How Do You Respond When You Feel Your Children Provoking You to Anger?
As loving parents, we are to be emotionally unprovoked. This is even the case during conflicts with our kids. According to 1 Corinthians 13:5, love “is not provoked.”
Why do I surface this? I have a hunch. Provoked parents end up provoking their kids.
I have considered Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger.”
Early on I considered myself. I provoked my children to anger when I felt they started it by not listening to me or obeying me! They first provoked me, so I rationalized.
Here is the rationalization that happens in the thinking of a few parents.
- My child provoked me to anger.
- In my anger, I provoked them to anger.
- Therefore, my child is to blame. My child provoked me to anger and then caused me to provoke them to anger.
Obviously, that’s excuse-making. Again, we are to be the adult in the room.
Never Get Angry?
Does this mean we never get angry? Certainly not. Paul had written a page earlier in Ephesians 4:26, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.”
Paul was referring to Psalm 4:4, “Be angry [or stand in awe] and sin not; commune with your own hearts upon your beds and be silent (sorry for the things you say in your hearts). Selah [pause, and calmly think of that]!” (AMPC).
We also read of Jesus’ anger in Mark 3:5, “After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart . . .”
So, where do we draw the line between appropriate anger, to which we refer to as righteous indignation, and inappropriate or sinful anger?
Let’s consider two aspects of anger in parenting: proportionate anger and composed anger.
This is when we do not allow ourselves to get angrily bent out of shape over minor infractions by making a mountain out of a molehill or making a big deal out of nothing. People have emailed me about their disproportionate, angry reactions to their children. For example, the child did something childish, like spilling the milk or forgetting to shut the back door, and flies came in, but the parent reacts with extreme anger. Enraged, they yell at their children and exhibit over-the-top behaviors such as throwing objects or slamming doors. The children look on in utter bewilderment and fear. The parent’s angry reaction did not fit the crime, and the child does not learn a lesson about responsibility. This kind of disproportionate anger can eventually lead to the child being provoked to anger as well.
On the other hand, righteous indignation proportionately demonstrated occurs when a child lies, steals, or cheats. In such cases, we can express our anger by saying, “This action makes me angry. In this family, we don’t lie, steal, or cheat. When I saw you keep those cards under the table to win that card game and then deny it when asked by your sister, it grieved me. Please go to your room, and I will join you there momentarily to address the consequences. It’s important to understand that if someone cheats on you and lies to you, you would also feel anger. Anger should arise when things are not fair and right.”
This is when we convey but control our anger by calmly saying, “I am very angry right now.” We do not lose it emotionally. We make sure our words are bridled and our actions restrained. Some parents have confessed that they feel out of control. They have living proof by their outbursts of anger (Galatians 5:20). Their anger controls them. In the face of a child’s childishness or disobedience, the parent has a meltdown, throwing a hissy fit. Embarrassingly, they act more like a child. Even if what the child did was defiance, these parents share that they feel like a policeman who pulls someone over for speeding, but instead of giving a ticket in a cool, calm, and collected manner, they pound on the hood of the car screaming, “How could you go thirty-five miles per hour in a thirty-miles-an-hour zone! How could you do this? I am so mad I can’t see straight!” We laugh at such a ridiculous display of fury. The police officer is to be matter-of-fact and composed, not triggered into a fit of rage.
Again, children need to hear that we are angry; they just don’t need to observe an adult out of
control with their anger. My dad had rage issues and would fly off at the handle over the smallest of things that he found upsetting.
One example is how he fumed at me after he sent me to find a tool in his tool room, and I returned empty-handed. He’d then look at me with disgust, stop doing what he was doing, and walk off in anger to retrieve the tool exclaiming, “If anything is going to get done around here, I have to do it.”
First of all, he never taught me what a monkey wrench was, and two, why not take that moment to instruct me instead of get angry at me like this so it wouldn’t happen again? Kids can understand a parent’s momentary frustration, but they expect the parent to quickly rebound emotionally and wade through the situation in an emotionally balanced manner. Not with my dad. When he got angry, he fumed; and being a large man, he easily frightened when flustered and coming unhinged. I never recall him being cool, calm, and collected at those moments. Zero to sixty in three seconds. I knew he had an anger problem since this lack of control contradicted the self-regulation adults expected from me. Instinctively, I knew there was a double standard.
Later I would realize in my own parenting that if I’m not going to provoke my children to anger, then I must not let my children provoke me to anger. That does not mean I never get angry, but that my anger is proportionate with the child’s misbehavior, and the anger remains composed when confronting what happened.
Questions to Consider
- Where do you most struggle regarding your anger and your reactions because of it? Why do you think this has been such a problem or weakness in you?
- Have you ever provoked your children to anger while rationalizing it as their fault? Reflecting back on that moment now, where did your rationalization lack reasoning? How could you have responded better?
- Do you struggle with exhibiting disproportionate anger toward your children? How so? Consider a recent example. What would have been a more proportionate, appropriate reaction?
- Do you struggle with keeping yourself composed when angry toward your children? How so? In the moment, what is making you so angry and feeling out of control? How can you begin taking better control of yourself and your reactions in these moments?