09 Oct 2014

10 Things To Do Differently *Before* You Lose Your Temper

The one thing I’ve struggled with more than anything else in the last nine years of parenting has been temper.

My own.

Nothing and no one has caused in me the kind of rage that my own children can elicit. It shocks me.

It shocks me to find myself nose-to-nose with a six year old screaming my lungs out. This is not something I ever would have pictured about myself.

It’s been a devastating discovery. Accompanied by layers of shame and guilt.

It’s also the one thing I am the most determined to beat.

Last week I posted this photo on Instagram from one of two workshops I taught on mom anger at MomCon:


With this caption: “So here’s the thing friends-when this many women show up to a session called “When Your Anger Scares You” you can rest assured that you ARE NOT the only mom who’s ever lost it with her kid. Hang in there weary moms, you are not alone.”

It was my most liked photograph of the week.

Women told me that they’d been nervous and embarrassed to even admit to their friends that they were coming to my session.

Temper tantrums by moms are that taboo. That vulnerable.

And yet – if the thousands of women who attended is anything to go by – clearly temper IS an issue for us moms. And we better start talking about it if we want to have any hope of beating it.

So because I believe that temper is a treatable condition and not an incurable disease, I want to share with you guys what I’m learning, and what I taught at those workshops. So many of you have asked for the notes – even though I warned that this might turn into the longest blog post in the history of the world – so here you go:

10 Things to Do Differently *Before* You Lose Your Temper


 1. Accept that anger is part of being human

It was a relief to me to discover that anger itself can’t be a sin because we see MANY examples in Scripture of God angry. (Is 30:27 | Is 12:1 | Ps 6:1 | 1 Sam 11:6).

The main difference between God’s righteous anger and my mom anger most of the time? God’s anger is an INDICATOR and not a DICTATOR. {tweet this}

In other words – God’s anger indicates sin or injustice. Mine usually dictates my behavior – slamming of cabinets and doors and throwing shoes. Maybe it starts out as an indicator of disrespectful or sinful behavior in my kids – but most of the time it quickly derails into a full blown Mussolini-level meltdown on my own behalf that far outstrips anything that anger could have been trying to teach my kids. Instead, my anger is fueled by itself and not by a desire for righteousness.

My anger moves quickly from indicating the sinful behavior of my kids to dictating my own sinful reaction.

Take the time to let that sink in while you’re still calm; before the day has unraveled. We are called by a holy God to model His behavior even and especially in our anger.

Take these two examples from Moses:

Indicator anger: When he smashes the stone tablets with the 10 Commandments after discovering the people of Israel are full on worshiping a golden calf that HIS OWN BROTHER has made for them. Moses is outraged on behalf of a Holy God who has been dishonored. Exodus 32:19.

Dictator anger: When he strikes the rock God has commanded him only to SPEAK to. He strikes it TWICE. And he rails against the Israelites, “Listen, you rebels must we bring water out of this rock?” Moses is outraged on behalf of his own self that feels he has been inconvenienced by a constantly complaining nation. And God is dishonored this time by Moses’ anger. Numbers 20:10.

Motivation is everything when it comes to anger. It’s possible to do the right thing in the wrong way.

In your anger, do not sin.
Ephesians 4:26.

2. Trace your spiritual family tree

I spent years thinking my anger was because of my kids.

I thought if only they could be better behaved I would be able to better control my temper.

Turns out, I needed to be studying my kids with a mirror and not a magnifying glass. Because when I started to really pay attention to my own anger I discovered generations of temper in my family. I discovered that we pass on spiritual DNA as much as blue eyes and blonde hair to our kids. And if I wanted to have any hope of taming my temper I would need to understand its roots first.

The journey was hard and deeply rewarding. I wrote more about it in my book – there’s a whole chapter called, “How to fall in like” – because our mutual temper tantrums were coming between me and my middle son.

We tend to treat temper like a condition that catches us by surprise – every. single. day.

It shouldn’t. Mothering small children is one of the most stressful occupations on record. And “mothers of adolescents and adults with autism experience chronic stress comparable to combat soldiers and struggle with frequent fatigue and work interruptions.” ~ Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

I’m done being ambushed by my anger. You can be too. {tweet this}

I want to be prepared for it when it comes, so that I’m not caught helplessly and hopelessly off guard. I’ve looked my anger and its roots square in the eyes and between me and My Father God we will cut it off in this generation if we can.

I the Lord…visit the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. Exodus 20:5; cf. Numbers 14:18.

3. Build in regular time to defuse

I am the mom who sometimes just sits in her minivan outside the grocery store to savor those few extra minutes of quiet, alone time. Sometimes while eating Chipotle.

I am the mom who considers the magazine aisle a mini spa retreat.

I am the mom who locks the bathroom door just so she can take a shower without someone flinging open the curtain to ask a totally inane question.

I am the mom who hides chocolate in her purse in case of emergency and takes midnight baths to try and unwind with a good book.

I get the lack of space and sleep and adult conversation. I get the rushing from daycare drop offs to business meetings and days in a cubicle back to the preschool pick up all before 6pm when they start charging you a Trump fortune for every minute that you’re late.

So can I just slip my shoes off, slide over on the sofa and tell you this: I believe God gets it too.

I believe our God understands tired. He gets needing space. He’s lived the burnout of too many demanding hands all tugging at the same time. This Jesus-brother-human-maker who on the day when “so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat,” said to his friends, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6: 30-31.

We are parented by a God who knows we need rest.

We are parented by a God who models rest.

We need to treat our (mom)selves as time bombs that must be defused with regular rest, food, and space. Because if we don’t our kids will pay the consequences. {tweet this}

Rest shouldn’t cause us guilt. Rest is designed for us by the God who loves us and knows us best.

Believe me, your husband would much rather you went out for that coffee date, got your hair cut, spent two hours at the mall, took that nap than you started frothing at the mouth in a fit of epic sleep and quiet deprivation.

I speak from experience here. Trust me. If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

Build in regular time to defuse.

Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest. Mark 6: 30-31.

4. Stop thinking parenting is hard because you’re bad at it

Parenting isn’t hard because you’re bad at it. Parenting is hard because it’s designed that way. {tweet this}

Dying to self is a daily, painful reality of parenting – it’s like breaking up with yourself and it’s supposed to be.

“By God’s marvelous design, few life experiences humble us quite as effectively as parenting. …This tiny tyrant is providentially placed in our house with one grand program: to mold his or her parents into the image of our Lord. The way up spiritually, is by looking down physically.” ~Gary Thomas, Devotions for Sacred Parenting.

So the last will be first, and the first will be last. Matthew 20:16.

5. Remember your kid is not the boss of your feelings

If I want our kids’ routine to work I have to work the hardest at keeping it together. Myself first. My tongue, my temper and my temptation to dish out blame for being late.

Because the melody of any day ebbs and flows around a mother’s mood.

Same goes for evenings and trying to get to baseball practice on time or wrangle everyone into bed. I am not a hostage at the mercy of my six-year-old’s disdain for what I cooked for supper. His temper tantrum does not have to boss me into my own.

I am the grown up and he is not.

I will remember that my kid is not the boss of my feelings and choose NOT to lose my temper just because he loses his. {tweet this}

I will take a deep breath and put him in a time out and myself too if necessary. Because dinner choices, missing socks or the color of the only pair of underpants left do not get to boss me into my losing my temper just because my kid lost his.

There is only one boss of me and my body and my feelings – and that boss is the Holy Spirit who lives inside of me.

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own. 1 Corinthians 6:19.

6. Recognize that you are the grown up and plan to act like it

I’m surprised how petty I can be when it’s my own kids pushing my buttons.

How easily I forget that I’m 40 years old and suddenly become the most mean-spirited version of myself. I want to stop cutting down to size these already tiny, precious humans in my life.

The challenging reality is that I am commanded by Scripture not to exasperate, cut down or belittle my kids. {tweet this}

Exasperating our kids is the exact opposite of comforting them. This fantastic list of 9 examples of what exasperating our kids looks like is adapted from the original list compiled by the fantastic book: Good and Angry: Exchanging Frustration for Character in You and Your Kids!

  1. Overprotection
  2. Comparing kids/Favoritism
  3. Belittling (treating as younger than they are)
  4. Neglecting or physically abusing them
  5. Bitter words/Demanding/Impatient
  6. Failing to listen to their feelings/desires
  7. Be-like-me-itis: Wanting your kids to succeed where you failed and imposing your goals on them
  8. Being critical
  9. Basing acceptance on what they do instead of who they are

And I’m convinced that the less we exasperate our kids the less they will exasperate us.

Fathers, do not provoke/exasperate your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord. Ephesians 6:4

7. Prepare to apologize

After “I love you,” the words “I’m sorry” might be the most important ones we say to our kids. {tweet this}

I’m learning the power of apologizing to a child.

You see, first you have to humble yourself. You have to get down on your knees in order to be able to look them in the eye. You have to speak quietly to be heard over the storm of their own distress. Sometimes you have to reach out past a turned back, folded arms, furrowed brow.

You have to be willing to make less of yourself in order to make more of them.

I think that is Gospel waiting down there on the carpet for me to kneel before my child and admit I was wrong.

I teach him that strong people say sorry first. I hold it out with both hands. Some days it takes all my self discipline to do it. But I keep on practicing. I keep on showing him that we don’t get to trample over others just because we can.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.  Ephesians 4:31-32

8. Figure out: are you mad or are you sad?

Sometimes I’m flat out furious because my kids have hurt my feelings. True story. I’m 40 years old and my nine year old son can jab my tender heart like no other and I want to lash out at him to make it even. But of course, that doesn’t come close to even – that’s bullying.

I’m bigger and older and I control all the things and he does not.

So I need to push pause on my feelings before I let them explode all over the inside of our minivan and figure out if I’m actually sad at this kid I adore and who has rejected me in some weird way and now my sadness is poking out in spikey feelings that look a lot like temper.

The last thing we want when our teenager has finally made it safely home is to let all that relief that comes from gut-wrenching fear and sorrow spill out all over them in an epic fit of parental meltdown. It’s OK to be sad. It’s OK to feel disappointed in your kids.

Just make sure that’s what they hear when you open your mouth – SORROW and NOT ANGER.

Decide if you are sad or mad before you begin a confrontation with your kids. {tweet this}

There’s sometimes nothing quite as powerful as letting our kids get a whiff of our sadness – letting them get a glimpse of our hearts – to help them understand the consequences of their actions.

9. In your anger, do not sin.

Anger is toxic and dangerous and it will hurt our kids. And sometimes, if we let it rage out of control, we will hurt them. These tiny people we love.

If you feel that nudge in your spirit that you’ve crossed a line – sweet friend you need help. You need a life preserver. You need back up. Don’t pretend it didn’t happen. Take action so that it NEVER happens again.

Here are some safe sources of free back up who would love to help you so that you can help your kids:

It’s NEVER too late to start over. It’s never too late to write a different story for your kids. To be their safe place and their Cape of Good Hope instead of their darkest fear. Do it now friend – get help and begin again.

I am making all things new. Revelations 21:5.

10. Believe that God is not afraid of your anger

No matter how much your anger scares you. No matter how worthless or unforgiveable you feel. God is in the business of making all things NEW.

God is passionate about you. He is serious about change in your life. And He takes your responsibility of loving your kids seriously.

Because He chose you. Your kids are on purpose and NOT BY ACCIDENT. He intended them for your life.  He intended you as their parent. He is shaping you each new day, each new meltdown avoided, each new sorry said, each new fresh beginning more and more into His own image through the holy mission of mothering these kids.

I believe that the God who began this work in and through you will carry it, and you if necessary, across the finish line.

Because, after all, YOU are HIS child and He is a God who has been known to come running down back roads for prodigals.

Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6.



There was a moment a few months ago when I held my son’s hand as we walked through the grocery store parking lot and I asked him, “Do I lose my temper more or less these days than I used to?” and he cocked his head to the side, thoughtful behind his glasses and said, “less.”

This is my prayer, dear God, for each one of us. That by Your grace and the power of the Holy Spirit each day it will be a little less.

For each of these precious moms.

As we hold fast on either side of one another.

Beloved sisters, every one.


{Click, Save, Print and Paste to your bathroom mirror – tips for holding onto that temper}

Temper Tips from Lisa-Jo Baker


{ Leave a Comment }
  1. 1

    Thank you. XO

  2. 2

    Oh, Lisa-Jo, how do you always just *know*? This is exactly what I needed to read. While I’ve been making progress (grace, grace!), I still struggle with the ugliness that is my temper. When I see it staring back at me through my four beautiful kiddos, it breaks my heart. I want to set such a better example for them than I do. But God works ALL things for our good, and I trust that He’ll use even my ‘off’ days for His glory.

    Thank you for showing me that I can still be a vessel! Love and prayers.

  3. 3

    Lisa-Jo, this is so desperately what I needed to wake up and read this morning. Helped my 11 and 9 year old daughters clean out their dresser and closet last night while wrangling my 1 year old to stay away from the special things in their rooms. Let’s just say I should have put myself in time out about half way through!! When I was in college, I heard a mom of three tell me how her kids could make her so angry. I didn’t get it then. I SO do now. And the hurt feelings? Sheesh…with a 13 year old boy and my almost-teenage girls, there are ample opportunities for hurt feelings all around. Thankful for the practical things you shared, for your honesty, and most of all for the truth of God’s new mercies every morning. Amen to that!!!

  4. 4

    Thank you for your vulnerability and encouragement.
    I grew up with a lot of trauma and loss. I witnessed tons of violence and the early death of my mom. My dad was explosive and I swore I would never be like him. I always considered myself to be a loving mother. The wake up call was when I want to hug my 12-year old daughter and she put up her hands to protect herself. I realzed than I had the same explosive rage inside that my dad did.
    At the same time I was studying to be a counselor. It took a few years but I finally dealt with my story and all the pain. Suddenly, my “wick” was long. I was able to t be present and loving like I had always wanted to be.

  5. 5

    Oh how I needed this!!! Thank you!!!!

  6. 6

    You are so awesome! Love you to pieces for everything you share.

  7. 7

    Most of what I remember from my childhood, is my mother being angry. In her defence, she had a lot to be angry about, but she took it out on us and I can’t help but wonder how she never saw what it did to us.

    As a child, I felt an overwhelming responsibility for my mother’s happiness. I don’t think that any lesson can teach children about self control, when they have a parent who will fly off the handle regularly.

    I can feel that anger want to well up in me sometimes and humanly, it is very difficult to control. I have made it a point to never discipline my kids when I’m angry and to let them know that sometimes Mommy just needs a few minutes to calm down before we talk about why I’m upset.

    Parenting is so clearly designed to remind us daily of our need for abundant grace.

  8. 8

    All I can say is that I love you, Lisa Jo! I need these grace-filled words taped to every corner of my house. Thank you for your honesty so that people like me can “treat the condition” and not feel like we have an “incurable disease.” So much grace here, so much needed grace. Thank you!

  9. 9

    (deep sign released…)Yes, this is food for my weary, sometimes angry soul. I get this. All of it. It’s always nice to know we aren’t alone and it’s even nicer to get help in the right direction. So much of this seems like common sense (thus, my problem.) My (much shorter and much less helpful) post on this topic was very hard to hit “publish” on this week and I even woke up in the middle of the night after it had gone live and almost deleted it…but then I get all these comments from people saying “I get this., This is me., Thank you for being vulnerable.”…So, I say the same to you…although you know this, it bears repeating. You are helping so many mamas with your words and your transparency and by bringing us back to Jesus, who is the only One who can really help us, right? So here’s a novel of a comment for your novel of a post…that totally needs to be a novel. (I don’t know when to stop. :P) Love you, mb

  10. 10

    Thank you. I get it. I understand it all.
    I’ve been in a struggle of my own and I’m gaining ground. Your post inspires me to keep fighting off the flesh and falling into the arms of God. ((hugs))

  11. 11

    Such a great post. I never really had the mommy temper tantrums you’re talking about…and I’m just as flawed as the next Mom, and my 4 kids were just as ornery (at times) as the next. But then I looked at #2 on your list and thought about my own family tree. We aren’t blower-uppers…we are stuffer-downers…which, that has issues all it’s own. I love the honestly in this post. Thank you so much for sharing this today. Your words give us all great encouragement.

  12. 12

    This afternoon, I went to Our Lord in adoration and begged Him to help me become a better mother. Tonight, He gave me a list of things to do. Thank you so much for writing it down for Him. :)

  13. 13

    I have felt this struggle. I’ve terrified myself in my bleakest moments.
    (You already know this about me.)
    Wise, vulnerable words, friend.

  14. 14

    I needed this….posted to my forehead

  15. 15

    This was for me! Thank you for taking the time to write that out! I’m such a disappointment to myself as a mother sometimes… But I am on a determined road to change the way I allow myself to react, and with the Holy Spirit guiding me and my reactions I hope to make this ugly habit a memory.

  16. 16

    So good, so necessary, such life giving truth! Thank you, Lisa-Jo! As always, blessed by your beautiful words (I only wish I could have HEARD you saying them! :) ).

  17. 17
    Vickie Bennett says:

    I, too, had a serious issue with anger, but it was actually a pent-up rage. The anger I got from my dad and brother, but it was not vindictive as the rage was. The Lord showed me that the rage came from a betrayal by my first husband who abandoned me. Through it all, I had simply gone on, never facing the heartbreak, overachieving, never talking about that righteous anger which festered into a simmering rage constantly looking for a reason to erupt. I believe these are two separate issues. Both need to be brought to the Lord in repentance, but the latter needs a special kind of healing and release which only He can give. It took a literal trip to the altar of my church to tell God I simply could not handle my anger, that I needed Him to take it from me. He did, immediately and completely. The tendency to overreact is sometimes still there, byt the bitter rage is not. I still pray daily for the grace to give the Spirit comtrol of that.

  18. 18

    I am trying to download the image, but it gives me an error page instead. When I tried to save it from this page, the image was too blurry to print. Any ideas? Thank you so much for the awesome resource!!

  19. 19

    Thank You Lisa-Jo this has given me insight to understanding my own parents
    Even after 59 years

  20. 20

    Yes! And a thousand Me TOO’s! Thank you for this Lisa-Jo. Those sweet boys, sometimes! I love your kindred spirit and your bravery to share truth with us Momma’s. Keep at it sister.

  21. 21

    While I realize this was geared more towards mothers, I find the majority of this very applicable to as a father also. Thanks for your thoughts and encouragement!

  22. 22

    Oh this is so refreshing! I have always felt embarrassed by my anger (shame/guilt, etc.) and felt alone when I spoke about it in front of friends. It is such a healthy conversation we moms NEED to have with each other! Thank you Lisa-Jo.

  23. 23

    I had a moment the other day when yelling at my 6 year old son – my mind briefly fast-forwarded 20 years and I pictured watching my grown son’s wife yelling at him the way I was. I felt sick.

    I know that God has really been working in my heart over the past several weeks to challenge me on this issue I’ve struggled with my whole life. I take this blog post as one more way He is speaking to me. Thank you for your insights. Thank you for your bravery. Thank you for letting me know that I’m not alone (I really thought I was). Mostly, thank you for some very practical steps to take – and some fabulous supporting scripture.

  24. 24
    Charlotte says:

    I have been a parent for 15 years and have on the whole loved it like nothing else. But it has shown me the major flaws in my character: temper at times being one of them! What helped me most was when God showed me that these children where his only on loan to me, it was a lightbulb moment for me! C

  25. 25

    Oh, Lisa I so needed this today.These words, your confessions, your vulnerability, your beautiful brokenness. How majestic our great God to help us in our darkest and most ugly places. Bless you sister!

  26. 26

    Thank you for posting this. Such a good reminder. It would appear I needed to read this — for my employees’ sake. Thank you for the reminder to stop drop and pray in the midst of an anger crisis…

    Blessings to you!!

  27. 27

    Hi Lisa-Jo! I clicked on the printable, and it says the page isn’t found (on flikr). Thank you! Great article and help!

  28. 28

    Omg!!! Best thing iVe read in a long time regarding motherhood…thank you from the bottom of my heart!…

  29. 29

    This has been in my email box for awhile – I saw the title and said I so need to read this. Today was the day – and it was so timely. After a huge blow-up with my 3-year old over pants ….. (yep – they were too long – go figure) – I lost it. I yelled, cried and the immediate thought as I am crying in my bedroom is..you are the worst mother ever. I know – I shouldn’t listen to my thoughts in that moment. But I have felt so alone in this parenting role – especially the anger. My husband is the most laid-back gentle man and I have never seen him lose his temper with our daughter. I on the other hand – I am the angry one. Your post is something I will hang up and read again and again. Thank you for sharing – you have made this mom who thought she was alone – feel assured God knows my struggle and provides the help I need.

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    Jaime Karlander says:

    Hey Lisa- I saw you at MomCon and was so moved by your breakout session. You encouraged us to “go first” and share with others that we struggle with the rage associated with Motherhood. Today I shared my story with 80 MOPS moms and the response was a beautifully honest discussion at our tables. Thank you for your encouragement! Jaime-Indianapolis, IN

  40. 40

    Just as moving weeks later, and I needed another reminder! Thank you so much for posting this. It’s so much better than my notes. And it definitely helps to know I’m not alone in dealing with these anger issues.

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