Seldom do my kids throw a fit and lose their cool. Sure, they aren’t always sweet, kind, and patient. However, they don’t usually scream and yell due to rage.
Today was an exception for one of my sons. He asked to do his homeschool work in the privacy of his bedroom, to allow for better concentration. I obliged him. I understood that the younger kids were interrupting the peace and quiet. So, he settled himself in the room and got to work.
However, Catalina insisted on borrowing one of his slime creations. He wasn’t happy to lend it. In fact, he resisted, which put me in a difficult predicament as mediator when I had to focus on homeschooling. When their conflict continued, I finally let out a, “Whom do I need to discipline to solve this?!”
My tone was stern and my voice was raised. It was wrong for me to phrase the sentence that way.
In a few moments, the slime Catalina asked for was in her hand in response to my challenge and question. Not too much longer afterwards, I heard objects being toppled over in the boys’ room. It couldn’t have been the cats. It sounded like someone picked up a bunch of toys and threw them all over the floor.
Catalina went in to investigate and she came out announcing, “___________ is crying!”
I went in to the boys’ room to see what in the world was happening. Sure enough, there was my son, sprawled out on the bed, sobbing uncontrollably.
My, my. This was a first.
The room was a mess. Blankets and pillows were yanked off the beds on to the floor, an electric fan was laying on its side, and a container of dinosaurs was emptied out. It looked like a mini tornado tore through the room.
What was going on?!
I sat across from my son. He was in no state to explain himself. He was still sobbing and upset…too upset to articulate his feelings.
The best recourse was to let him have his space until he was ready to talk. There was no point in trying to force him to explain himself.
To be honest, I felt rather frustrated myself. Why did I have to deal with this? Why was this son of mine having a meltdown at the most inopportune time?
Well, this was motherhood epitomized — untimely interruptions, fires to put out, chaos to confront!
After I surmised that my son was ready to open up, I went back into the boys’ bedroom to get to the root of the problem. In response to my, “What’s wrong?”, he finally blurted out, “I don’t feel like I am in control of ANYTHING!”
“What do you mean by ANYTHING? That’s a big claim.”
“I am not able to steward what I am supposed to because people take them from me or destroy them.”
In this instance I knew he was referring to the slime he reluctantly let Catalina borrow, but I dug further. This couldn’t have just been about slime.
It turned out that he was also frustrated with Catalina for playing with a remote controlled cockroach that Edric and I purchased for the kids in Hong Kong some time ago. Basically, he didn’t like people touching what he believed to be “his stuff,” or things that he was in charge of. He called himself the “steward” but he admitted that he acted more like an entitled owner.
Even if I knew that the triggers were merely slime and a remote-controlled cockroach, I knew my son was wrestling with emotions that were significant to him. Not wanting to dismiss these, I kept probing to help him identify what the main issue was.
In the course of our conversation, the real causes boiled down to being selfish and an attachment to material things. As someone who likes being in control, it deeply bothered him that Catalina wasn’t conscientious or careful with things he let her use.
We concluded by talking about perspectives he could choose to have, and how to surrender to the Lord. I explained that his dad and I have to do the same with what God has entrusted to us. We try our best to be good stewards but we avoid getting angry when items get lost and soiled, or the home needs repairs, or personal belongings are borrowed and abused. People must always be MORE IMPORTANT than material possessions. Relationships must take precedence. Belongings, in contrast to people, are temporal.
Since I compelled my son to share with Catalina, he was also annoyed with me. I had to apologize for the statement I made about who needs to be disciplined, which he felt was an outburst and hurtful.
As my three sons get older, my approach with them has to be more about listening and understanding rather than dictating what they ought to do. I find that asking them questions that compel them to come to their own conclusions is more effective than forcing them to change. More significantly, encouraging them to pray and have time to process their emotions with the Lord allows them to settle down and have the right perspective.
My son willingly apologized and assured me that he would clean up the mess he made. I also ended our time by telling him that I loved him so much, I loved him no matter what. Once I saw a smile break out on his face I knew my job was done. Not too long after, he returned to his daily tasks without the resentment that originally set him off.
This incident was an application of something that has been convicting me as a mom — gentleness is often the best approach and response to our children’s frustrations and anger. Sure, it may be inconvenient to set aside other tasks and pressing needs to draw our kids out and to help them confront wrong heart conditions and attitudes, but it’s works! It leads them to God-honoring conclusions and actions.
How do we know this? Proverbs 15:1 tells us, “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.” Jeremiah’s prayer to the Lord expressed a similar sentiment: “So correct me, Lord, but please be gentle. Do not correct me in anger, for I would die.” (Jeremiah 10:24)
God is gentle with us when we mess up. We ought to be the same way with our kids…