I once saw a Family Circus cartoon that showed three children leaning on the edge of their parents’ bed, watching them while they slept. The caption underneath was one child’s remark: “They look so sweet and peaceful when they’re asleep. You wonder how they could ever yell at us during the day.” Do you ever wonder if this happens in your home? That your kids think of you as a mean mom? That your failures as a mother define you and determine your children’s future?
When you add the feeling (or reality) of a mothering failure to the exhaustion, the endless work, and the temptation to compare yourself to other moms, you have a perfect motherhood storm.
This happened to me countless times when I was raising my children. I would fail in my mothering—either by something I did, or something I didn’t do—and I was sure it was a sign I would ultimately fail. That was it. My kids would never “turn out.” I had ruined them forever.
I remember one time I got angry at one of my daughters. Although I had repented before God and asked my daughter’s forgiveness, I still felt terrible. I berated myself for treating my child in such a manner. I was convinced the damage was irreparable.
But my husband encouraged me: “Because of your humility in asking her to forgive you, she feels close to you now than before.” And he was right. This daughter and I were experiencing the sweet closeness that follows repentance in a relationship.
Now I’m not issuing a free pass to sin! I am not saying, “It’s okay to be unkind to your children. They’re tough. They can handle it.” Sin is always the wrong choice. It does have consequences. So by the power of the Holy Spirit, we must work tirelessly to eradicate it from our lives (Rom. 8:13). When we sin we must not make excuses, we must confess our sin to God and humbly ask our children for forgiveness.
But we must not succumb to despair or live with low-grade condemnation or guilt. This maligns the gospel and does not produce the fruit of repentance or serve our children. Rather we must return to Scripture. We must remind ourselves of the truth that God is faithful and just to forgive us from our sins and to cleanse us from unrighteousness (1 John 1:9), that he is busy conforming us to the image of His Son (Rom 8:29), and that he works all things (even our mothering failures!), for our good and the good of our children (Rom 8:28).
Then there is mommy-guilt. Few emotions put a stranglehold on our mothering joy like feeling guilty and condemned over our sins and shortcomings.
Guilt has a thousand little voices that whisper in your ear all day long: You’re a failure. You’re going to ruin your kids. How could you do that? How could you NOT do that? Look at all those other moms. They are doing a much better job that you are.
It’s like the radio in our head is set on a guilt frequency and we can’t tune it out. As moms we need biblical truth to cut through the voices of guilt if we are going to maintain our joy.
How do we deal with mommy-guilt? First, we need to learn the difference between biblical guilt and self-imposed guilt.
Scripture’s parenting commands are simple: Teach. Discipline. Love. (Dt. 6.7, Pr. 13:24, Tit. 2:4) If I have fallen short of these commands (which I do all the time!) then I must approach the throne of grace. We’ll talk more about this in the next post.
But genuine guilt often gets mixed up with self-imposed guilt. You see, we’ve got this bad habit of making our own Mother’s Rulebook and adding to it all the time. We read an article about the dangers of such and such, talk to a mom who does this, that, and the other thing, and we scribble down another rule. No sooner have we added one rule than we break three more. Citizen’s arrest! Citizen’s arrest!
When the motherhood bar is set at cultural approval or another mom’s abilities, we’re going to feel the constant condemnation of falling short. So how do we deal with the demoralizing emotions of self-imposed guilt? Again, Scriptures answers are simple.
Trust – God has given me to my children and my children to me. He didn’t match moms and kids like a game of Memory and lose a couple under the couch. He put each child and mother together in perfect love and wisdom. When I view motherhood through the lens of God’s sovereignty the whole scene changes. God designed me to be the ideal mother for my children. There are not some moms who are better suited for motherhood and others who just get by. If you are a mom, you are the one person best suited to your child. God has given you just the right gift-set, the strengths and abilities, and the over-abundant grace to parent your child. Through Christ, you lack nothing your child needs you to give.
Obey – God’s commands are not burdensome (1 Jn. 5:3). We have a mothering responsibility, but it is not burdensome. The rest and peace we long for is found when we simply follow Christ, resisting the distractions of man-made rules or cultural commands and single-mindedly striving to obey God’s law by God’s grace. Through faithful obedience to God’s Word, we will receive power, conviction, mercy, grace, peace, joy and all the best mothering emotions.
When we trust and obey, we get freedom from guilt and freedom to grow. Instead of retreating in resentment or flaunting our flaws, we are free to appreciate the gifts of other moms, free to get their help and advice. And only the guilt-free mother can laugh. We can laugh at ourselves, our mistakes and our shortcomings, and we can invite our children to laugh along with us. Who doesn’t want a mom who laughs?
As I watch my daughters care for their children, I am freshly amazed by the demands of motherhood. Mothers must daily sacrifice their own comforts and pleasures in order to devote themselves to menial, repetitive, and (appearances might say), futile tasks.
So we should not be surprised that our mommy-emotions are so easily depleted, as if someone pulled the plug on our happiness and all we hear is the gurgling noise as the last of it goes down the drain.
Christopher Ash once said that “it is not suffering that destroys a person but suffering without a purpose.” The same can be said about motherhood: It is not motherhood that destroys your happiness but motherhood without a purpose.
You know what it’s like. When you have a clear sense of purpose, when you believe that God has called you to a task, that it glorifies him, that he is at work, then you have the stamina to endure hardship, the strength to overcome obstacles, joy and peace even when the going gets tough.
But if we’ve become resentful of the demands of motherhood, discouraged and depressed in our routine, irritated and impatient with our children, chances are, we’ve lost sight of our God-given purpose as a mother.
Few things are easier to forget than a biblical conviction of the importance of motherhood. All it takes is a prick of doubt: What’s the point of all this? Why don’t I feel fulfilled? Why work so hard to train my children if I don’t seem to make any progress? What’s the use of repenting if I’m only going to sin again? Is it fake to put on a happy face when I feel so miserable inside?
So many of these questions flow out of the selfish cesspool of our culture, which tries to measure success in motherhood by personal fulfillment. We must be wise and alert to the unbiblical thinking that breeds unhappy questions such as these.
When we allow these questions to fester, without applying truth from God’s Word, we will inevitably lose the joy, contentment, and strength that flow from a firm biblical conviction of the significance of our mothering task.
For me, when I was struggling with my emotions as a mother, it was often because I had lost sight of my purpose. That is why, in the early years of mothering, I read every good, biblical book on mothering that I could get my hands on. I needed constant infusions of truth in order to survive emotionally.
“We are naturally prone to keep slipping into not knowing what we know,” adds Christopher Ash, which is why we must constantly, daily, hourly remind ourselves of what we do know to be true about motherhood.
We know that children are a blessing and a heritage from the Lord, an undeserved gift from God to increase our delight in him (Ps. 127:3).
We know that God has called mothers to train up their children in the way they should go, to discipline and instruct them, to love them tenderly (Prov. 22:6, Eph. 6:4, Tit. 2:4).
We know that those who sow in tears will reap with joy, that those who are faithful to do good will see God act on their behalf, that those who water and tend will see fruit that God gives (Ps. 126:5, Ps. 37:3).
We know that whatever we do for the least of these, we do for him. Motherhood is for him. Motherhood has dignity and glory because of the dignity and glory of the One for whom we mother. When we care for our children, we do it for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (Matt 10:43).
These are the truths we must not slip into not knowing. When we remind ourselves every day, in every way we can, of God’s purpose for our mothering, we’ll find the empty tub of our mothering emotions filling up and overflowing with joy.
2014 at 6:12 am | by Nicole Whitacre
Stephanie’s has a two-year-old whom she loves to pieces, but who whines a lot. Ashley has five children at home under the age of nine. Both wrote to ask “how do you stay patient with young children?” I can certainly relate. Impatience is a common temptation for us as moms. So, as I always do, I asked my exceptionally patient mom (she raised me after all!), and wrote down a few of her suggestions. This is not an exhaustive list, just a few things she’s passed on to me that I have found most helpful:
Identify temptation points
Recently my husband and I realized that we were most tempted to be impatient when we had to get our four children out the door. Identifying this temptation-point helped, not only so we could prepare our hearts to be more self-controlled and patient, but also so we could streamline our process and get an earlier start. Less temptation for everyone. Less impatience from Mom and Dad.
More often then not, when I find myself growing impatient with my children, it is because I have not been clear about the rules or boundaries. They are simply following my lead. So why am I getting impatient with them? My impatience is often a clue that I have slacked off in one area or another. It is time to get back to basics and train or instruct ahead of time and then be consistent to bring appropriate consequences. Being consistent helps me guard against impatience.
Don’t do stupid things twice
This one is for me. I am always repeating my own stupid mistakes. But Janelle is the opposite. She’s a fast learner. For example, a little while ago her two-year-old Hudson became obsessed with balloons. He would throw a fit when he saw a balloon in the store. He would even start screaming in his car seat when they drove past balloons outside! Once she realized this, Janelle made strategic decisions to avoid balloons where possible. She took alternate routes home and avoided certain sections of the store, unless she was prepared to buy a balloon. Point is, if you know your toddler is going to throw a fit in aisle three, if possible, don’t go to aisle three for a while. Wait until your consistent training at home makes it possible for you to go to the store without a meltdown. Do whatever you can to avoid walking into situations you know will be tempting for you and your child.
I read a great post on this by someone, somewhere, and now I can’t find it. The upshot was that when we cultivate a heart of gratefulness to God for the precious gift of our children, it counteracts the impatience in our heart. So if we find our impatience is rising, how’s our gratefulness? Let’s thank God for the amazing gift of our children and it will be much easier to be patient.
There is something about going to God in prayer that reminds us just how patient our heavenly Father is with us. This produces humility in our hearts, which in turn, produces patience toward our children. And we need God’s help. So let’s pray. He is eager to help us to model His patience toward our children.
2014 at 9:39 am | by Nicole Whitacre
“No one needs to remind us that it is an enormous responsibility to be a mother. How well we know it! One woman expresses it this way:
I seldom feel like much of an adventurer—standing in this kitchen, pouring cereal into bowls, refilling them, handing out paper towels when the inevitable cry comes: ‘Uh oh. I spilled.’ But sometimes at night the thought will strike me: There are three small people here, breathing sweetly in their beds, whose lives are for the moment in our hands. I might as well be at the controls of a moon shot, the mission is so grave and vast.
Though the mission is grave and vast, God’s grace is greater. He kindly reminds us in His Word: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor. 12:9).
Not one of us is equal to this task of mothering, but God will help us today in our weakness. He will provide all the grace we need to love our children.”
2014 at 7:57 am | by Kristin Chesemore
“The mother is the hub of the home, holding all the spokes in place. Without her being at her post, the family spins out of control and falls apart.” Mark Chanski
When school starts, do you find that it gets more difficult to “hold all the spokes in place”? I sure do.
On a typical day I must get my son, Andrew, out the door for school (with homework, lunch and back-pack), clean up from breakfast, homeschool my two younger boys, pay the bills, drive to an afternoon activity, get home in time to meet Andrew and help him with homework, prepare dinner for my family and a guest, do dishes, catch up on laundry and finally clean up my house which looks like it has been visited by a tornado.
Just another ordinary day in the life of a mom. But so often, I go through these ordinary days far more aware of what I am giving than whom I am serving.
I need my gaze lifted beyond my daily duties to my eternal mission as a mother. In his book, Womanly Dominion, Mr. Chanski brings us encouragement right where we need it:
“There she sits exhausted on the edge of her bed, her face in her hands, wondering, “Where’s the glory in this?”
She needs something more empowering to keep her going.
She needs to gain and maintain the deep conviction of the glory, honor, and nobility of selfless service. This she finds at the foot of the cross, looking up to the One who earned for Himself “the name which is above every name” (Philippians 2:9), by “emptying Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant” (2:7), humbling “Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (2:8). There she beholds her Savior who mopped up the damning vomit of her own sin with the precious sponge of His perfect life and atoning death. The love of Christ constrains and compels her to press on (2 Corinthians 5:14). The Spirit of Christ empowers her” (pp. 120-121, emphasis mine).
Are you having a hard time being “the hub” today? Then “fix your eyes on Jesus” (Heb. 12:2-3), ask Him for help and strength, and thank Him for the honor of being a mother.
It’s time to conclude our little series on helping children handle their emotions. We’ve put all of the posts together for you in one printable document. Hope you find it useful!
We leave you with this thought from Rachel Jankovic—she’s talking about little girls here but this wisdom can apply to all children. May God give us much grace to teach our children how to handle their emotions!
“We tell our girls that their feelings are like horses—beautiful, spirited horses. But they are the riders. We tell them that God gave them this horse when they were born, and they will ride it their whole life…When our emotions act up, it is like the horse trying to jump the fence…A good rider knows what to do when the horse tries to bolt—you pull on the reins! Turn the horse’s head! Get back on the path!...
There is nothing wrong with the emotions. If we have a little rider who is woefully unprepared to control her horse, well then, we had better start with some pretty serious riding lessons. Talk to your daughters about how they might feel, and what you want to see when they do. Give them some practical handholds; be a coach. Anticipate moments that might be hard, when the horse might bolt, and help them learn to anticipate it too…Encourage. Give lots of praise when you see her overcoming little emotional temptations…The goal is not to cripple the horse, but equip the rider.”
As a young woman, and into my adult years, I struggled from time to time with feelings of depression. Sometimes it was triggered by the trials of teenage life and sometimes it seemed to have no source at all.
My parents helped me through. They talked to me about the truths Mom mentioned in the last post. And they taught me how to fight with faith, and see the “way of escape” (1 Cor. 10:13) when tempted to despondency. Here are a few practical ways they helped me handle bad feelings that can help your teen too.
Get practical – Of course we must address the spiritual source of bad feelings, but we cannot ignore other factors. Does your son need more sleep? Could your daughter use help tracking her monthly cycle? Maybe they need a break from video games or social media. More time out doors or with family and friends might do a world of good. Or it could be they are bored and need a task or a project to fill their time. Practical changes can go a long way to minimize temptation.
Do the Next Thing – One of best ways to handle bad feelings is to refuse to give into them. When it comes to depression, this means compassionately but firmly helping your teen get out of bed, go somewhere, serve someone. Few things dispel bad feelings faster than simply doing the next thing. Whatever we can do to help our teen forget about how they feel, and focus on someone else for a little while, will strike a blow against depression.
“Try it,” challenges Elisabeth Elliot. “When, in the face of powerful temptation to do wrong, there is the swift, hard renunciation—I will not—it will be followed by the sudden loosing of the bonds of self, the yes to God that lets in sunlight, sets us singing and all freedom’s bells clanging for joy.”
Obey - Sometimes selfishness causes a teen to withdraw, and become lazy and morose. I remember I used to feel so tired after a long day of school and work that I would sit at the dinner table with my head in my hand, barely talking. My parents weren’t having any of that. If they could interact cheerfully at the dinner table, so could I. Of course, I had no idea yet what “tired” felt like, and I’m so grateful my parents did not indulge my selfishness.
Elisabeth Elliot again: “Obedience to God is always possible. It’s a deadly error to fall into the notion that when feelings are extremely strong we can do nothing but act on them.”
Persevere – Negative feelings don’t dissipate over night. We need to help our teens to persevere. Just because they don’t feel better right away doesn’t mean they aren’t on the right track, and it doesn’t mean they won’t feel better eventually. God is teaching them to endure, to be faithful, and to live by His Word and not by their feelings. These are valuable lessons in the Christian life. Remember, you are not only solving today’s bad feelings, you are teaching your teen how to handle bad feelings for the rest of their lives.
“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” ~2 Corinthians 9:8
Growing up means experiencing lots of negative emotions; and not understanding why or what you’re supposed to do with those feelings can make them all the more confusing.
Keep a close eye on your teenager’s emotions. As they enter puberty begin to watch for changes in their emotions, unexpected outbursts or unusual weepiness. Look for patterns. Pray for wisdom. Pray that God would use these negative emotions to draw your son or daughter to Himself.
Talking to our teens about where these feelings come from and how to deal with them can make all the difference. Here are a few thoughts:
Bad Feelings Work for Good – remember, feelings are a gift from God, even bad feelings. Just as physical pain reveals the source of a cut or disease, so bad feelings tell us something’s wrong. Sometimes they show us our need for repentance. Other times, bad feelings—from a difficult situation or seemingly nowhere at all—drive us to God in desperation and prayer. And that’s a good thing! Bad feelings alert us to problems, draw us to God, and position us for grace. This can give our teenagers hope and encouragement as they grapple with negative emotions. God uses bad emotions for good things in our lives.
Bad Feelings Don’t Equal Truth – Our feelings—good and bad—are to help us glorify God, not replace God’s Word as the authority in our lives. Bad feelings may feel more true to a teenager than God’s Word but we need to help them understand that is a lie. Feelings don’t equal truth and we must not allow them to rule our lives. So if they feel depressed or anxious or fearful we can expose the lies which feed these feelings and point them to the truth of God’s Word. And just because they don’t feel like serving or obeying or entering into the family conversation doesn’t mean those feelings should be allowed to rule their lives.
Bad Feelings Have a Source– To help undercut the authority of bad feelings, demystify them by helping your children pinpoint their source(s). Is it that time of the month or are they overly tired? Did their bad feelings start with that comment someone made at school or with the announcement of that big test next week? What desires underlie their bad feelings—in other words, what would make their bad feelings go away? Teenagers are susceptible to strong cravings, and now is the time (not when they are a toddler!) to help them understand why they feel depressed.
More thoughts on helping teens handle bad feelings next week.
When my son Jack was a little tyke, one of his favorite activities was dragging my in-law’s Cavalier Spaniel, Bailey, around the yard on a leash.
Poor Bailey! You could tell he’d rather be snoozing on the rug, but what choice did he have? He was on the leash, and Jack was running in circles, so Bailey ran in circles.
Teenagers often act like Bailey on a leash: they follow their feelings around in circles when they should be holding the leash instead.
When children enter puberty they also enter a whole new emotional landscape. Their emotions are going crazy. Their desires are stronger. Their feelings of exhilaration are higher and their feelings of despair are lower. In other words, their emotions are draggin’ them ‘round and ‘round the backyard.
To apply Martyn Lloyd-Jones: “Oh the havoc that is wrought and the tragedy, the misery and the wretchedness that are to be found in the [family] simply because [teenagers] do not know how to handle their own feelings!”
We need to teach our teens to become feelings handlers instead of feelings followers.
For starters, we must explain that feelings are good not bad, normal not strange. Feelings are a gift from God. He made us to feel, and to feel strongly. Part of becoming an adult is experiencing deeper and more profound emotions. But growing into maturity also means learning how to handle our emotions not follow them. In other words, we need to help our teens understand which end of the leash their feelings belong.
Feelings must be led and guided by the truth, not drag us around in self-destructive circles. We are not to follow our feelings into foolishness. Proverbs tells us where “the way that seems right” (Prov. 14:12) to a teenager ends up and its not a pretty place.
So when out teenagers live from one exhilarating experience to another and refuse to leave their room in between, when they believe that their feelings for someone of the opposite sex are a sure sign he or she is “the one,” when they sulk at dinner or hang out with ungodly friends because they make them “feel good about themselves,” we need to help them understand their feelings have gotten the wrong end of the leash.
Humbly, and without condescension, with plenty of examples from our own life, we need to talk to our teens about the consequences of following their feelings. My mom never made us feel stupid or ashamed. She understood these feelings were normal. And she often used questions (instead of a lecture) to encourage us to consider where following our feelings would lead.
Most helpful of all, Mom taught us to interpret our feelings biblically. She encouraged us that the passion and energy of youth was a gift from God to propel us take godly risks of obedience and love in a hostile world, not rush headlong into foolishness. Our infatuations were pointers to the desires God one day would fulfill in marriage, and we must not spoil his good gift by awakening love before its proper time (Song of Sol. 8:4). And our negative feelings were not to be indulged, but were warnings from God to repent, a sign of his kindness and protection.
By engaging us in constant conversation about the importance of handling our feelings, my mom taught us to appreciate and deal with our changing emotions.