Mom #1: Being a Mom is all about being guilty and then going back and apologizing for yelling and saying, “Let’s now talk about this the right way.”
Mom #2: Oh, I remember when my kids were little, and getting angry would always make me feel helpless, out of control…
Mom #3: Kids! Like, you go here and you go here!
Mom #4: When they’re not listening until you raise your voice and it’s like, “Seriously, you need to sit down.”
Mom #5: Mostly, it’s the after-effect of it, when I realize I truly haven’t just lost control of myself, but I’ve damaged the relationships of whomever – whichever child I’m angry with.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Well maybe you can relate to those moms about what triggers them and what makes you angry. Today on our Best of 2018 Focus on the Family, you’ll learn how you can respond better when those buttons do get pushed. And your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: John, we’re reminded throughout Scripture to learn, with God’s help, uh, to control our anger. That’s one of our goals as Christians. In Proverbs 15:1, we’re told, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” So today, we want to come alongside you and – and know how to respond with a soft answer, especially to your children, when your vision is blurry and you’re angry and upset and all you want to do is kind of retaliate and get in their faces and get them to behave the way you need them to behave. Can you feel it?
John: I can feel it, Jim. And our guests are Amber Lia and Wendy Speake. And they describe themselves as “Busy Boy Moms.” And they’ve written a great book called Triggers: Exchanging Parents’ Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses. And, uh, we’ve got the book, of course, and other resources for you as a mom at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, or call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Amber and Wendy, John indicated you’re boy moms. I love that description. Uh, I think, combined, you have seven boys?
Wendy Speake: We have seven boys.
Jim: Seven boys. What are the – what’s the age range?
Amber Lia: Wendy’s oldest is 14. And we had a happy surprise. Our baby Quaid just turned 13 months old.
Wendy: So there’s a stretch there.
Amber: We’ve got from one to 14. Yeah.
Jim: Seven boys. Uh, Jean and I thought we had our hands full with two boys. But you guys are really, uh, doing your part to bring young men up in this world. So thank you for that.
Wendy: Yeah. So we say we’re not raising boys. We’re raising men. But oftentimes it feels like we’re raising triggers.
Jim: Well, and we’re gonna…
Wendy: They can be our triggers.
Jim: We’re gonna talk about that. Also joining us, John, is my wife Jean. Uh, I thought it’d be great for her to join in because we have two boys as well. And this isn’t just gonna be about raising boys, but it is about raising children and how to manage those things that trigger you all. And I thought Jean’s perspective would be helpful because, if you haven’t noticed, John and I, we’re two boys. And this is about a mom’s ability to really, uh, handle those emotions in the – in the face of overwhelming odds, right?
Wendy: Right. I love that we have both men and women talking on the subject, because dads struggle too. And when we can get on the same page – we hear from moms all the time, uh, “Can you do an audio version so that I can just put it in the car for my husband to listen to as well?”
Jim: Yeah, right. You know, that sometimes works.
Wendy: And so we did that for them – for the dads.
Jim: Or the book on the pillow. That’s a common one we get here at Focus on the Family.
John: How effective is that for you, Jim?
Well, Jean – I’ll let Jean answer. Welcome to the show, Jean.
Jean Daly: Well, thank you. It’s always a pleasure being here.
Jim: Well, let’s get into it. Um, you believe – in writing Triggers – you believe there’s an epidemic of angry moms in and outside the church today. I mean, that – maybe there’s not much difference in terms of those expressions of anger. Why are so many moms angry and struggling? Let’s start there.
Amber: You know, when I was a – a young mom, my husband had moved us to a little small town in the central coast. And I had three little boys four and under. And I had – before that, I had been this really capable teacher. I was really in charge. I was, um – had plans. I knew what to do with my day. And then these little boys came along, and they were – well, let’s just say there are kids who will sit and color, I’ve heard.
My boys were not those boys. They are all boy. And they ran me ragged, and I just found myself getting so frustrated and – and angry. And I didn’t know who I was all of a sudden. And I thought I was the only one. I didn’t think I could talk about this with anybody. There was a lot of shame involved in it. And I’ve come to discover that that was really my enemy talking in my ear trying to make me feel guilty, because Satan wanted me to feel guilty. Jesus wanted to convict me and catapult me towards spiritual growth, but Satan was the one I was kind of listening to most at that time. And I was embarrassed.
And then I began to start a blog, and I started writing. And I started a Facebook group for moms, eventually, who struggle with anger and yelling. And wouldn’t you know it, thousands of moms came in a very short amount of time. And I realized, “Wow, this journey that I’ve been on away from this angry, reactionary parenting and the problem is actually not just my problem. It’s something that thousands of people are struggling with, and now we have a safe place to talk about it and to maybe share with each other and learn how God’s word can be very practical in my parenting when I’m running late out the door, or I’m exhausted, or my kids are talking back. So let’s journey together.” And so I think part of the problem is that we’ve just felt a lot of shame and embarrassment. We haven’t felt the freedom to talk about it and mentor one another toward spiritual growth.
Jim: That is excellent. And I think that idea of isolation is so prevalent in women, particularly. I think you quickly go to your guilt center, you know, that “What am I doing wrong? What is it about me?” And that’s so easy to do. And I love the topic, uh, that triggers are there. It’s going to happen. Let’s help one another not listen to those things. And that’s really what you’re saying. Wendy, um, give us an overview of some of the common external versus internal triggers that moms face. Uh, and then we’ll dive in more deeply with, uh, that area.
Wendy: Right. Well, it was really interesting – the way that the book came together was within the confines of that Facebook group from moms who were struggling. And one day, we simply said, “What are your triggers?” We didn’t even communicate what triggers were. They knew.
Jim: Yeah. It’s all known, huh?
Wendy: Why can’t they get on their shoes and get in the car? Why do they talk back? Why the sassy eye-rolling? And these things shoot me off. And then a lot of them were saying, “I’m – I’ve been exhausted. I’m always running late. My husband’s traveling.” Um, you know, and on and on the triggers rolled. And the very next day, Amber jumped in the group. And she said, “We don’t want to help you teach your kid not to disobey so you don’t have to get angry. We want to focus on the heart. What’s going on in you when either you’re just depleted, you’re struggling with postpartum, your husband and you are at odds, or the kids are doing something wrong? What’s going on with you? Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit in me and, you know, help me be more like You. And from that place, let’s invite our kids up into maturity with us.” And so the – their – some of those triggers were external. And we focused on, “What’s going on with you when your kids can’t get their shoes on and get to the, um, car? Or come to the table and not melt down over doing homework, not melt down over, um, broccoli? Teenage kids coming in on time, teenage kids, you know, taking responsibility of their own school journey?” You know, it’s not our school life. It’s their school life. So all of these are triggers. And what Amber said, which I think is just so profound, is they feel like triggers, but really what they are? They’re opportunities. They’re opportunities for us to parent. And I say it to my husband, because it’s so – sometimes so easy to see it from the outside when they’re doing something wrong. You know, our husbands are responding in error and in anger.
Jim: Yeah. We do find that.
Wendy: I’ll be able to say, “Matt, you know what the kids are doing right now?” He’s like, “Yes, they’re doing wrong!” I say, “No, no, no. They’re asking you to parent them.” That’s what the trigger is.
Jim: How does he respond to that, then?
Wendy: “Ugh!” Like, “I had to marry someone that wrote a parenting book,” you know?
Jim: “Sounds like work!”
Wendy: But it – it’s so helpful for me to see him do it wrong sometimes because I’m like, “Ooh, I’ve done that.”
Jim: Wendy, it – it’s really important here, because I think moms are hearing this – they’re going, “I love the topic, but you sound like you’ve arrived.”
Wendy: Oh, my brother…
Jim: …And we’ve got – we’ve got to go back…
Wendy: …And sisters.
Jim: Well, and – well, and the reason is because I’m not there yet. And – and what you’re – what I’m hearing is you gotta emphasize the journey, that if you’re there and you’re seeing – Amber, back to your triggers and what you were seeing – you gotta start there. So don’t feel guilty as you’re listening. You’re going, “Oh, I’m not there.” Start now. Start today.
Wendy: Yeah. We say all the time that this is actually a conversation. The book that we wrote is a conversation that we want to have with you from the perspective of that we’re still in it with you.
Amber: Yes. It takes a – a childhood to raise a child. That’s 18 years-plus. And it takes a parenthood for me to figure out how to be the best parent.
Jim: Isn’t that the truth?
Amber: It is. And so this is an ongoing process…
Jean: There really is no arriving, right?
Amber: There’s no arriving. Wendy and I, I think that’s why our books resonate so much and – and why the group is so responsive to us. It’s because we tell them all the time, “We’re journeying with you. This is not us as the total authority figure and expert. In fact, here’s how I messed up yesterday. Remember I wrote that chapter on whining and complaining? Well, guess what I did yesterday? So I’m still growing with you. Let’s pray for each other.”
Jim: Yeah. That’s good.
Amber: We have not arrived yet. And that really is, I think, one of our focal points, is to be transparent.
Jim: Well, here’s – here’s a – actually, John has a question for you, Jean.
John: Well, it’s…
Jean: Oh, I love that.
John: …I was asked on behalf of a friend to just say…
John: …Does the journey – you’re describing a journey – does the journey get easier with time? Do the triggers change? Have you – have you struggled with anger over the years, and is it – is it easier?
Jean: Uh, no, I’ve never struggled with anger.
Jim: Only at me.
Jean: Yes, I have absolutely struggled with anger. And yes, the triggers change. But I do want to say, now that our boys are 15 and 17, I see the light at the end of the tunnel. So it does get easier.
Jim: What do you mean, that they’re moving out, that they’re going out the door, or…?
Jean: Well, it gets easier. The – it does get easier.
John: In what ways?
Jean: Uh, when you have young children, you are exhausted. I think that you are exhausted. You’re absolutely exhausted. You are pouring yourself out every day. Well, you’re younger. You haven’t walked as much of the path that you talked about. You’re – you – we can’t be good parents until we’ve parented, and you’re still just fresh into it.
Wendy: And really, they need different things at different seasons. So some of it is our maturity, that we’re growing up. And so much of it is they actually need different things. They need us to train them in the way they should go when they’re young, and then they need us to remind them of the way they should go…
Jim: You really have to remind them?
Wendy: …Rather than berate them for going the wrong way day after day – “You’re doing this wrong, you’re doing this wrong.” That’s where our anger can really come into play, rather than, “Wait a minute. I’m supposed to train them in the way they should go.” And it sounds different.
Jean: Right. I want to speak to that, because I am getting an opportunity right now to parent again because we have the young foster children. We have teenage boys. And yes, they need different things. But at this point, I can recognize what I did wrong with the teenage boys. And what I did wrong when it was young – and your book speaks to this – it’s the, um, training them in the way they should go, but so much of it is done out of anger because you take it personally. So when your kids disobey and are defiant, I know I took that personally and thought that if they’re disrespecting me – these are the little people I spend – or the people I spend the most time with, and if they don’t think I’m worthy of respect, then I must not be. And I think that’s painful. That gets to our core. It’s a lie. But – and – and you talked about that, Amber, listening to God or listening to the enemy. And that, um – that we have to find our value and self-worth not from our kids. I can step back and think, “That is absurd, to think that we can get our self-worth from children.”
Jim: Well, that’s what you’re saying you learned, that – not to get your value from that relationship but the relationship you have in Christ.
Jean: Yeah. Right.
Amber: We – we think that our child’s misbehavior is a reflection of us.
Amber: And there’s a little truth to that. But Wendy is so smart. She has said something that resonates so much with me and so many of our readers. And it’s that we are not victims. We’re moms.
Wendy: Oh, it’s so true. The tendency for me, especially with these strong-willed personalities, is to feel like I’ve been in a – in a war by the end of every day.
Jim: Are you talking about husbands or kids?
Wendy: No, but my husband will – at the end of the day, I’m crying in bed. And he’ll reach over and say, “Just go to sleep. God’s mercies are waiting for you new, tomorrow. Just – you can start again tomorrow, right?” But I can feel like a victim by the end of the day. And this epiphany that, “Wait a minute! I’m not a victim. I’m a mom! And my child actually is doing my child’s job.” When he does wrong, when he pushes boundaries, when he says no, when he just does what he does, he’s actually doing his job. And what he’s doing is he’s inviting me to do my job, which is parent him and train him in the way he should go.
Jim: Now, that’s a great way to look at it, I’ll tell you. Let’s get right to the core of it. Jean touched on it – one of those triggers being that disobedience. Amber, this is an area for you that was hard.
Jim: How do you begin to address that? How do you find a way not to let that hot button be the hot button? It ends up being the cold button. “You push that button, you’re not getting a response from me.”
Amber: Yeah. When I was in that little small town, there was one day that this knock came on the door – tap, tap, tap, tap. And I was horrified because I had just been raising my voice, living in the aftermath of chaos, frustrated. And I thought, “Who just overheard me when they came to my door?” And there was that shame again. And so I opened the door. And thankfully, it was a – a bachelor neighbor from down the street who’s kind of hard of hearing. And I thought, “Okay, good. Maybe he didn’t overhear what was going on in my living room.” But that was the first signal to me that I needed to change. I was really focused on my kids’ disobedience, and I was taking it personally with that victim mentality. And so I was always reacting to my children’s disobedience. I was not responding to it in a godly and biblical way, practically and consistently.
And so the first thing that I had to do was, when that neighbor knocked on my door, it was the a-ha moment for me. “Amber, you have to get it together. The Lord came to give you life to the full. You’re not living life to the full. You’re not embracing that promise.” And so you have to stop and do something different. Instead of stern lectures and putting your hands on your hip and punishing your children at every turn, you need to go back to the word of God and apply it and live out the fruit of the spirit towards your child and ask the Lord for some creative ideas practically of how to do that. And so that’s what I did.
Those littles would go down for a nap. And as much as I wanted to go turn on the TV and chill out for a few minutes or get to the pile of dishes, I took that time – I took 20 minutes every day, which is hard to do when you’re a mom and you’ve got little kids – but I said, “Lord, first of all, I confess I have this issue, and I need your help. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew that right spirit within me.” And the Lord showed up, which He promises to do. And so He really began, over the course of about a year, to transform me.
So when my kids would disobey, instead of me saying, “Oh, why did you do that? You’re disobeying. This is not okay. This is not acceptable. I’m the mom. You’re supposed to obey me” – the dialogue shifted to, “Okay, there’s no problems going on right now. This is a good opportunity for me to be responsive and proactive parenting. And I’m gonna say, ‘All right, guys, our shoes are the main problem. We’re not ever finding our shoes on time to get out the door. So here’s a basket by the front door. This is where our shoes go. And I’m gonna give you plenty of time to get your shoes on. Mommy will help you.’“
And instead of this lecture in the aftermath of them disobeying and not doing things on time or doing what I’ve asked them to do, I’m working through, kind of like a coach, outside of the time of conflict ahead of time. Let’s practice this at two o’clock in the afternoon instead of at 7:30 a.m. when we’re trying to get out the door to a mommy group. You know, let’s practice this. We’ll make it fun. And so I had to be really purposeful and intentional in helping them work through whatever their issue was, where maybe they were disobeying, or maybe they were just immature and I needed to do some more teaching and training. And I would focus on one thing at a time. And so that was really helpful for me.
John: Some great insights from Amber Lia and her co-author, Wendy Speake. They’re out guests on Focus on the Family. Jean Daly has also joined us, and we’re so glad you’re with us today as we talk about the book that Amber and Wendy have written called Triggers: Exchanging Parents’ Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses. Get a copy of the book and a CD of this conversation at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, or call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: In one of the areas of the book, you cover whining and complaining. This is the one that grates on me. And we actually, with our – Jean’s laughing, she’s smiling – guilty, I’m caught – because the two little kids we have with us right now, one of them is a real whiner. And it’s like nails on a chalkboard for me. I mean, it’s like, you know, “I need more cereal! Where’s my cereal?” I’m going, “Just ask. I’ll get you more cereal. Why are you doing that to me?”
Jim: And I’m the dad in this context, but that’s a big one for both moms and dads. What about this whining and complaining? How do we see that as an opportunity to grow?
Wendy: Yeah. Well, and an opportunity to parent. Because when they whine and complain, apparently they’re saying, “Hey, I haven’t learned how to not whine and complain yet.” But the tendency, of course, if we’re thinking of these triggers as invitations to parent, the reality is we feel that they are invitations to fight or invitations for us to join them. So they whine and complain, so we whine and complain about their whining and complaining, thinking that our whining and complaining about their whining and complaining is going to get them to stop whining and complaining, when in actuality it doesn’t. It just reinforces the whining and complaining.
Jim: So what do we do?
Wendy: Right. So we come up with better responses. We make a plan. One of my favorite quotes from triggers that I apply to my own mothering each day is, “Figure out what you mean to say before you say something mean.” So in a moment void of conflict, in a moment void of whining and complaining, say, “When they say that, I’m gonna just come up with a canned response. What am I going to say when they do that thing they always do?”
Jim: Okay. Give me an example to help me.
Wendy: So for example: “I’m sorry, I couldn’t understand you. Try again.” Or, “Can you use a big girl voice? Try again. Then I can understand you. I actually can’t understand you.” Another example was I remember my kids were really young, and we were at a swim lesson. And the 2-year-old wasn’t listening. And he never did at this – he never did.
Jim: Four, six, it just kept going.
Wendy: Yes. But he’s – he’s on the edge of the pool waiting for his turn. Except he wasn’t on the edge of the pool every time she turned around. He was sinking, because he let go and was jumping into the water. And she turned around, got him out from under the water, looked him in the eyes and said, “Uh-oh.” And he looked at her, and he stayed on the side of the pool. And I was sitting there, like, five feet away. And I’m looking at her, going, “Oh, sister, ‘uh-oh’ is not gonna work with my child.” Uh-oh was a miracle. Uh-oh transformed his not listening to me.
Wendy: What I realized was he knows he did wrong. And uh-oh says, “Uh-oh, you just made a mistake,” without me lecturing, without me blaming, without me shaming. The other thing, as I’ve gotten older – I’ve already – there’s a time for a lecture. I mean, if you really need a lecture, there’s a time for a lecture. But when they do what they know they’ve done is wrong, and “uh-oh,” or as I say now, “try again” – so the kid slams the door. The kid whines. The kid, you know, has a sassy face. Whatever it is, you say, “Try that again.” And really, you guys, is there a better picture of the gospel than “try again”?
Jim: Yeah. That’s good.
Wendy: Isn’t that what we get to do through faith in Christ? Yeah – Amber had mentioned the fruit of God’s spirit in our lives. And we get letters from women all the time saying, “What’s up with the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, all these – these fruits in our home?” And I oftentimes will point them back. I say, “Well, keep reading. It says, ‘If you live by the spirit, let us keep in step with the spirit.’“ So if you have not kept in step with the spirit in your own patience and gentleness, try again. Through Christ, you’ve been forgiven, and you get to – praise Jesus – try again. So let’s give our children the same grace we’ve been given. “Uh, try again.”
Jim: Yeah. I like the redo.
Wendy: Oh, the redo. Yes.
Jim: That’s what we’ve called it, the redo.
Jean: Oh, my goodness. I – I really resonate with this. And I wish I had done that with my boys. This is one thing that I’ve really learned with our foster children. And it’s revolutionary – the redo. And it has always worked. And – and I feel the same way. It exemplifies Christ’s love and what we get to do as adults every day. And the authoritarian way doesn’t change the behavior, and it breeds bitterness. But the redo, they get it. I see it working in our own home.
Jim: Let’s talk about that for a quick second, the authoritarian approach. I think, with parenting, we think, you know, if we run it like a military boot camp, this will work. Why won’t it work?
Wendy: And sometimes it does for the moment. Right? In the moment.
Jim: Okay. So you get temporary satisfaction.
Wendy: I can teach my children they only need to obey me when I’m mad and loud. And, whoop, they have to.
Jim: So something like, “Get to the table now! Eat the dinner and the peas!”
Wendy: Yeah. And I’ll – and I’ll say, “Why don’t you come when I use my soft voice?” And they don’t know to say it, but really, “Because you didn’t train me to come when you used your soft…”
Jim: Yeah. You only get it when you use the military voice.
Wendy: “You only trained me that that’s when I have to.”
Amber: And – and, you know, when we – if we create these little robots that do what we say whenever we say it, you know, we may have an easier time in our parenting journey. But really, the other side of that is that it can create a lot of anger in our children. And all that that does is make them angry at me as the mom. And they’re no longer thinking about what they’ve done wrong. They’re just mad at me because I’m lecturing them and I’m yelling at them. I’m making a scene. And they’re now focused on my behavior, my reaction. They’re not thinking at all about their behavior and what they should be doing.
Wendy: Yeah. We say that you’ve stolen the teachable moment. So your kid does something just flat-out wrong, and you come in in anger with your eyes bulging and your nostrils flaring and spittle flying. And what you’re doing is you’re – you’re usurping that teachable moment, because they do not even remember what they did wrong. They are just entertained by what you’re doing wrong.
John: This has been a Best of 2018 conversation on Focus on the Family with Amber Lia, Wendy Speake, and Jean Daly, and there is more to come next time.
Jim: I really appreciated Wendy and Amber’s transparency about struggling with anger as moms. And then, of course, Jean’s perspective as well. It’s so transparent and so appropriate for us to talk about. They’ve provided us with a strong reminder that with God’s help and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can replace anger with a gentler response.
And maybe this discussion today has made you aware of some of your triggers. Maybe you still don’t know how to respond in a healthy way. If you need someone to talk to, contact us here. We have caring, Christian counselors available on staff to help you work through any issue you may be facing, and then connect you with someone right there in your local area.
John: Yeah, and you can schedule a consultation with one of those counselors when you call 800-A-FAMILY.
Jim: Today’s program, it highlights our desire to equip you to raise healthy, God-honoring kids. And there’s no formula, but these are ways that will have a higher degree of predictability that they will do well. I wanna share a special comment from one of our listeners. After hearing Amber and Wendy on the Focus on the Family program, this mom wrote to us and said, “The broadcast came at the right time in my life. I’m a single mom of a soon to be 8-year-old daughter. She has ADHD. Lately, we’ve been having rough mornings, so I was overwhelmed and began fussing at her. I began to cry, and I knew she felt bad. On the way to school, she said she was sorry. I felt like the worst parent on Earth. I’m so glad I got to hear the podcast tonight. It’s been inspiring. I know I’m not the only parent that’s struggling. I made a donation of $2, because that’s all I could give for now. I would like to make some changes, and I believe the book will be a blessing. Thank you all, once again.”
John, I love that. When you donate to Focus on the Family, you’re empowering and equipping parents to be the best they can be. Your financial support provides resources to families, like the mom we just heard from, that might need some solutions to their struggles. And here at the end of the year, I really want to encourage you to give the gift of family. Um, certainly after you’ve taken care of your church, consider partnering with Focus to provide hope-filled, biblically-based teaching through our daily broadcast, ministry programs, counseling resources, and so, so much more. When you donate today – a gift of any amount – we’ll send you a copy of Amber and Wendy’s book, Triggers, as our way of saying thank you for supporting families through Focus on the Family.
John: And that resource is gonna make a difference in your life, or maybe you can pass it along to a friend who struggles with anger as a parent. Right now, through a limited-time match, your support goes twice as far. We’ve got some special friends of the ministry, and they’re suggesting that if you give five bucks, they’ll do the same. It’s a matching gift opportunity, and we’ll encourage you to double your donation today and strengthen more families. Donate and get your copy of Triggers and learn more about our Best of 2018 collection at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, or when you call 800-232-6459 – 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. Join us again tomorrow as we continue the conversation with Wendy and Amber, and once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.