How to parent more effectively with less guilt: dealing with anger as a Christian parent

“That’s it, go to your room,” I said. “No!” said my four-year-old son.

I quickly responded, “Yes! Go to your room right now! One…two…”

“Nooooo! I hate you!” he shouted back.

As I quickly reached my boiling point, I threw him up onto my shoulder and carried him back the hallway to his room, kicking and screaming the whole time.

I put him down not so gently on his bed and told him he needed to stay in his room until he could calm down and improve his behavior. To this he responded with an ear-drum-blowing scream that I’m pretty sure broke some glass. I left the room quickly and slammed the door.

As I rejoined my wife in our living room, we talked over his screaming and crying saying things like, “I don’t know what else to do; I don’t know why he gets like this,” and “I shouldn’t have lost my temper like that but he just makes me so mad.”

This scenario plays out often in my house. My son misbehaves then throws a tantrum when he is corrected, then me or my wife lose our temper and “talk” to him louder than we should, then we feel guilty for being “mean” to him. We try to be patient and reasonable; we try to give him second and third and fourth chances; we even try explaining consequences to him clearly and giving him choices. But often he chooses to continue misbehaving, being defiant, or just completely ignoring correction. He pushes our buttons so effectively that our anger can go from “0 to 60” almost immediately. Of course our anger blows up more quickly when we are exhausted, which is most of the time.

The Bible says, “in your anger, do not sin.” So experiencing the emotion of anger is not in itself wrong or sinful; however, it can easily lead to sin if we let it. As a Christian parent, where is this line? And how do we avoid crossing it in the heat of the moment?

When my son screams at me I get really irritated; when he ignores my correction I get mad; when he slaps my wife in the face I get livid. I don’t think its wrong for me to feel these various degrees of anger or even to act on them.

It is wrong for a child to rebel against his parents, to ignore correction, and certainly to slap his own mother at any age.

I should respond to my sons misbehavior with discipline and teach him to obey his parents.

I should punish him, as well as instruct and encourage him.

But when I respond to his screaming with louder screaming, or when I follow up his slap with another slap or make ridiculous threats and do things just to hurt him back, I cross that line into sin.

Whenever I react out of anger, I let my emotions in that moment determine my actions. Unfortunately, my emotions don’t often make good decisions that are consistent with what I believe and the kind of parent I want to be. If I respond to my son’s sin with more sin, how can I expect him to ever grow or change for the better?

If you’re like me and my wife, you need to learn to put some process into place to avoid this vicious cycle of misbehavior, angry blowups, and lingering guilt. Although we are still very much in the trenches, I believe there are at least 3 things we can do now to help us parent more effectively with less guilt.

  1. Plan Ahead

    I once heard the definition of stress is what happens when you experience the difference between your expectations and your outcomes. So to reduce stress, you need to modify one of these. If you expect your child to behave perfectly and follow all of your rules, I’m sure you will be disappointed every time. But expecting misbehavior and deciding in advance what your response will be can help you avoid an angry blowup. Setting clear rules and communicating expectations to our kids also needs to be a part of the plan.

  2. Act, don’t React

    My son told me that it makes him really mad when we use “mean words” or yell at him. This usually happens in response to his use of mean words and yelling. Its easy to react to another person in the same manner they have acted toward you. However, if we follow the rule that we should treat others how we want to be treated, we won’t simply spit back the same disrespect they throw at us. Especially with our kids, we need to focus on leading and teaching them what it looks like to live this way, showing them that its possible to respond in a loving way even when we’re angry.

  3. Debrief well after the fight

    Even when you make a plan, communicate expectations, and try your best to respond instead of just react in anger, there will still be times when you just lose it. You will say and do things you’re not proud of and you know are not helpful to your kids. But all is not lost, because you still have the chance to talk about the fight after its over. Once the dust settles and the smoke clears, make sure to have a follow-up conversation in which you apologize for losing your cool and give your child the opportunity to both apologize and be forgiven. As parents, we can’t have a big screaming fight with our kids, punish them, then just pretend it didn’t happen and assume everything will automatically be smoothed over.


QUESTION: What other ways have you found to parent more effectively with less guilt? I would love to hear your response in the Comments, on Facebook, or you can send me an email

Other articles you might like:

 Why is parenting so hard?

For the Weary…and the Busy

The Truth About Marriage (series)


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Why is parenting so hard? 

Before I had kids I used to think about what I would be like as a parent. Of course I would be a good parent because I was a good and loving person and I thought “who doesn’t love their kids, right?” Besides, by the time I finished college I had figured out everything my parents had done wrong and how to things better. I even took some classes on child development so I was pretty sure I would be an awesome parent with very well-behaved children. 

Then we had our first child, our son. The pregnancy had gone smoothly but nothing about the delivery or the first few months of his life went as planned. It was a much more stressful situation than either me or my wife had anticipated and we struggled to adjust to our new normal. 

However, as time went on we got settled into some routines that helped us feel normal. We learned to really enjoy our son as we watched him grow. And he was a good kid. 

We actually came to believe the idea of the “terrible twos” was a myth…our son was extremely well-behaved when he was two and grew into a sweet, well-mannered 3 year old. 

And then he turned 4. 

It was almost like someone flipped a switch in his brain that caused utter chaos to ensue. 

Temper tantrums, screaming, throwing toys, defiance, back-talk, and all kinds of rebellion have suddenly become our new normal. Spanking just adds fuel to his fire and time-outs often do the same. 

He has an uncanny ability to get me from happy to completely ticked off in a matter of seconds and knows exactly which buttons to push. My sweet little boy whom I love so dearly can bring out an anger in me that I didn’t know existed. 

My calm, rational mind gets clouded and overcome by frustration and I lose my cool. I often put him in his room for time out so both of us can get a chance to calm down.

 My incredible wife is a stay-at-home mom for him and our almost-two-year-old daughter and I honestly don’t know how she does it. Some days are good but many days he pushes her beyond her limits. 

By the end of most days, my kids wear down my wife into a person I barely recognize and I hate them for it. Now I know hate is a strong word to use when talking about my kids, but let me clarify. I don’t hate my kids, I hate the results of their behavior. This is an important distinction to make but nonetheless, I often have strong negative feelings toward my kids. This usually results in a cycle of guilt and shame and feelings of inadequacy as a parent and as a person. Parents, the struggle is real.

Now I know you older parents and grandparents are probably preparing your “it’s just a phase” and “they won’t be young forever” speeches, but those are honestly worthless to me right now. Seeing parents of young kids struggling to make it through the day and throwing out a “positive” catchphrase is not helpful. As a matter of fact it’s annoying. 

It’s like seeing someone digging a ditch that’s ten feet deep and 5 miles long using nothing but a shovel with a broken handle and you come along and say, “enjoy this time in the ditch while you can because it will be over before you know it.” I’ve got news for you: most parents don’t appreciate these little whitewashed sayings and half-hearted smiles; either pick up a shovel or keep walking. 

The truth is, parenting is hard

Some children offer more challenges than others, but we all have our own junk to deal with and we handle things differently.

Ultimately, parenting is a gift and a blessing; but sometimes the greatest blessings are the ones that stretch us and challenge us and frustrate us to no end. They push us to our emotional and relational limits, then just a bit farther. They force us to adapt to change and bring out the core of who we really are, for better and for worse. In the end, we will come out of this turbulent time better people and with more love in our hearts than we ever thought possible.

 We go into battle ill-equipped, uninformed, and totally overwhelmed, but we leave the battlefield as heroes full of strength and bravery and honor, having overcome our enemies.

So what I’m saying is there is hope. I won’t downplay or sugar-coat it: your life as a parent probably sucks in a lot of ways right now, but it won’t last forever. It will feel like forever-maybe even longer-but it will have an end. You just have to hang in there and don’t give up. I promise you will be better on the other side-if you survive that is. 🙂

Here are 3 things to help you survive the battleground of Parenthood:

1. Clarify your goals as a parent

Think about what kind of parent you want to be and why, how you want your kids to live when they’re grown and define some practical ways to move toward those goals. Align your schedule with your highest priorities as a parent. 

2. Connect with other parents 

Sometimes just knowing you’re not alone is enough to get you through the tough days and dramatically improve your attitude. You shouldn’t expect other people to solve your kid’s issues, but comparing notes and asking for honest input from others who are in the same boat or just reaching the other shore is always a good idea. 

3. Take a stinking break! 
Just because they’re you’re kids doesn’t mean you should never get time away from them. Especially if you’re married, getting some time on a frequent basis without the constant interruptions and crises of children is crucial to a healthy marriage. This doesn’t always have to be an entire weekend getaway; just a few hours a week can do wonders for your emotional health.

Why is parenting so hard for you right now? Let me know in the comments, on Facebook, or send me an email. I’d love to hear I’m not alone. 

Truth #4: Having kids will NOT make you a happy couple

I’ve heard some people (mostly women) say they got pregnant in part because they thought having kids together would improve their marriage. She thinks, “having a baby will be so wonderful and amazing that it will bring us closer together and the problems and poor communication we have will simply fade away in the light of the beautiful little life we created.” Or something to that effect.

Although I’ll admit this is a nice thought, it is completely wrong. Having a child together as a married couple is an incredible experience that will make you marvel at the miracle of life and seeing your spouse as a parent is definitely attractive—at least initially.

But the truth is children have an uncanny way of bringing out both the best and the worst in us.

Listen men, at one time—even within the same hour—your beautiful wife can be the most loving, kind, gentle mommy that you’ve ever seen and then suddenly have to bust out her mean “Batman voice” to get your crazy 4-year old’s attention. Maybe you call it something else in your house, but whatever name you choose doesn’t matter; as a grown man it will still give you chills.

Women, your husband will be transformed from your strong sexy man into a baby-holding, puke-catching, I’m-glad-you’re-home-here’s-your-kid, silly-dancing, fart-noise-making, monkey-face entertainer-man. You will still tell him you can’t wait until he gets home, but it will be for much less romantic reasons. You will marvel at his uncanny ability to sleep through even the loudest of crying-child sounds, to your disgust.

Some days will be worse than others, but especially when your children are young neither of you will be the best version of yourselves. But if you survive parenthood, you will end up better people for it.

Its kind of like having a near-death experience but not dying; your life flashes before your eyes and you suddenly realize all you used to have that you took for granted and swear to change for the better.

The truth is, I love having kids. They are amazing and some days I can’t believe I get to be their dad and have the privilege of helping them grow up. I don’t take this position of responsibility lightly and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

But having kids has put significantly more stress on our marriage, especially since having a second one.

My son is almost five and my daughter will turn two in a few months and sometimes the challenges of parenting are almost too much to handle. Sometimes it feels like I traded in my wife for a mommy instead; but that’s why I have to work to remind myself and my wife that we are still more than just parents. Of course, parenting is still relatively new to us and our kids occupy much of our time and thoughts, but that’s not all we are meant to be.

It takes consistent, intentional work to make time for each other in the midst of the chaos of parenting to just be together as husband and wife. It will take effort, planning, and even a little bit of money, but you can maintain and even improve your marriage after having children. But remember that its not automatic; parenthood can knock you down and tear you apart as a couple only if you let it.

Question: How can couples with young kids find ways to spend time together as a couple?

Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below, on Facebook, or send me an email.

This post is an installment in the series The Truth About Marriage. To read more, start here