"Don't touch each other. Don't talk to each other. Don't even look at each other." Those were the words that came out of my mouth yesterday after an afternoon where my daughters spent the day arguing with each other over everything. I'll admit it wasn't one of my finest parenting moments.
When I uttered those words, I was frustrated. I was done. I simply wanted my girls to quit antagonizing one another. I wanted them to give me two minutes of peace to finish the phone call I was on. So I gave them instructions that weren't possible and didn't even really make sense.
We've all been there. We've all had moments when we've had it up to here with our kids' behavior and have blurted out the first thing that comes to mind -- often in anger and frustration. In those moments, we're not worried about teaching them anything. We're not concerned about molding their character. We're just after a little bit of peace.
Unfortunately, parenting out of anger and frustration usually doesn't lead to the results that we want. My girls did quit bickering, but they looked at me like I had two heads. Then they started walking around with their eyes closed so they wouldn't have to look at each other. It was then that I recognized how absurd my instructions were.
So, I took a minute for myself. Yes, we were on our way out the door to soccer practice. Yes, we needed to get a move on. But I needed a minute, so I took it.
When my minute was up, I called my girls back together, sat them in separate chairs and calmly explained to them why they owed each other an apology and why they owed me an apology. It was much more effective than giving ridiculous instructions born out of frustration.
Parenting is hard work. Some days it takes everything we have not to walk out the front door. Some days it takes all the wit and wisdom we have learned to keep our kids moving in the direction that we want them to go. And some days, we just lose it and yell at our kids. It's in those moments that it's time to take a step back. It's time to re-evaluate and take another stab at the problem. It's time to confess that our first reaction was wrong and go back and do it right.
Our kids know we're not perfect. They know when they have pushed us to the limit. They know when they are misbehaving. It's our job to mold the character of our kids, not to chisel away at it with the sledgehammer of anger and frustration. I think there's no more pertinent instruction in the Bible than James 1:19 when it comes to parenting: "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires." Anger doesn't produce the righteousness God desires in us or in our kids. When we parent out of frustration, we have no chance of changing the hearts and character of our kids.
It's inevitable that we are going to make mistakes as parents. When we do, we need to take a moment to regroup. We need to not assume that our kids will simply know we were frustrated and will understand what we were trying to say. When we parent out of frustration, we need to take a minute for ourselves, then regroup with our kids. We need to explain what caused our frustration, then take another stab at correcting our kids' behavior and molding their character.
And the next time our kids frustrate us (because there will be a next time), we need to take a minute to think before we open our mouths.