Reader Question-Our Tempers

I've been a long time reader of yours. I remember reading you when I had just one very young baby, and now I have four beautiful children! 

I love my family dearly. I am so very grateful to be with my children day in and day out. I am constantly praying, reading, planning and pondering how to be the best mother I can be to them. I want to serve them well and do right by them. But man, oh man, do I struggle with my temper. 

I resolve over and over again not to lose my cool, but then one little thing pushes my buttons and oops! there I go again. This is not the mother I want to be. I want my children to only have positive associations when the think of their mother. I long to be calm, gentle, and patient. Always a safe place for my children to land.

How have you dealt with not losing your temper when tempted to do so? Do you have any thoughts? Maybe this has never been a hard struggle for you, and if that is the case, can I just ask you to pray that I would consistently be the mother I hope to be?

Dear Fellow Mother-
My first thoughts after reading your letter is that you are being too hard on yourself!  Four little children to raise and you are trying so hard to be calm and gentle and patient, but you are also human and you are doing BIG WORK every day and all night.

So let's clear this up-heck yes I lose my temper.  I have in the past and I won't guarantee that I'll never do it again-in fact I know I will-although with age and experience and prayer and some hard-earned wisdom and a wider lens on what really matters I do less.  

I sent my teenage daughter a quote the other day that I read in a book-"The only happy people I know are people I don't know very well."  I think this applies in this case because I "know of" mothers-legends-who have never raised their voice or lost their temper.  The funny thing is just that-they are legends-and I bet they would all say "Oh yes I have!" if asked personally about it.  

So every mother of many raises her voice, or gets angry, or slams a door-in fact I would say I think it's healthier than being in a calm cool controlled factory-like environment where any of our children's behaviors just warrant unemotional reactions.  That's not the real world.  It's good for them to know they might make someone who loves them deeply very emotional when they do things that aren't respectful or are just plain wrong, annoying, or dangerous to them or others. And it's good to know that their mother is human-she has feelings and headaches and good days and bad days, and makes mistakes, and sometimes even has to apologize.  We are living together and growing together just as we should be.

But it's never a good feeling when we lay in bed at night to feel guilty about something we know we could have done better that day.  And it's a better example to lose your temper very few times, but most other times to learn how to channel the frustration into something more productive-behavior changing-as we are the adults in the relationships.  As we are the model of behavior in our home, we create the environment-if it is one of short tempers, yelling and angry frustration or worse* we will see more of that behavior between our children.  

*I am an opponent of spanking or any other physical punishment. I've given a quick reactive spank three times in the 23 years of my mothering career when "losing it", and regretted it immediately as I know in my heart that it does NOT change their hearts or attitudes or behavior but has a tendency to make things worse and is the opposite of the example I want to set in my house.

So let's get to the good stuff-a little list of considerations and questions to ask:

-We can figure out our triggers-those "buttons"-maybe keep a little journal as the week goes on or maybe we can figure it out instantly: 

What time of day am I more prone to yell or be short-tempered or react angrily?  What is happening when I lose my patience? Rushing is a trigger for me-being too busy, doing too much in or out of the house, having too many places to be.  What can I take off my plate if this is the case?  What can I whittle down that's unnecessary at this season of our life? (Hint: Almost everything!)

Does it occur during the witching hours (before dinner)?  Maybe changing the routine would help-quiet time or calm TV time (PBS is my go to-not hyper shows!) for 30 minutes or sibling separation at a certain time of day would give a breather. Preparing dinner in the morning was a big one for me-I felt so much less frazzled and pulled while helping with homework and holding fussy babies. 

Is there a behavior or two that really triggers me in a child or children?  Be firm in changing behaviors that are triggers. That is a whole other post but coming up with a plan for changing that specific behavior, noting it and hanging it on the fridge to remind myself to correct it was a little something that worked for me in the earlier years-it is so much easier to tackle one little thing at a time and know that there is a loving corrective but firm plan instead of just getting mad at the child. 

Firmness, clear expectations, and consistency but also hugs, positive reinforcement, lots of noticing and complimenting the good (let them hear you say nice things about them to Dad or Grandma or a friend) and time with mom or dad (we are talking playing blocks on the floor or playing catch, nothing elaborate) does wonders for kids to change behavior.  

-We must be really willing to make big changes in our homes, lifestyles and schedules and routines (which are SO SO important!).  A little example- I found myself really frustrated when it came to enforcing time limits with electronics a long time ago-I decided they weren't worth the confrontations in our home and were detracting from the parent I wanted to be (not to mention the kid's brain cells) and finally decided they weren't worth it-there was no benefit to any of us. I put them all in a bin up in the closet and they were rarely if at all saw the light of day again (they have been moved to the dark recesses of the attic).  You have a right as a mother to cut down or eliminate the things or activities or events that cause you stress-most likely the benefit of any of these things is not worth the angst and anger it causes. You have a right to make your life easier in this way if it makes you a more patient mother.  

Be careful of expectations-do we want the house to look perfect, are we attempting a hobby or obligation that will just not fit into our season of life right now?  Let it go and come back to it later when more time and your own energy opens up (I realize this is more difficult than ever today.)  This was so true for me-the times I felt frazzled and short-tempered were really the times I wasn't allowing myself to stay focused, settled and content with motherhood. This is the biggest disfavor to ourselves I believe.  Letting our souls just do the most important job on earth with our whole hearts and minds is the best feeling and really a wonderful gift.  Doing one thing and one thing well brings us so much more peace and satisfaction.  

-Tired or hungry or coming down with something?  That's what I would say about a toddler who is fussy or short-tempered.  That applies to us also.  Unfortunately, tired is part of lives as mothers.  But sleep has to be a priority and if it's just not happening because we have a newborn, or colicky baby we need to give ourselves a break and know our moods will get better as we either adjust or get a little more rest.  Also, certain times of the month can be really difficult.  Just an awareness of when that is going to be can be helpful.  (A magic elixir would also but so far I haven't heard it exists.:) 

-Exercise. I can't say enough about how just walking or any little exercise routine has magically made me calmer and more patient.  Also, I get how this seems impossible.  I've gone years without being able to find the time to do this.  A little alone time combined with exercise kills two birds with one stone and add fresh air it really hits the mark.  (Hauling everyone to a gym causes more stress and isn't worth it in my experience.)  A quiet fast walk outside is precious to me-it is actually what keeps me sane today with all these ages and stages and my own hormones.

-Channel someone.  Really!  My mom has this voice when speaking with students and young children-they fall under a spell and magically obey her every word.  Maybe someone you know personally is just one of those super patient calm people-probably a teacher, maybe a beloved aunt. Pretend you are them even if you are seething inside-on the outside you are calm, cool and collected looking at the situation from above.  On the same lines...

-...react the opposite of what you are feeling.  Get quieter, calmer, slower, deep breathe, step back.  Say nothing. That doesn't mean to constantly ignore bad behavior (no one should strive to be a parent that watches their children being naughty and does nothing especially when that is affecting others), but in your home sometimes no reaction is the best reaction you can give at the time-sometimes this helps break the habit and the negative attention cycle some children seek. 

-I read a quick excerpt of a book that sounds so interesting to me. It's called "The Miracle Morning".  It's about setting yourself up for the day by going through a few different steps.  Once I read it in it's entirety I will do a post on it-but the steps in the morning are quiet time, visualization, affirmation, reading, exercise, writing.  I know what you are thinking-YEAH RIGHT!  I did too.  Without having read the book, and with doing all those things in no way close to an hour (I think the amount of time you are supposed to spend) I have tried this and it is truly wonderful.  I really think one could condense all that into minutes. Visualization and affirmation are huge tools I think that could change our behaviors and remind us of the big picture-that mother that we want our children to remember. One little page of an encouraging mothering book (i.e. Sally Clarkson, Mac Blesdoe, or I am loving Meg Meeker podcasts on my walk or in car) and a quick journal note to self is inspirational. Again, I'll write more on this once I read the book and tell how I adapt it to fit into my life.  It's daily purposeful reminders in every way possible right when we wake up to set our day off straight that helps.

-Keep praying!  We are works in progress, doing the most important work on earth, and God gives us grace and forgiveness and love to start each new day fresh.

With Love and Understanding,


  1. Oh my gosh-mom of 4 here-what wonderful advice. My youngest is 9-so I'm past that stage, but yes-everything you say is so right on. Even now, I know I get frazzled when everyone gets home and it's chaos. I've started laying down 30 minutes before they get home, closing my eyes and doing a guided meditation on youtube. Just that little bit calms me down and makes me so much more pleasant.

  2. I have been focusing on this lately, being suuuuper deliberate about controlling my temper. I pray every morning and remind myself what I will do when I start to get mad. I LOVE the tip about doing the opposite of what you feel, that has been working awesome for me... talking much slower, quieter, almost monotone. A book I read recently had a quote about how contention is contagious (right?!?) but calmness is also contagious. When I focus on being the "calm in the eye of the storm" and slowing down my talking, it reeeeeally helps my kindergartener calm down ten times faster. Great tips, thanks for this post!

  3. Thank you so much for this!! Just what I need. Thank you.

  4. Beautifully said and such powerful words. Thank you!

  5. Thank you for such a great post. I am getting better with the patience thing, but will also attest to the 'be calm (even if you don't feel it)' approach. There are many times when I have simply closed my eyes for a second, taken a deep breath and forced myself to speak calmly and quietly in order to deal with a situation. It really seems to help little children, they can't function through the screaming and yelling and neither can we! Sarah, your wisdom and guidance never go astray for me. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Thank you so much. I have been struggling lately with this. My almost 4 year old is so good during the day with me but quickly acts out as soon as my kindergartener gets off the bus in the afternoon!! I know its tied to the shift in my attention but it is still so hard. Your words are truly so helpful to me.

  7. Sarah, thank you so much for your sweet words, you have a gift gal! I actually just listened to a wonderful podcast on this today from MessyParenting.org called "Anger in Parenting". I just started listening to this podcast couple weeks ago and they really have some great practical advice on various topics and are fun to listen to. (I hope it is ok I shared another "internet" resource on here)Grace and Peace to all!

  8. I came to your blog this afternoon looking for some encouragement. ;) THANK YOU for this post.
    I have two teenagers and a one year old and I feel like all I've done this past month is remind myself that it's okay if I can't get to "it".....and it feels like IT is everything! Somehow it was easier when she was a newborn. I feel like I'm failing in many more areas this year than last. Thank you for reminding me that there are seasons and that other people are struggling right here too.

  9. Thank you! I can't believe I missed this post originally, it is so encouraging.