In the not-too-distant past, I set a horrible example for my children. In front of them all, I morphed into the proverbial tea kettle. I could feel motherhood’s little agitations getting to me, but I thought I had it under control. I knew I was tired after not sleeping well for a few nights, but it was nothing that a bit of coffee wouldn’t help. Then a child made a mistake, and I made a much bigger one. I completely lost my temper in a way that shocked even me, and my children all suffered because of it.
Sometimes anger gets the best of loving moms, doesn’t it?
The Spill and The Outburst
A full mug of coffee, freshly filled, was tipped over all of the lesson planning I was doing. New schoolbooks that I painstakingly chose were drenched with my coffee that I had yet to even taste. Little Miss H, nearing the age of two, wanted to be up on the table for some odd reason, and though I told her to get down, she managed to get up. A turn of the head, a tip of the mug, and hot coffee flooded open school books, plans, the table, and the floor.
My first thought was the cost of the books. I cleared one out of the biggest puddle. Then I wondered if she had burned herself at all, but I saw she had not. Then, this overwhelming anger came up, and I yelled. And I yelled. And, though there’s not an ounce in me that’s proud to admit it, I yelled more, and I yelled loudly.
“No! No! No! I told you no!”
I don’t remember the last time I yelled so loudly at a child. I knew right away that I could make the choice to stop, but I didn’t. In that moment, it felt like a relief to let the pressure off and release the steam. I knew I was wrong. I knew I would regret it. But I gave in anyhow. My other children were scared to see me so angry, and I eventually shut myself in the bathroom to get control of myself, and I stayed there a while.
When I came out, I had to look in the faces of these little people who look to me for everything: love, comfort, security. I knew that I violated all of those principles by my actions, and they were left scared, shaken, and crying. I finished cleaning up, surveying the damage and finding it not nearly as bad as I expected, and I called them to the couch.
I hugged the littlest who bore the brunt of my offense. I looked at them all in the eyes. I told them I was sorry. I did what I would never permit them to do, and I set a very foolish and bad example of how to handle anger. They quietly but sincerely told me it was okay, but the more I looked into their faces, the more I hoped I would never again have to come to them under such hurtful and humiliating circumstances.
Then I told them that we needed to pray, because not only had I offended them, I offended the Lord with my temper. With their little heads bowed, and mine as well, I started to pray, and could hardly begin. My throat was so tight with crying that I had to wait between sentences to relax it. A half-hearted apology takes little thought or reflection, but real repentance is a different tale.
I was a quieter, more thoughtful mother the rest of the day. I had to let my husband know what happened before he came home and apologize to him. My heart was broken the rest of the day as I remembered how I hurt my children with my angry actions, and I feared that my temper-driven display was forever stamped on their impressionable minds.
Then I had to remind myself that there is a redeeming factor in the whole experience. I never want to justify my failure and my sin, but I can look at them and know that in the end, my children saw something very real. They saw me fail miserably, horribly, and deeply. When I gathered them to the couch, they witnessed me repent fully, completely, and broken-heartedly. They saw the Gospel in action.
I never, ever want to sin against those precious treasures like that again, but I do find a small amount of comfort knowing that they have seen their mother at a very low point and watched her slowly and humbly climb back up again with sincere tears and true repentance. My hope is that our prayer together would have a greater impact on them than the failure that inspired it.
Fellow mommas, I want to encourage you with this story. I don’t share it to glamorize my failure or glorify my sin. Instead, I want to relate with you. Chances are, I’m not the only one who has failed my children, husband, and God by losing my temper with my children. I want to urge you that if it happens, when it happens, don’t let your children see you stay defeated or hear you justify your fall.
Take the opportunity to show them genuine repentance. Apologize to them, pray with them, and let them see your sincere sorrow over sin. Someday, when their own hearts are pricked by their own sin, perhaps they’ll remember the example of a mother who knows what it is to fail and be redeemed.
That’s my prayer, at least.