Kathy was an excellent cook. Everyone said so. Her favorite dish was the pot roast she made every Sunday afternoon. First, she would carefully line her heavy pan with baby red and golden potatoes, peeled carrots, fresh herbs, and wedges of onions. Carefully, she would slice off a two inch chunk of pot roast, sear the remaining roast in olive oil and spices, and lay the prepared beef on top of her bed of veggies.
One Sunday afternoon, after placing her prize dinner in the oven, Kathy began to clean up. As she threw the butt of her roast into the garbage, she began to wonder, why do I cut off the end of every roast? I know my mother always did, but why do I?
Kathy dialed her mom. “Hi, Mom! Hey, I was just wondering – can you tell me why you always cut off the end of every roast?”
“Oh dear. I guess I should have just gotten a different pan. You see, the pan never quite fit the roasts our butcher would prepare for us. But it was Grandma’s pan, and I guess I just followed in her footsteps.” Kathy’s mother laughed. “Grandma always cut off the end of her roast, too.”
Kathy’s mouth dropped open as she listened to her mother prattle on about the excellent new recipe she’d found for Thai noodles. Kathy stared at her garbage can, wondering how much meat she had needlessly thrown away in her lifetime in obedience to her Ghost of Childhood Past.
* * *
I love that story. I can’t remember how many times my dad told it to me when I was growing up. I’m grateful that he urged me to think for myself about the things that I do.
How many times do we as parents open our mouths and hear the words of our own parents tumble out? Sometimes, the manner in which we emulate our parents’ teaching is exemplary. We have learned well to love, to correct gently and consistently, and to guide.
Sometimes, the way we parent is simply like the way Kathy cooked her roast each week: we could do a much better job of examining our methods and motives.
For some of us, however, the Ghost of Our Childhood Past is an ugly sight. Some of us were raised in a household full of anger, and anger is the first (perhaps the only) parenting tool we reach for. When our children don’t obey, or fail to follow through, or simply act in a childish manner, we pull out our sole motivational force: our irritation, wrath and rage. This may take the form of a harsh word, a fixed look, a raised voice – or we may pull out the full gale force of our anger, unleashing terror on our small captives.
Friends, anger is not a parenting tool. Human anger is a sin. When we use anger to parent, we are inviting one of two end results: children with broken spirits, or children who rebel in frustration. Neither one of these results is acceptable.
What prompts me to call anger a sin? I mean, shouldn’t we validate every emotion we have?
I call anger a sin because Scripture is clear about human rage. Let’s take a look at a few verses:
In what ways in our anger (apart from Holy-Spirit inspired righteous anger over grievous sin) a sin? See the verses below:
For as churning cream produces butter, and as twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife. Proverbs 30:33
Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools. Ecclessiastes 7:9
It [love] does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 1 Corinthians 13:5
But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Colossians 3:8
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. James 1:19,20
The one that should really make us pause is Galatians 5:19-21: The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
So, Scripture is clear: Plain and simple, parenting in our anger toward our children is sin. While anger may produce a momentary obedience (terrified people tend to be more pliable), it is never going to help us train our children in the way they should go.
Suppose we are struggling to parent with patience, love and kindness. Suppose our words are bitter and our voice is dripping with malice. What then are we to do in order to change? What if the Ghost of Childhood Past has its ugly talons sunk deep into our shoulders? Not all is lost. In Christ, we can overcome. Even if we have inflicted scars upon our tender children, we can cease to wound. We can help them heal. Following are my best suggestions:
We call a sin a sin. We identify our anger for what it is, and we look for any sign of its presence in our hearts.
We must pray every evening for peace, patience, love and kindness. We ask God to give us a heart for our children. We pray in the morning before our children awake for a heart full of God’s love for His little people. We pray in the midst of strong emotions. When we feel the anger coming, we can drop to our knees before our Creator and ask for the strength to love instead. It is difficult to rage when we are physically prostrate before the King of the Universe (who has forgiven us in His grace and mercy).
We remain in God’s Word daily, finding there the guidance we need.
We confess our sin to God and to others. Accountability is an effective tool in affecting a heart change. It is Scriptural as well. (James 5:16)
We set aside our one broken parenting “tool” and instead seek a new “toolbox” full of parenting methods and ideas. There is a wealth of wonderful, biblical advice on parenting available today. When we don’t have a plan in place, it will be difficult to overcome the rage we know too well.
We build relationships with our children, demonstrating that we are trustworthy, that we are loving and that we are stable. When we find that we are not, we fall to our knees to ask God for help, and we make amends to our precious children.
When we feel the anger coming, we never, ever, ever touch our children. Not to spank, not to guide them to time-out, not to help them on the way to their room. We never touch in anger. Ever.
We bite our tongues and we take a time-out until we can speak kindly once again.
Anger is a formidable foe. When it is all we have known, it can seem foreign to operate in any mode but one involving rage. Yet, as followers of Christ, entrusted to steward the precious life (or lives) of another, we can not afford to lay down our sword and remove our armor. We must fight to become more like Christ.
If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Matthew 18:6 (Jesus)
Do you struggle with a ‘Ghost of Childhood Past’? How have you overcome? Are you still struggling?
Danika Cooley is a freelance children’s writer with a love for God’s Word, history, wisdom and small people. Her work has appeared in magazines including Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr., Pockets, Devozine, Keys for Kids, and Cobblestone Group’s FACES and Odyssey and in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Magic of Mothers and Daughters.
[Added 2/10/2012 – In looking at the Bible verses calling human anger a sin, I want to acknowledge the point made by Melinda in the comments below. The Holy Spirit can move us to righteous anger. Ephesian 4:25-27(NIV) says: “Therefore, each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” The RSV says “Be angry and sin not”. The Hebrew verb ragaz (used here, with a straight line over the first a) means “to tremble with fear or rage”. Because of the way Paul has written the verse, many scholars maintain this means that we can have righteous indignation, but it cannot be mingled with sin. If we allow the sun to set on this indignation, it becomes bitterness and resentment – a sin. (Gaebelein, Frank E. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume II. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978)
I can think of only one time in my parenting where I may have experienced ragaz – that righteous indignation over sin. One of my older children did something incredibly deliberate and foolish. People were hurt, and property was damaged. However, I allowed the sun to set on that anger. Though I did not act on it right away, within a month, I was yelling and harboring bitterness. Perhaps my initial indignation and anger was not a sin, but my following resentment certainly was.
I acknowledge that the Holy Spirit can spur us to ragaz. I maintain that we who struggle with anger must be very, very careful what we judge to be righteous anger, and how we treat it. We see above that Paul does not allow for ragaz without adjoining boundaries. We see in the verses below that Paul spends time instructing us to rid ourselves of anger, calling it a sin and grouping it with a number of other known sins. Human rage and anger, particularly toward our childish little ones, is sinful.
Let me know what you all think. Thanks, Melinda. Iron truly does sharpen iron.]