Tripping Over Triggers That Cause Frustration in Motherhood

Illustration of a frustrated mom leans against sleeping child’s bedroom door and steps on a toy truck
Merrilee Liddiard

Finally, my sons lay down for their naps. I closed their bedroom door behind me and leaned against it, exasperated. My legs felt as heavy as my heart. Too often, I was an angry mom, and that reality caught me off guard once again. Like many women, I had longed to be a mother. I imagined that my days would be filled with playing at the park, baking cookies and watching swim lessons. Instead, I found that while there were many wonderful moments with my three young boys, reality also involved strong wills and daily temper tantrums — both theirs and mine.

"Lord, why am I so easily frustrated with my children?" I cried. "Help me be a gentler mom!" I made my way back to the family room where dishes and toys were scattered like a maze of mayhem. The mess triggered my anger once again. I loved my children with every fiber of my being, but my actions were not matching my heart. Over time I realized that my unrealistic expectations and desire for things to go my way were rooted in pride that manifested itself in resentment.

Something had to change.

As a new mother, I imagined I was the only mom who was feeling this way. Now, I know better. Many women have confessed to yelling at their kids, shaming them or saying things they regret. Triggers that lead toward anger — the things that set us off — are not extraordinary. In fact, I'm convinced that these triggers are what most moms have in common.

Some of our triggers are external. They are the things our kids do that turn us into reactionary parents — sibling rivalry, backtalk and disobedience. Other triggers are internal and have everything to do with us — exhaustion, a messy home and marital woes. But we don't have to be victims of our triggers.

Confess

Proverbs 28:13 says, "Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy." After confessing and acknowledging that I was sinfully angry, I felt the peace of Christ fill my heart. I read verses about anger and gentleness and asked God to renew my mind. And sure enough, confession led to transformation.

Set a timer

The Word of God reminds us that we need to slow down when we feel anger rise in our hearts. Ecclesiastes 7:9 says, "Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools." As I began to take my anger seriously, I set a timer on my phone to remind me of this verse. I memorized it, and every hour when the timer went off, I recited it and said a quick prayer. Over many months, this practice made me more aware of my body language and my voice tone.

Practice being close-lipped

Scripture convinced me that I was not going to get anywhere good by treating my kids harshly. Proverbs 31:26 says, "She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue." If we cannot teach or correct our children with kindness, we must wait until we can. If we can't be kind, we should be close-lipped. As soon as I felt the urge to say something in anger, I practiced self-control — closing my lips until I could speak with grace and kindness. There is nothing anger can do that love can't do better. Taking a "holy pause" allowed me to respond rightly instead of joining my kids in behaving wrongly.

I often tell moms that it takes a childhood to fully train a child. That's 18 years! The transformation from an angry mom to a gentle mom is not something that happens overnight, either.

My mothering now looks far more like the loving, grace-filled parenting that seemed so elusive as I stood outside my sons' bedroom door. Purposefully breaking the destructive habit of reactionary parenting required humility and commitment, but with God's help, it was possible.

Amber Lia is the co-author of Triggers: Exchanging parents' angry reactions for gentle biblical responses.
This article first appeared in the February/March 2018 issue of Focus on the Family magazine and was originally titled "Tripping Over Triggers." If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family's marriage and parenting magazine. Get this publication delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.
© 2018 by Amber Lia. Used by permission.

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