Life before Christ
Before I became a follower of Christ, I had an anger problem.
The anger made it so that even though I had some really good qualities, my light could not fully shine.
For example, I really did try to give my children the gift of a wonderful childhood. I did this by taking one to the playground a lot. By God’s grace, our neighbourhood had a playground that saw little use. But we definitely maximised it. Every Saturday for a few hours, I would take her. I would sit by her whilst she played and sometimes even participate in the play.
She became fascinated with dogs at one point and off we went, house to house to discover together which homes had dogs.
When she was learning numbers, I would drive all around our neighbourhood so she could identify and recite the house numbers. Not once. Not twice. A lot.
I taught her how to enjoy doing things for their own sake. Not to impress others. Not to win brownie points. Just because it is a good thing to do.
So I wasn’t what would be considered in the eyes of the world, a horrible mother. But I had issues and one of them was my anger problem.
How my anger presented itself
My anger showed up occasionally as hitting. I would hit my daughter. I would feel terrible about it afterwards but I didn’t know how to stop.
But the more pernicious one was the quieter daily expressions of anger at my children. The way that this quieter anger presented itself was that they would do something that in my opinion was not correct. Things like: Forgetting to wear their slippers when moving from the living room to the kitchen, wearing torn or stained clothes, leaving their room messy, leaving the living room untidy and happily staying in it.
My anger came from repeatedly telling them not to do that only for them to do it again the very next day. Why were they doing things I had told them not to do? When I would notice these behaviours, I would either shout at them, or angrily tell them to go do the right thing.
What I didn’t know was that these daily reprimands were destroying our relationship.
Advice from several quarters
Some well-meaning people tried to warn me. But their approach was to report to me that my children don’t accept correction. The effect of that report was that I felt bad. Because it was a judgement on my inadequate parenting ability. At the same time, I felt that there was so much that was great about my children and so to hone in on their vulnerability alone was not a fair assessment. Still, I tucked it away at the back of my mind as food for thought and action.
Another well-meaning party gave me a different advice. The advice was to hang out with my children which I did by instituting Mummy and Daughter time - 30 minutes - every day after school. And also movie night on Fridays and Saturdays.
A third well-meaning party had told me that they were not impressed by my own ability to get things right. How could that be given that I have always been bright? This hurt to hear but I accepted the feedback in good faith. This time, I was able to respond that I was doing many things right. The answer lies in a concept from systems thinking, I knew that stocks take time to rise because flows take time to flow. It takes a long time to produce a more responsible adult. I’m actually seven years into my journey and yet it is only now that the results are becoming evident.
God’s work in my life
God later led me to see that the failing that was so easy for me to identify in advisor number one was the same thing that I was doing at home with my kids. My home was low on praise and high on criticism.
God led me to see that I had a habit of looking over my kids when they came to me. And when I would notice something wrong, I would speak up. But when I noticed something right, I would not praise them.
Gradually, God is teaching me to balance my feedback to my kids. Words like “you are beautiful”, “You have a unique gift”, “You matter”, “Well done”, “ Take a bow”, now circulate freely in our home.
He also taught me that I was correct in wanting to discipline my kids. My intention was right but my methods were too harsh. He is showing me that discipline must be loving and the purpose is restoration not alienation. So when I do discipline correctly, the result is that at the end, we are closer than we were before the discipline.
God also opened my eyes to see that my anger was actually wrong in the circumstances in which I was expressing anger. The answer to my question: Why were they doing things I had told them not to do? Is that I was using the wrong tool for the job.
Some things you need to tell your kids. Skills you need to teach them. Have them do it. Correct, Praise, until they have mastered it. We need to first of all learn how to get things right ourselves and then teach our kids how to get things right.
God opened my eyes to see that whenever my children would do something wrong, those were teachable moments not anger moments. And so gradually my attitude began to change. And by God’s grace, I am now more able to seize the teachable moments for teaching, and instruction. I am enjoying teaching and they are enjoying being in an environment where their learning is made more possible. Their rooms are tidier, and they are taking initiative.
Recently God opened my eyes to see that one of my parenting goals is to raise responsible children. In fact the feedback that was initially making me angry were the early signs of lack of responsibility. And the reason the behaviour makes me angry is because I truly want a good outcome but I'm frustrated with not knowing how to achieve it. My anger is because I want to raise responsible children. So even my anger is rooted in love. But imperfectly expressed love is not God's intention for us.
For me to be able to raise responsible children, I now see that there’s a crucial part that I need to play beyond telling them what to do. And by God's grace, I am playing it.
About a year ago, I got the idea that I wanted every morning to be a “good morning” and one of my best friends gave me a tip that along with my diligence, my beautiful mind and above all the grace of God, has helped us to actualise that.
This morning, I even got a gift from one of my children. The gift was a positive signal to me of the emotional health of our home because her love language tends to be service, touch, and words of affirmation. So to get a gift from her signalled to me that she had had such a good morning that she felt so generous she reached further than she usually does to express love.
Encouraged by the success of our effort to have a “good morning”, we are extending it this year to a “good day”. Because it is the accumulation of many good days that make a good life.
A message of hope
I currently believe that responsibility is a continuum. One needs a growth mindset to see it clearer. There are no useless people, just people lower down the continuum in their journey towards being more responsible. The truth of this assertion can be seen in how the same people can assume higher and higher roles of responsibility. You can grow to become more responsible. Everyone can.
For most of us, home and school is where we’re first taught how to be responsible. But it must not end there. There is a point at which we have to fill the gaps of what our families and schools were not able to give us. Or we were not able to learn. Some people get eighty percent from home whilst others get ten percent. But whether you get eighty or ten, you can improve.
God loves us and puts people in our lives to help us as he did in my case with my many well-meaning advisors. And in the case of my children by giving them a mother who wants the best for them. But for the help to work, we need to deepen our relationship with God. Without God, we’re not able to peel back the layers of all the feedback we receive to see that even the criticisms and the anger are rooted in love imperfectly expressed. None of us is perfect. But as we deepen our relationship with God, he changes us to more closely resemble him, and he is able to better use us for his work which is really to love those around us starting with our nuclear families and then extending outwards into the wider community.
Is your anger problem a little bit like mine used to be? Are you hitting your kids or shouting at them? Will you hand it to God?
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