I am a professed people-watcher. If I had unlimited free time I could easily spend hours at a park, the mall, or even Wal-Mart, just watching the way people interact. I love to watch their body language, the way they dress, the way they speak to those around them, and even who individuals choose to surround themselves with. Unfortunately, however, sometimes my fascination with people-watching makes my heart hurt. For instance, recently my sweet husband spontaneously offered to take the kids and I out to dinner at one of my favorite restaurants. As we sat laughing and visiting, I couldn’t help but notice the family sitting across from us. It was a mother, father, and their three young children. The first thing I noticed was that the mother was consuming quite a bit of alcohol, which was placed in arm’s reach of her daughter who appeared to be about 10 months old. The second thing I noticed was that, while everyone had smiles on their faces, the body language and eyes of the husband and children were still very tense. The third thing I noticed was that everyone moved “around” the mother. Any slight shift or movement was done in a way that ensured they always had a direct line of sight to the mother, and no one, including the father, did so much as begin eating without first looking to the mother for approval. She even ordered for the entire family, telling them what they would eat rather than asking them what they would like. When the waitress would come around the mother would tell her exactly what her little brood did or did not need, there was no need for anyone else to speak at all. At one point one of the little boys, who looked to be about five years old, began to ask the waitress for some mustard, at which point he was quickly silenced by a look from his mother who then proceeded to explain to him why he actually did not need the condiment that he desired (“you’ll just make a mess” etc.). From just a few minutes of observation it was clear that this mother had “put the fear” into her family. Do I think this woman was physically abusive? Not at all. I do, however, believe that the emotional turmoil that would result from any breach of her ordered little world would be extreme enough that the entire family had learned not to cross Mama.
What really breaks my heart is that I believe this is the dynamic of many of our Christian families. Harsh words and criticisms fly throughout our daily lives, and then we put on our “Happy Family Church Face” for three hours out of the week, only to resume yelling at our children or spouse on the car ride home. This is such an easy trap to fall into, honestly. Why is that the case? Because our family is safe. They are a safe outlet for all of the frustration and anger that we are afraid to show the rest of the world because our family will love us anyway. In Matthew 19:19 Jesus says, “love your neighbor as yourself.” If we are completely honest, I think most of us, as women, are concerned enough with what others think that this isn’t a problem. But what if a recorder was placed in our home, taping every interaction we had with our family? I think, perhaps, it could be useful to tweak this verse a little in our minds, and tell ourselves to, “love our family as our neighbor.”
What if we did this for just one day? What if we made sure that not one single negative word or angry outburst was directed towards our husband and children for an entire 24-hour period? Does this mean that we can’t correct or discipline our children? Not at all! The difference is in how that correction is delivered. I Corinthians 16:14 says, “Let all that you do be done in love.” Ephesians 4:1b-3 says, “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Would this not especially apply to the way we walk with our families?
When my husband first decided to enter the ministry, my sweet grandma gave me a book that, unfortunately, is now out of print but which has been vital to my growth as a wife and mother. The title is, “A Helper Fit for Him: The Church Leader’s Wife” by Deanna Beauchamp (last I checked there was exactly one copy available on Amazon). In this book sister Beauchamp makes the statement that as a wife, we will either be our husband’s harbor in the tempest, OR the tempest in his harbor. Which we are depends entirely on the way we interact with our husband and children throughout the day.
So how do we do this? How do we keep our temper and our tongue under control as we deal with the frustrations that daily living will inevitably bring? Well, to begin with in the words of the great philosopher Thumper from Disney’s classic “Bambi”, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all!” If it is not helpful, beneficial, or kind, don’t say it! I love my husband dearly. He is truly my knight in shining armor, the love of my life, I adore him, and I think he’s absolutely perfect. Most of the time. Sometimes…I get a little cranky. Sometimes…there are little things he does that are just like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. Sometimes…I just want to yell out, “THAT IS SO ANNOYING WOULD YOU JUST STOP IT!!!!” Unfortunately sometimes I do just that, but I’m really working on learning to first ask myself, “What good will a frustrated outburst do? What will it accomplish? How will we both feel afterward? Is it really a good idea? Is this loving and submitting to my husband as Scripture demands?” Then I look at him, think of how much I would miss those little quirks if he were gone, and I smile and say, “I love you honey.”
Secondly, if we want to tame our temper and our tongue, we need to focus on the good. One thing my husband and I have really tried to do in raising our children is correct their attitudes, not just their behavior. For instance my oldest who is 14 may go clean her room when I tell her to, with an eye-roll or a door slam on the way. In our home this is unacceptable, because it is not true obedience. I Peter 1:22 states, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” True love and obedience come from our hearts (our minds). If I focus on everything my husband and children do that annoys me, I will constantly stay frustrated. If, however, I focus on the good, we all win. Positive reinforcement is not just psycho-babble, it really works. Believe it or not our husband and children love us very much, and they want to make us happy. When we focus on the good, and TELL them it’s good, “You’ve been doing a really great job keeping your room clean lately Re’Elle, I really appreciate it. Thank you hon, I love you,” it goes a LONG way towards creating an encouraging environment in our home, and encouraging those positive behaviors to continue.
Thirdly, when there is something that we need to confront: a behavior or attitude in our children that needs to be corrected, a problem in our marriage, a concern or hurt that we have, etc. we do so in a kind and loving way. The most important thing here is to make sure that we are calm before we begin addressing an issue. There have been times my children have done things that either hurt me deeply, or made me very angry. Either way I was not in a good place mentally or emotionally to handle the situation at that exact moment. When this happens, my husband and I are open and honest, and we tell our children to go to their room and that we will address the situation when we calm down. Disciplining our children when we are angry, or confronting our husband when we are really upset, is a lose/lose situation. Nothing productive will come from those conversations, and it will hurt the tone of our home. Calm down, then address the situation. (Along these lines, in our home we do use corporal punishment, but we never spank our children when we are angry, it’s just too easy to get carried away.)
Also, it is important to be careful of the words we use when addressing an issue. First of all, leave the past in the past. Women are notorious for dragging mistakes from a decade ago into our current dispute, that’s naughty! It’s also unfair. God doesn’t treat us that way, and we certainly shouldn’t treat our husband or children that way. Another thing to keep in mind when addressing serious situations is to avoid confrontational language. I hate to break it to you ladies, but we ain’t perfect. Chances are if there is a problem, we have contributed to it. Laying all the blame on the other person will only make them defensive. An easy way to avoid this is to avoid use of the word “you,” as in, “you hurt me so bad when…” Instead try, “I felt really hurt when ____ happened.” A last, simple trick for these serious conversations is to avoid using words like “always” and “never”. If your husband is like mine these words always backfire anyway, because he will remember the one time in the last 16 years that he DIDN’T do whatever it is, and my entire argument is nullified and I just get angrier. These easy tips will go a long way towards improving communication in our homes.
Finally, if we truly want to improve our temper and our tongue, and make our homes the harbor in the tempest for our families, we need to learn to apologize. Are we the mother? Absolutely. Does this mean that what we say goes, period? Yes, so long as our husband agrees. Does this mean that we are infallible? Not at all. Ladies, I am writing this article because it is something I really struggle with. I struggle with snapping at my husband and children out of frustration, I struggle with loosing my temper and overreacting to things, and I struggle with focusing on the negatives and frustrations in my life instead of on the positives. I’m getting better, and I’m determined to continue getting better, but sometimes it is really hard. Sometimes, I fail, I fall short, I hurt the atmosphere of my home and I hurt my family. When this happens, I apologize. If I overreacted to a child in front of my other children, I apologize to that child in front of the same children, and make sure that they know that even though I’m the mommy, it’s not OK for me to act that way. If I disrespect or lash out at my husband, I apologize. If it happened in front of the children, I apologize in front of the children. I want them to know that my love for them is more important than my pride, that mommy isn’t perfect, I struggle and I fail, but that loving them and living the way God would have me to, from the inside out, is the most important thing to me. I certainly can’t expect my children to apologize for their mistakes if I’m not willing to do the same.
Ladies, is our home the harbor in the tempest, or the tempest in the harbor? What are we doing to improve the atmosphere of our home? Are we willing to work on ourselves before we focus on all the changes that our husband and children “need” to make? Are we willing to avoid unproductive criticism of our spouse and our children? Are we willing to intentionally focus on the good in our families and encourage them to continue those positive attitudes and behaviors? Are we willing to approach criticism consciously, in a calm and thought out manner, avoiding negative and damaging speech? And when we mess up, because we are human and we will, are we willing to put our families before our pride and apologize? Sisters, I challenge you to avoid negative, angry, or hurtful speech or behaviors for the next 24 hours, you can do it!! And after that, I challenge you for the next 24 hours, and the next, and the next. We will fail, but those failures will come farther and father apart. We CAN make our homes a harbor in the tempest of all the world throws at our families, and it starts today!