Moved by Love, Not Anger

Ever gotten angry about your child pushing boundaries? You’re not alone. But there’s a better way.

By Marjorie F. Eddington

Categories: Fatherhood, Guidance, Jesus' Commandment - To Love as He Loved, Love, Motherhood

We all want our children to be happy and succeed in life.

How to do this—well, that’s the rub. Our children do not always speak or act right. They don’t always listen and respond appropriately. They want to do what they want to do. Doesn’t everybody? Hopefully as parents, we know we can’t always do what we want. We have to do the right thing. We have to be an example. And since our children are still learning and testing the boundaries, we have to ask ourselves: How will they learn best—by focusing on the right or focusing on the wrong?

It seems that sometimes parents think that pointing out all their children’s flaws will help them. Maybe parents think that the child will then know what to do right. But more often than not, children don’t think in terms of right and wrong, but in good and bad, and when they are constantly told they are wrong, then they think of themselves as bad.

Kids do things that we don’t like. And different things trigger different people. When our children push those boundaries, we can get triggered. We can get angry. Now everybody gets angry, but it’s how we react or respond to that anger that makes all the difference. Jesus warns us about anger:

You have heard that our ancestors were told, “You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.” But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell. (Matt 5:21-22 NLT)

Basically, the first level of anger deals with resentment—nursing anger, as the NEB translates; the second with name-calling and contempt; and the third with explosive attacks on the individual’s character and very worth. Phillips translates that third level of anger as “anyone who looks on his brother as a lost soul is himself heading straight for the fire of destruction.” And the seriousness of the consequences rises with each type of anger: judgment; council, court, trial; and hell-fire. When we act out in anger, we are creating our own hellish experience—for ourselves and for our children.

So here’s what we can do instead …

Level 1
We can get rid of any resentment with respect to our children. If we have resentment, we need to search it out and destroy it. Are we resenting all the time and resources our children take up? Are we resenting the lack of peace? If they have a meltdown, do we resent how they make us look as parents?

We stop looking at our children with resentment and, instead, look at them with empathy and compassion. We see that they are struggling individuals who need love and understanding. What would happen if we see things from their perspective? We would be able to see their true need, see what is driving their behavior, and then be able to meet them with open hearts and arms and kind words. Then, together, we’d be able to calmly work through the emotions that are underlying their outbursts and find solutions.

Level 2
We can be careful with our words. We cannot condemn our children, call them names of any sort. If we call them spoiled brats, point out that they never listen, tell them that they’re always hitting their sister or brother, that they don’t know how to solve problems, that they always argue, don’t know how to stop … well, that’s how they will start thinking of themselves. They’ll see themselves as incapable people who don’t stop, don’t listen, don’t respect. They’ll start acting out what we see in them because they’ll believe what we say about them. What we tell them about themselves is what they see in themselves. Children tend to live up to our expectations of them.

What do we do instead? We live what we want them to be, and we help them be that way! We are their examples. They copy what we do. So we take that breath, get calm and centered, realize how much we love them, move with empathy, close our mouths so we don’t yell at them, and pick our words carefully. As we respond with care and love, they’ll learn how to do the same with others.

We want to say words that will help and heal them. We express compassion, forgiveness, kindness. And we affirm their kindness, compassion, and generous hearts. We talk to them with respect. We listen to them with our whole hearts. We refuse to label or judge them. We take every opportunity to highlight the right things, the good things about them and what they do. Every time they make a caring, unselfish, courageous, moral choice, we point it out. (We don’t point out their smarts or their looks or things of that nature.) We point out their effort, how hard they work. We notice them. We simply appreciate and accept who they are.

Level 3
We can patiently persist in cherishing our children. If we explode at them or see them as lost causes, as worthless, as totally incapable; if we give up or tell them off; if we curse or abuse them … they’ll more likely see themselves as failures. We simply cannot diminish our children. God has given them to us to care for, to nurture.

If we are so triggered by their actions that we resort to violent attacks on their character, we must love them and ourselves enough to heal our own deep hurts so that we do not hurt them, nor their sense of self-worth. This starts with forgiveness: we forgive ourselves and them for any anger expressed or any mistakes made. And then we make different choices—loving choices.

We must never give up in our quest to express unconditional love, to value our children as God’s beloved children. Jesus never gave up on people. He healed them no matter how long they’d been in a certain condition. And when he healed them, they were new; their past was gone.

We, too, can turn to God and experience healing. Each moment, we can start new and teach our children to start new. We show them how much we care. The more we believe in them and tell them we believe in them, that God is with them, that there are answers, the more we help them learn how to be resilient and kind.

We can do this. Indeed, we must. Remember what Jesus said: “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” (Luke 18:16 NRSV).

Let’s love our little, or big, children. And because we are also God’s children, let’s love ourselves, too. That way, we are all moved to speak and act, not by anger, but by love.