Growing up, I was not the little girl who carried dolls everywhere or dreamed about motherhood. When we’d play make-believe “house,” I’d pretend to be the mom, not because of any deep maternal instinct, but just so I could be in charge. When I actually became a mom four years ago, I was surprised by how much I loved it. It has been a wonderful and deeply joyful experience. All parents seem to enjoy different stages to different degrees, but for me, I loved the first year. Babies are small and adorable, and their needs are simple—which was especially helpful early on when I became a mom to three beautiful boys in an 11-month span of time. However, as my children have grown into toddlers, I have often felt ill-equipped to parent them well.
I anticipated some of the challenges of parenting toddlers—after all, everyone’s heard of the “terrible 2s,” when children start to make their own choices, and many of those choices expose their rebellious hearts. Seeing anyone’s sin exposed isn’t fun, and throughout this season, I’ve often found myself stuck in a cycle of survival, rather than truly enjoying my sons. Some days are better than others, but the overarching theme tends to be exhaustion and frustration. I lose my temper and lash out in anger at my sons—almost on a daily basis. And then I try to justify my anger, saying, “This just part of being a toddler mom, a stage of parenting everyone experiences.”
For a while, I had myself convinced it was sin and rebellion in my sons that was the problem, rather than sin in my heart. Even though I believed it was their sin that was the problem, I still knew I shouldn’t be yelling and angry all the time. So I set out to change my behavior. Not surprisingly, I failed week after week. I’d confess the same struggles to my friends—my lack of patience, getting frustrated, not wanting to engage in teachable moments, raising my voice in anger, yet change never came. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t able to control my anger, or more so, why I was filled with anger in the first place.
“I had begun to regard myself and my name as if I were a god, worthy of honor, respect and perfect obedience.”
In fact, one of the only times the Bible seems to justify anger toward sin is when the sin is against the very name and renown of God (Ps. 139:21). When God’s name is polluted and reviled, we respond with a holy anger and a cry for justice. When my children don’t listen to me, it might call for correction, but it’s certainly not an affront to the renown of the Almighty God. Yet as a mother, I’ve often treated it as if it were. I had begun to regard myself and my name as if I were a god, worthy of honor, respect and perfect obedience.
All along, my heart had been the problem, not the disobedience of my sons. My attempts to modify my behavior were failing because I’d failed to realize my behaviors were just a symptom of my heart full of wickedness and idolatry. The problem wasn’t that I needed to be nicer to my sons—the problem was my sinful heart desired my sons to see and worship me as if I were God. And then, when they didn’t listen and obey perfectly, it enraged the idol inside of me that demanded recognition and respect. Until I was willing to see and repent of my idolatry, I couldn’t modify my behavior.
The more that I lay this idol at the feet of Jesus, the more He gives me eyes to see my sons the same way He sees me—with compassion, and like sheep without a shepherd. I certainly still have frequent moments of anger. But now I know that the anger is pointing to a deep-rooted sin inside of me, not them. The Lord is working to expose this in order that I might lovingly and graciously engage my children, raise them in righteousness and enjoy them.