He has the power to break my heart, fill my heart to overflowing, or turn it to stone. No one person should have that kind of power over another, but he does. With just a few choice words, he can make me feel like a failure, supermom, or the devil incarnate.
I’m talking about my son.
Both of my boys are of the “hard-to-handle” (H2H) type. They’re loud, aggressive, passionate, impulsive, and have the ability to make or break my day. Their basic personalities—how God made them and who He made them to be—stretch mine to the limits, and for a girl who struggles to control her emotions anyway, I often find my interactions with them to be an emotional rollercoaster. One minute they’re offering to carry the groceries, or protecting the honor of the girl next door, the next they’re in an all- out brawl on the living room floor.
But it’s my youngest son who has the power to make things come out of my heart I didn’t even know were there. I tell people my precious son has a BIG personality, reacting to everything in a BIG way. He’s never happy, he’s ESTATIC! He’s never sad, he’s DEVASTATED! And while he’s actually an introvert, like me, the thorn in his flesh that I struggle daily to help him overcome is his ability to control his reactions.
He’s a classic reactor. But so am I.
As his mom, it’s my job to help him overcome in this area. He may always struggle. I still do. But even though the Lord has graciously given me more and more victory over my own emotions, I realize that in order to help him have victory over his I have to set the example.
Sometimes it seems like we’re in a constant war for control, this boy and me, and something has to change. So I’m stepping out of the war and learning to do battle instead.
1. Tell God He can have you.
I made this number one because it’s the most important. None of the other steps matter much at all unless you’re willing to let God change you first. If you’ve never told Jesus He has the right to be Lord of your life...if you’ve never placed your faith and trust in Him as your personal Savior, believing He died in your place so your sins could be forgiven...stop and do that now. If you need help, or have questions, reach out for help here.
If you’ve already given Jesus your life, I just have one question for you: Have you really given Him your life? Have you surrendered your right to anything other than what He’s called you to? Have you really given Him the right to move you, change you, and tell you what to do? Have you submitted your life, personality, and character to His leadership? Have you told Him it’s OK to thoroughly and radically make you into a new person?
If not, you might want to consider that right away. I only say that because you’ll never be able to get a handle on your hard-to-handle child unless you do. You’ll never be able to do this in your own strength, and the best way to teach your children is to model for them what it looks like to live a life fully surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
2. Learn to keep your mouth shut.
I know, this is much easier said than done. Proverbs 17:28 says, "Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent,” and I believe it’s true. My tendency to be a reactor makes it hard for me to keep my mouth shut, especially when I feel like my boys’ behavior warrants a good “teaching” session (which is most of the time). I’m a teacher by nature, always seeing the opportunity to share something the Lord has taught me with others. But there’s a time and a place for everything, and most of the time, when heated emotions are involved, the time for words is later.
The times when I most feel the need to be heard are often the times I most need to be quiet. If I first pause to pray, and then enter the conversation in control of myself and under the control of the Holy Spirit, things always go better. Next time you feel the need to teach them a lesson burning within you, try forcing yourself to take a five-minute break to communicate with God, first.
3. Get in the habit of prayer.
We all want to hear from the Lord, right? On the surface, every one of us wants to know what God wants us to do so we can just do it and be done. I know that’s true for me. I sometimes feel so frustrated with God because it doesn’t seem like He wants to give me direction when my heart is ready to do whatever He tells me to. But I’ve come to this conclusion: most of the time I’m too busy talking to actually hear or see when He is speaking to me.
That’s why taking a break to pray before I speak, pray before I react, pray before anyone else gets up in the morning, and praying throughout the entire day is so important. God wants to give us direction and comfort, but we’re too busy living our lives to remember to ask.
I’m convinced prayer is one of the most important pieces of parenting...not just because we get to intercede for our children, asking God to move in their lives, but because of the way it connects us to His heart for us. I started my prayer journey when my boys were very young out of complete desperation. I needed God to do something, anything, to help me get my home and heart under control. It started out about changing them, but it ended up changing me.
Because I spent most of my time praying God’s word back to Him for my boys (why not, when it always does what God purposes for it to do, Isaiah 55:11), I was automatically spending more time searching the Bible and seeking to understand it. Little by little, I began to trust God more, not just for my boys, but for myself. The stronger my relationship with Jesus became, the better mother I became.
Find ways to spend time alone with God in His word. I repeat, find ways to spend time alone with God in His word. This is your lifeline. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can do without it. Your hard-to-handle ship will sink faster than you can say, “LIFE PRESERVER!” Seek God in prayer throughout your day, not just once at the beginning. Invite Him into your moments by crying to Him out loud... even and especially right in the middle of your mess. This not only increases your faith, but your children’s as well. They need to see that you need Jesus just as much as they do, and you’ll be laying a foundation for their own powerful prayer lives as you do.
4. Learn the power of a mommy time out.
The other day I walked in the house from a bad day, told my boys to leave me alone for ten minutes, and I didn’t feel bad about it at all.
After years of a reactor lifestyle, I’m learning to recognize my triggers, and that day had been full of them. I knew I was close to snapping and that just a few minutes alone had the power to make all the difference. Usually, I just go lay on my bed and read. Sometimes, I get on my knees and pray for strength. Other times, I write out scripture prayers for the specific situations we’re dealing with... whatever I feel led to, or need to do in that moment. It isn’t always super- spiritual...sometimes, it’s just plain needing a break. My boys are old enough now to be able to understand when mommy needs a break, and give it to me...most of the time.
When my boys were too little, I used nap time as my break, or just put them in the swing and pack-n-play and sat in the other room for five minutes. It doesn’t take long to recharge if we know how to do it well.
What makes you feel a healthy sense of relief almost instantaneously? Is it music? A good book? Reading your favorite Bible passage? Getting on your knees in prayer? Whatever it is, and even if it changes by the day, do that. You cannot parent your children well when your heart is a frazzled mess. Even if you have to take five minute “mommy breaks” multiple times a day, do something to get yourself to a place of peace. And remember peace has nothing to do with what’s happening around you. Peace comes only from relationship with Jesus Christ. You can’t manufacture it with things or even changes in circumstance. It comes from within as you surrender your life to Christ.
5. Prepare ahead of time.
Just like me, there are certain things that tend to agitate my son very quickly. After studying him for many years now, I’m beginning to recognize these triggers, and know they’re coming. It only makes sense for me to be physically, mentally, and spiritually prepared for the inevitable.
For example, when I ask my son to do something, he’ll most often say no to me. This drives me crazy and we usually end up getting in a fight over it. Instead, when I know I need him to do something, like clean his room, do his math, or read a book (all things he really doesn’t enjoy), I don’t ask him to do it, I tell him to do it. I’m not mean to him, but I do use my mommy voice that makes it clear he doesn’t have an option. I know some experts say it’s good to give children options from an early age. I don’t think they know hard-to-handle boys. This doesn’t mean I’ll never let him choose, but he responds better when he knows exactly what’s expected of him.
When it’s time to leave the pool, I get his attention about twenty minutes beforehand and let him know we’re leaving in twenty minutes. Then I give him updates every few minutes so that when it’s actually time to leave, he’s not taken by surprise.
Also, I pray a lot. For my response...for his. My son is a Believer in Jesus. He’s asked Jesus to be Savior of his life. That means he has the Holy Spirit living inside of him and that I can trust the Holy Spirit to do its job in his life. That’s why asking him to go to his room and pray is such a strong and powerful motivator for change. When my son is in the middle of a tantrum, he can’t see past it. Removing him from the situation gives the Holy Spirit a chance to rise up in him and convict him of sin.
6. Be stronger.
When I first wrote this, I was immediately transported in my memory back to the many times it has served me well over the years to be physically stronger than my young sons. Now that they’re getting older, it’s harder for me to physically force them to do something, and honestly, I don’t really want to or think that’s necessarily healthy.
When they were very young, I would often pick them up and carry them to a safe space for them to calm down (getting kicked and punched the whole way). Now, I can ask them to go somewhere safe, and they will. We’re fast approaching the day when they’ll be much stronger than I am, so what I’m talking about here isn’t really physical strength (although it can be...)...it’s emotional and spiritual strength.
You’ve maybe heard it said that a leader can only take his followers as far as he is. As a parent, you are, by default, a leader. God gave you to your children to teach them, train them, and make it as easy as possible for them to know Him. To lead them well, you don’t have to know it all, or have your whole life together, you just have to be a few paces ahead of where they are. This means you need to have a more mature faith than they do. It also means you need to be strong emotionally, because if there’s anything I know, it’s that kids are often not in control of their emotions. Somebody has to be! Commit now to growing in your faith daily and addressing things from your personal life and history that affect you. Be healthy, be whole, be strong in your faith. Then you’ll be able to lead them into the same.
7. Love harder.
My boys fight me a lot. I think that’s just built in to the DNA of an H2H boy. As I mentioned before, there are a lot of amazing things about my boys...things that I know one day God will use for His glory and purpose in their lives. But they’re raw and unrefined right now...and often drive me crazy.
One day, they’ll fight for something instead of against it. Until that time, it’s my goal to love them harder than they fight me. If my boys go to bed each night feeling more loved than fought, more a treasure than a hindrance, and knowing there’s nothing they could ever do to make me not love them, I call that day a success.
8. Be a student of your son.
I don’t believe there’s a biblical formula for parenting success. If it existed, we’d all be doing it, and a lot fewer children would be leaving the church once they hit eighteen. There’s no “one-size-fits-all” method when it comes to raising godly men. Sometimes, I wish there was. Other times, I’m glad it’s not up to me to change their hearts. God can do a much better job of that than I can.
What is within my power is to study my son, to really know him...know his personality, what makes him happy, what makes him tick, what sets him off, what makes him feel loved. When a parent knows those things, he or she can tailor their parenting to the specific strengths and weaknesses of the child. Personally, I believe this makes all the difference. It empowers the parent to reach the heart of the child...deep down inside...instead of just trying not to be inconvenienced by bad behavior.
It also sets the stage for a solid relationship creating a foundation that is much harder to break than it would be otherwise. When they get older, many things will be vying for their attention, not to mention the snares of the enemy to kill, steal, and destroy (John 10:10). Taking the time to really know your son may make all the difference to his future, and your relationship.
9. Think outside of the box.
No biblical formulas means that what works for your child might not work for mine, and vice versa. As we learn to fight FOR our sons, it becomes apparent that we might have to think outside of the box.
Within the healthy, safe bounds of biblical truth, what are some things you could try with your son to help reach his heart? Here are a few things I’ve tried over the years, each of which has had some measure of success...
- Instead of giving consequences for bad behavior, I take them out for a treat. Sometimes, when my boys are letting all the sin come out of their hearts, they need to be corrected. Other times, I just get a feeling from the Lord that we all need a break. Sally Clarkson, one of my favorite mom writers, once told me that on bad days, she used to take her children out for tea. I love that. When we aren’t communicating well, and expectations aren’t being met...when our emotions are frazzled, and we’re more frustrated than forgiving, sometimes we just need to set everything aside and talk. Getting away from our home (aka the scene of the crime) helps.
- Diffusing calming essential oils seems to really take the edge off around here. We’ve made a concerted effort to put good food into our systems and get rid of toxic things around the house, so we don’t use candles much anymore...even though I love them and find them relaxing. Essential oils actually do really good things for our bodies, including helping us relax and focus, so they’re a better option for us. If you had known me three years ago, you’d laugh at all the natural stuff I’m into now, but when you’re desperate for change, you’re willing to try things you’d never been open to before.
- Call him a man. Yes, I know he isn’t a mature man yet, but in his heart he is. He was created by God to be a man...not a woman, not a monkey, not some mysterious asexual being. Give it time, and he’ll be a real, grown up man. I like holding out a vision for my boys they can grow into. So even though they’re not fully capable of making grown man decisions, or managing themselves in a grown man way, they can begin to work towards it. For example, I might say, “Son, this is what a real man does in this situation. What kind of man do you want to be?” In doing this, I’m setting a standard for him of how I define real manhood, and giving him a chance to step into it.
10. Refuse to give up.
I know you're tempted daily to give up. So am I. When things don't go the way we planned, when children continue to be hard-to-handle and disobey on a regular basis, when marriages are strained and unhealthy, when finances are tight, we might be tempted to say, "to heck with it all. I'm not even going to try anymore." But there's a promise of God that applies to these feelings, and friends, in this broken world that is becoming less and less friendly to Christians, we MUST choose to believe in the promises of God, acting like we know they will prove true. It's found in Galatians 6:9:
"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."
And another promise...
"For this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Do not give up. The circumstances you're in today are not forever. We will reap a harvest at some point if we stay the course, even if happens on the other side of heaven. There's more waiting for us when we get there, and the choices we make today to press on and fight the good fight will make a difference in generations to come, influencing who among our family and friends get to join us with Jesus.
Do not give up.
The key to surviving, even thriving as you fight FOR your children, is to keep your eyes on Christ. Pursue Him more than you pursue being a good mom, because as you grow in Him, you’ll automatically become one.
Brooke McGlothlin is cofounder and president of Raising Boys Ministries and The MOB (Mothers of Boys) Society, an online community for BoyMoms. She earned her B.S. in Psychology from Virginia Tech (1999) and her Masters in Counseling from Liberty University (2003). Brooke has been a featured blogger at LifeWay's ParentLife blog, the Proverbs 31 Devotional Site, and Ann Voskamp's A Holy Experience. She's the author of several books and resources for moms, and lives in the mountains of southwest Virginia with her husband and their two sons.
Image courtesy: ©Thinkstock/LittleBee80
Publication date: September 4, 2017