criticized. Make her apologize sincerely, if she criticizes face to face.

Declare war on this bad spirit in both of you. Don't let it continue to rule your lives. Be thankful that she is only seven and can be changed with consistency and diligence. You can change too, but since you have no one to Tomato Stake you, it will be harder. Know that you are not helpless; God has given Christians victory over sin and you can master your critical spirit. Keep the future of your daughter in mind as your motivator.

Should you pray for your daughter? Of course, but if you discipline her while you are exempting yourself, don�t expect much change, expect to create further bitterness in her. 

Follow-up from Leslie: Thank you for your direct reply... I needed that. If we can't count on fellow Christian women to rebuke us, imagine the road we would go down! It's a new day! God has truly, truly given me more joy and peace in the last week than ever before. I'm thrilled.

I don't think I realized what a unpleasant place I was creating around here with my raised voice and critical tone. My daughter is responding wonderfully to a mama who corrects her criticisms in a gentle, loving way.

Thank you Elizabeth for correcting me. Because Christ is my Savior, I have the desire and the power to choose good over evil. Patience and anger were attributes I was choosing and these are certainly not fruits of the Spirit. Elizabeth, you were right on the money when you said the Lord has done His part in convicting me. I had to choose Him and His fruit rather than choosing the evils of anger and malice. Thank you Elizabeth!

But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.
- Romans 6:17,18

Cultivating Love and Joy
Birdie: All my life I dreamed of the joys of being a mom. I wanted to dance with my children, sing silly songs, paint, roll play-doh, and blow bubbles. My children would have fun, learn much along the way, and be members of a happy, harmonious home.

Unfortunately, for various reasons, I have not attained what I wished and am wondering if there is still hope that I can do it now. If I were to start suddenly being "fun", my oldest daughter (three years old) would look at me as if I had grown a second head. I want desperately to find joy in playing with her and being her mommy, without surrendering the right of family discipline.

I honestly believe that my daughter's behavior would be better if I were less tense and was more enjoyable to be around. How do I engage in fun things with her and still get the baby fed, do the laundry and cooking, and perform all my other required chores? I just don't know how to fit it all in. Any thoughts?

Elizabeth: Some moms are great "kid people." I am not. I'm not good at playing house with the girls or trucks and cars with the boys. However, I excel at smiling when a child shows me his latest creation. I am good at hoisting a toddler eager for a hug. I show frequent flashes of humor and am good at conferring on any child who wants it, whenever he wants it, a portion of my undivided attention. You don't have to commit a fixed portion of the day to deliberate play or "quality time". Every moment spent with your children should be quality time, even when disciplining. 

Just a minute or so of attention will greatly please a child and confer love and security. For this, they will usually come to you without being beckoned. When they do, stop what you are doing and make yourself physically and emotionally available to them. Smile, answer their questions, give them your undivided attention, and then, when they have been satisfied, let them go back to what they were doing.

If they are bored and you are very busy, stop for just a moment and give some pleasant direction for their next activity. If possible, include them in what you are doing, especially when they show spontaneous interest. Most small children love to be Mommy's little helper, so let them help you whenever you can.

Consider this real life example that I jotted down when it occurred. My youngest (two years old at the time) approached me as I was working at my computer, and with big eyes and an excited smile, showed me a little Lego man in his hand. I stopped, smiled, hugged him, and said, "Wow! What's that?" He smiled and responded with "I am stinky!" Well that gave me a good laugh.

Me: (still smiling) "Oh, really? Did someone send you to me?" 
Him: "Noooooo." 
Me: (enthusiastically) Did you come here all by yourself? (I'm teaching here.)
Him: (nodding excitedly) Yeah!
Me: "Oh good! Say 'Yes', not 'yeah'." (Still pleasantly teaching.)
Him: (smiling) "Yes!"
Me: (still cheerful and smiling) "Good, that sounds much nicer. Now lay down here, so I can change you."

This exchange might seem trifling, but it reflects the importance of ENJOYING your children, extending your love, attention, and approval when they come to you all those precious little times throughout the day.

And by the way, when he did not lay down right away, I had no problem switching to a more serious tone and saying, "Lay down right now so momma can change you!" You do not have to sacrifice discipline to have a loving relationship with your child.

For the LORD takes pleasure in His people;
- Psalms 149:4

(c) Copyright 2007 L. Elizabeth Krueger.  All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.