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.
As the mother of four adult children, all of whom were teenagers at one time, I’ve had hundreds (probably thousands) of conversations, many of which were about emotions. Most of these were meaningful and memorable talks. But, like all sinful parents and teens, we had difficult conversations as well; and over the years (I hope!) I learned a lot from my mistakes.
The following is a list of seven “reminders” that served me in those challenging conversations. These are not rules, but guidelines drawn from Scripture that guided me as I tried to navigate these talks in a God-glorifying way. I’ve included key quotes and verses that have inspired these thoughts.
In prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit, may I encourage you to…
1) Communicate humbly with your teen.
“Teens will quickly detect Mom’s, Dad’s genuineness by their humility. Let us recall that we are weak people speaking to other weak people, who simply happen to be younger than us.” Rick Horne
“The most helpful thing to remember is that your teenager is more like you than unlike you…. There are very few struggles in the life of my teenager that I don’t recognize in my own heart as well…. Come [to the conversation] as a fellow sinner.” Paul David Tripp
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23
2) Postpone talking if you’re angry.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:24-26
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1:19-20
3) Postpone talking if your teen is angry.
“There are times when serious injury is done by urging the claims of religion. Your child is angry. His flushed cheeks and violent motions show the sinful irritation of his mind. Shall the mother now converse with him upon the wickedness of these feelings and God’s displeasure? No! It is unseasonable.” John S.C. Abbott
The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out. Proverbs 17:14
4) Don’t talk too long.
“Guard against long and tedious conversations on religious subjects. The mind of a child cannot be fixed for any great length of time upon one subject without exhaustion. Every word that is uttered, after there are manifestations of weariness, will do more harm than good.” John S.C. Abbott
When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.Proverbs 10:19
5) Correct only what you must; overlook what you can.
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. John 16:12
Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. Proverbs 19:11
6) Acknowledge your own sin.
“Even if you are only 10 percent to blame for a given conflict, Jesus’ words from Matthew 7 apply to you as much as if you had been 90 percent to blame. You need to acknowledge 100 percent of your 10 percent. The point of Jesus’ teaching is that the first and most important thing for you to realize in any conflict is how your own blindness and sin contributed to the problem.” Rick Horne
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye? 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 7:3-5
7) Don’t let the conversation end until you have encouraged your teen.
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Hebrews 3:13
Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul. Proverbs 16:24
When your child begins to think and wonder about more than what’s for dinner or when their next soccer game is, it’s time to start a conversation about their emotions.
Relationship is the bridge over which we can carry loads of gospel truth into our children’s lives. How do we strengthen this relationship and begin this conversation? Here are a few suggestions.
1. Pay attention. Watch your children in order to discern how they are wired emotionally and what most influences their emotions. Recently one of my daughters told me how her son would get quieter and less cheerful at times. She and her husband began to watch him closely and then ask him questions about his moods, which led to fruitful discussions about his struggles and temptations. In order to discern our children’s emotional makeup we must be around and we must pay close attention. Ask yourself: What is his personality like? What triggers her moods? When is she most happy or sad?
2. Create opportunities. Carve out regular times for conversation. Go out for a special time once a week. Take walks. Run errands. Often children may feel more comfortable talking during a shared chore or activity than sitting across from you at Starbucks. I often found my girls most talkative at bedtime so I sought to seize that opportunity, even though it wasn’t my first choice.
3. Ask good questions. Question asking is an art, one you’ll need to work at for the rest of your life. Seek to begin with data gathering questions that tell you a lot without spooking your children into thinking that a lecture is close at hand. Once you get them talking, they will leave many clues as to how they process their emotions. So instead of “Why do you seem so depressed lately?” maybe start with “What are you enjoying most about school right now?” Surfacey, non-threatening questions are an entrée into their lives. Hopefully, they will lead to questions such as “What have you been thinking about lately?” or “How have you been feeling this week?” “The purpose of a [teen’s] heart is like deep water, but a [mom] of understanding will draw it out.” Prov. 20:5
4. Listen well. If you succeed in getting your child to open up to you, be prepared to listen! Kids can tell if you are interested in what they are saying or not. Seek to establish yourself as the one person who is always eager to hear what they have to say and you will forge a strong bond with your child.
Start a conversation and you will construct a strong bridge of friendship over which you can carry vital gospel truths about their emotions.