The Ghost of Childhood Past ~ Anatomy of an Angry Parent


The Ghost of Childhood Past ~ Anatomy of an Angry Parent {Danika Cooley at Thinking Kids}

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

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.]

Comments

  1. says

    My friends, I understand there is a WordPress ad at the end of this post (which WP does not show me). I hear that it is inappropriate. I sincerely apologize. I am strongly opposed to the type of ad that is showing. I do not have the money available to pay WP right now to remove the ad, but as soon as I do – I will. Which, I’m guessing is exactly the point of the ad.

    Again, I sincerely apologize.

  2. says

    As someone who came from an abusive home, I can truly appreciate this post. I wish my own parents would have heard this. Both my parents now are long behind me as I had to walk away from them. It’s a long story, if you read some of my blog posts you might get a good idea though, lol. Thank you so much for posting this, it really touched me! God bless and keep writing!

  3. says

    As an abused child, I’m sad to say I was that angry parent. I didn’t mean to be, I tried so, so hard not to be: I was in counseling, anger management, talked to friends, was in recovery, and tried nineteen different anti-depressants, religion, and anything else I could do to try to fix myself, and it never worked. I loved my son with all that I had, and I took responsibility for my issues. My son has grown, and I apologized for my anger, and/or for screwing him up. He forgives me and told me that I taught him how to deal with angry people. If I could go back in time, maybe I wouldn’t have had him, or given him away to people who would have been better suited, but we also had fantastic times, and he was read to, and fed, clothed, housed, and loved, held, told he was wonderful, and how glad I was that I had him, even though I sucked with controlling stress.
    I can’t change how things were, and I really did try with all that I had. Thanks for this post.

    • says

      Hermione,

      I am SO grateful for the grace of God. I can’t fix anything myself, but Jesus is powerful enough to heal my heart and to forgive my every sin. It is only in Jesus that I’ve found any true peace.

      It sounds like you love your son a lot and like you never quit fighting to be the best parent you could be.

      Thank you for sharing your story.

      -Danika

  4. Chandra Nelson says

    :’(
    I confess it’s in my toolbox.
    I told you just the other day, I made a huge mistake…cursing in my anger… then my precious girl got in trouble later than night for saying the same word I’d used :( I locked myself in my bathroom crying. “God what good is forgiveness? I don’t want forgiveness I want to be FIXED.”
    Anger was the only tool I saw, bribes or anger…I Hate that I have it…My precious girls and I pray now when I get angry I have even heard them pray alone “Dear God forgive Mommy and help her not to be angry”. Works every time…just wish they’d never have to pray that again.

    Overcome…get new tools… Sigh…sounds so easy…

    • says

      Goodness. I am SO thankful for forgiveness. I’d like to be perfect, and fixed, as well, but it won’t happen this side of Heaven. ALL of us fall short of the glory of God. It’s easy to assume others are stellar parents all the time. I think the real problem arises when our hearts aren’t broken by our sin. At least, that’s what I hope. As long as I feel true sorrow over my actions (or thoughts), I can repent. I think that our kids need to see repentance in action. :) (Oh, and I lock myself in the bathroom too sometimes!)

      Thanks so much for your comment, Chandra. I love your heart. I wish life on this earth was easy. Thank God that with Him, we can overcome because HE has overcome the world.

      ~ Danika

  5. Kristina Best says

    I am working on this myself. I find myself saying things my mother said and the look on my sons faces make me feel like I don’t deserve to be their mother. I am trying and praying to be “FIXED”. Thank you for posting this. I forget sometimes children aren’t robots and they can’t be perfect cause no one can but Jesus.

    • says

      Kristina,

      I heard someone say this week that we should expect our children to make mistakes, and that we must remember that it’s our job to train them (over and over and over again). It resonated with me because I find my expectations of others (and of circumstances) play a huge role in my emotions. When I change my expectations, my emotions often follow suit.

      Thank you so much for sharing. I love that you are praying and seeking the face of Jesus in your parenting.

      ~ Danika

  6. says

    I liked your post and even though I had heard that story before it was still funny and tragic.
    I don’t think though that I’m ready to say that all anger toward our children is sin. I’m not sure how you meant that and may not have read the context well enough but I believe there is a way to be angry and not sin. Of course we as adults often underestimate the intimidation or other hurts we cause in our loss of emotional control regarding anger.
    But, if we as parents can first learn how (a big one) and then model for our children how to be angry and not sin… That would be a very valuable lesson I think.
    So you see what I mean?

    • says

      I think we can probably get pretty nuanced on “anger”. Can you think of a verse in Scripture that encourages human anger? (I would not consider the righteous anger of Jesus, as He is sinless and God). I’m still looking for one.

      That said, I do believe it is really beneficial for my children to see me work through my anger without becoming enraged or abusive. I think that when our children are subjected to our anger, we can create a lot of damage.

      I do get angry with my children. Often it is my very human reaction to disappointment, sorrow or fear. I don’t see admonitions in Scripture against these (well, against fear that turns to worry), but I see plenty of admonition against anger…

      What do you think?

      • says

        Good question about the verses regarding encouraging emotions in support of self-defensive or offensive behavior. I will have to look.
        I think that God gave us the ability to feel anger because there are times when we need to protect something valuable that is in danger. Now we can go wrong in a lot of different ways with that. We can value the wrong things, like our own image of power or control. I think that’s often what we are trying to protect as angry parents, which, of course, is misguided. We can try to protect something that really is not in any danger or that out of our control to protect. Or we can go about protecting the wrong way.
        So many ways that we can act wrongly out of anger… but I believe God designed that and other emotions to motivate us to defend and protect when used wisely and not impulsively.
        Make sense?

  7. says

    So, I did a word study on anger, wrath and rage in the Bible before I wrote this. I am very aware that calling anything (particularly an emotion we tend to lovingly embrace) a sin is an unpopular action, and I wanted to be certain before I wrote.

    I appreciate your input and have spent more time praying and considering the issue. I am fallible, but the Word of God is not, so I am looking there for my answer.

    Sin is real. Sin is clearly defined in Scripture. Sin, without God’s gift of salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ, damns us to hell. All of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s standard. Thank GOD for forgiveness through Jesus. I am an expert sinner. However, as a follower of Christ, I no longer want to live in sin. His grace and mercy shines a spotlight on my sin.

    In the Bible, God’s anger/wrath/rage are holy, just and righteous, just as He is holy, just and righteous. The Lord showed his wrath numerous times – including through Jesus (God incarnate) with the moneychangers in the Temple.

    However, Scripture is VERY clear that HUMAN anger is a sin. In addition to the verses listed above (including Galatians 5:19-21, where repetitive/habitual fits of rage bar us from the Kingdom of Heaven), the Bible includes many other admonishments against human anger.

    Often, I feel deep sorrow or disappointment over sins that I am certain grieve God. If I – in my human wisdom – dwell on the injustice of the sin, I can easily become angry. However, anger is, Scripturally, a sin. I am called to pray, and to work for the Lord to resolve the injustice.

    I sometimes feel a flash of justifiable fear over something dangerous. However, if this fear turns to anger, it is a sin.

    There is a segment of the Christian community that uses anger as a tool to parent. This is a travesty – for the children, for the parent, and for the Church.

    Again, if you can find clear Scriptural evidence to support the idea that anger over offensive or dangerous behavior is righteous, I will take the Scripture to my elders, spend time in prayer, and seek the Lord on the issue. False teaching is a true concern of mine, and I never want to teach that which is against the Word of the Lord.

  8. Melinda says

    I agree with so much of what you posted. We as parents tend to act out of our flesh in anger. That is a sin. But if we are to become more like Christ, and Christ is able to have a righteous anger, then doesn’t that mean that we too, can have a righteous anger? Also, if all anger is sin, then why not love, happiness, joy? We can have all of these emotions in sinful ways, but with Christ’s help, we can also experience these emotions in righteous ways. 2 Corinthians 5:21
    Thoughts?

  9. says

    Melinda,

    Thank you for the comment.

    In Matthew 5:21,22, Jesus had this to say about HUMAN 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.”

    It sounds to me as though He took anger seriously. Even being angry without action subjects us to His judgment. I know that Jesus rebuked the moneychangers in His temple, however, He was God in the flesh, right? Any view otherwise is Arianism, a serious heresy. So… Jesus is God the Son, and I am not. Even if I become more like Him, I will never be Him – or even close. He certainly has a right to rebuke idolaters in His temple.

    In the word study I did in Scripture before I wrote this, I found that God’s anger was always righteous, just and holy, just as He is righteous, just and holy. Jesus’ rebukes were also righteous, just and holy. However, when the disciples displayed anger, He rebuked them. The verses about human anger in the New Testament are very clear.

    The Bible (particularly the New Testament) is very clear about human anger being a sin. I quoted just a few of the verses from Scripture above:

    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

    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.

    Here are a few more:

    Colossians 3:8: But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.

    2 Corithians 12:20-21: For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged.

    Proverbs just repeatedly calls anger the emotion of a “fool”. However, it’s the New Testament that really labels it a sin, grouping it among other sins that I certainly want to avoid in Christ.

    We are fallen beings, and not all of our feelings are righteous. It is only by striving to be more like Jesus, and praying for the fruit of the Spirit to be manifested in my life, that I become less angry, jealous, envious and spiteful.

    What do you think? I am always open to correct what I am teaching if it is unScriptural. False teaching is one of my greatest concerns. However, I find an overwhelming amount of Scriptural evidence that anger is a sin (and Galatians 5:22 lists Love and Joy as fruits of the Spirit, does it not?).

    Can you show me Scriptural evidence outside of Jesus’ (God incarnate’s) righteous rebukes? If so, I will gladly pray over those Scriptures, take them to my elders, and if necessary, change my teaching.

    Again, thank you for your thoughts on this. All the questions have certainly caused me to continue to pray.

  10. Melinda says

    You are right, human anger is sinful. We are sinners and tend to act out of our sin nature. James 1: 19,20 says “be slow to anger. The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” This does not mean all anger is sin, but that unrighteous, man anger is sin. We can have an inhuman, righteous anger with the holy spirit’s help. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that “for our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Also, 2 corin 12:9 “my power is made perfect in weakness.” My anger=sin, but Christ working in me gives me the power to be what I cannot on my own, righteous in anger is just one example.
    Love and joy are fruits of the spirit. Which means we cannot have a righteous love or joy apart from the holy spirit giving them to us.
    I don’t think we really disagree. All of the scripture you reference regarding anger give examples of unrighteous anger. Sin! I am saying that Christ’s work in us enables us to have a righteous anger that is free from fleshly, human anger. If we cannot be righteous in anger, why can we be righteous in our love?
    Also, Jesus was God in flesh. Fully God, yet fully man. His anger was a righteous display of human emotion. Hebrews 4:14-16 discusses Jesus’ perfection as a man, and how we can look to his example when we are feeling weak and tempted. He was perfect in the flesh, and we ” may receive mercy and grace to help us in time of need.” If he was sinless in anger as a man, we can look to His example and receive grace to help us be sinless in anger.
    Eph 4:26 “be angry and do not sin.” If we look at the context of this verse, the passage is discussing “putting on our new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Among all of the good stuff we are to put on is an anger that does not sin. A righteous anger that is not possible without Christ. An anger that is like God. The anger you are referencing is not this anger. The anger I feel and act on sometimes as a parent is not this anger. The fact that it is not always displayed does not mean that it is impossible. This righteous anger is possible (and appropriate, good) for a Christian (parent) to have – but only through Christ!

    • says

      Melinda,

      Thank you for taking the time to point out those verses to me. I think that it can be very nuanced. I hope it is not confusing to those struggling with anger.

      However, after more study and prayer, I can see your point. The Holy Spirit can indeed spur us to a righteous anger. I’ve amended the post. Because I feel that calling our sinful anger a sin is still accurate, and that the post has value, I have not deleted it.

      What do you think?

      ~Danika

  11. Melinda says

    Definitely do not delete! It was a excellent post. I only took issue with your comment (I don’t even think it was in the original post) on a comment that we cannot have a righteous anger. This message on anger resonates with many Christian parents, myself included. It is something that, as you noted, is spoken of very severely in scripture. We need to make sure that we are allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us in the discipline of our children. Our sinful response to disobedience is never appropriate. Thanks for posting. I reposted it to my Facebook page and received a good response. I will be back.

  12. micki says

    Thank you very much for this. still struggling with the Ghost of Childhood past. grew up in a very angry very bitter very violent home. have managed to raise my kid with a lot less of those things but still too much anger. he’s 17 now but we are doing ok i think. thanks again for this. :)

  13. Laura says

    How would be an appropriate way to help my husband, and my husband help me in those heated moments when our anger would cause us to sin? I want my husband to hold me accountable, and help me not to sin against our children, and He also wants it, but how can we do that without undermining each other’s authority? What would be some appropriate ways to lovingly stop each other without the children feeling like there’s a divided front? Some of my friends stop their husbands and reprove them in front of the children, and see that their children know how to manipulate a response in their benefit from the protective parent. Our children know we struggle with sinning in anger. We have made it clear we hate our sin, and depend on God to change us. We constantly go back to them after we have sinned against them in anger so they can clearly see a repentant heart, and our need of Jesus. We just don’t know how to help each other in the heat of the moment. Help!

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