How to Be a Peaceful Parent When You’re Completely Overwhelmed

peaceful parent

Do you want to be a peaceful parent?

I know I do! Becoming a peaceful parent is the fervent desire of my heart.

But it is not the default setting of my nature. And is especially challenging when I am overwhelmed!

Nothing reveals our sin nature more than our families with whom we let down our guard and unfortunately, too often take for granted.

We are at our most comfortable and vulnerable in our own homes. It is there we are tired, sick, weak, stressed, and do not put on the mask of calm competence that we often wear in public.

Unfortunately, being vulnerable and comfortable, also makes us vulnerable to selfishness and sin, especially when we’re overwhelmed.

I found out the hard way that I am not immune to sin as the parent.

I thought I was a patient person, until I became a mother.

Schedules, labels, and organizational bins make me happy in weird little places in my head. And while those things help me be an organized parent, they are not traits that help me be patient in midst of the disorder and chaos of parenting.

Turns out little people don’t know the plans you have made and generally do not care about your schedule, which can be insanely frustrating.

Dealing with my frustration and impatience has been the most challenging, sanctifying journey of the past couple of years.

I am still a work in progress as a peaceful parent, but God has definitely done a HUGE work in my heart in the past year.

I have learned so much about myself and the condition of my own heart from watching my daughter respond to me.

Through her, I see how my rebellion and defiance and selfishness must look to God.

And through Him, I see how I should love her.

“… in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3

When I look at her dragging her heels on her math assignment, throwing our schedule into disarray, am I thinking of her more highly than myself? Or am I selfishly getting angry because she has disrupted my plans?

To stop the cycle of frustration and anger of being an overwhelmed mom, I’ve learned to address my own heart first.

I have to get un-overwhelmed. I need to be peaceful before I can be a peaceful parent.

By searching my own heart for what is causing me distress, I can better address those feelings without letting them control my behavior.

Most of what determines the peacefulness in my home is my attitude and actions. It’s easy to say, “I would be a peaceful parent if she obeyed more often, didn’t talk back, treated me more respectfully, etc.”

But the truth is, God gave us these amazing, adorable, sinful little beings to disciple, not just discipline. If we want them to act in healthy ways, we need to model those behaviors.

“Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah” (Psalm 4:4

It’s natural to FEEL anger. We don’t have to act on it.

The Bible tells us to be silent and think about what is happening. Sometimes we can’t take a full mommy moment, but we can . . .

To stop being the overwhelmed mom, Hit PAUSE:

  • Pray for clarity, wisdom, gentleness. I usually pray to see this moment with God’s eyes.
  • Assess what is happening in your heart and home. Is it spiritual, emotional, physical?
  • Understand your goal as a parent is to raise children who glorify God.
  • Sympathize with what your child is feeling or needing in that moment.
  • Engage with your child in a peaceful, positive manner.

Pray

Prayer needs to be our first defense against angry parenting. The more upset I am, the more I’ve learned to recognize how deeply I need God in that moment.

Pray for the Holy Spirit to intervene in your heart and mind and in your children.

I often ask God to give me His eyes for my daughter or the situation.  After praying, which sometimes is more of a cry from my heart in a heated moment than organized thoughts or words, I need to figure out what is happening with me.

Assess

A few questions I ask myself to regroup as a peaceful parent.

  • Am I feeling panicked or overwhelmed? If so, why?
  • Can the plan for the day be flexible so we can relax in this moment?
  • How can I prioritize the needs of my home, job, children, spouse to reduce stress?
  • Are my emotions out of control due to other issues or circumstances? (for example COVID)
  • What lesson am I trying to teach my child here? Will my anger accomplish that goal?
  • How is God looking at this situation?
  • Can I take a parenting time-out?
  • Am I teaching my child self-control and a positive way to deal with emotions through my actions?

When I can get to the source of my emotions, I can refocus my heart and mind on being the parent God has called me to be.

My purpose as a peaceful parent is to raise children who glorify God.

My primary goal is not a peaceful home nor obedient children who make me look wise and wonderful.

I am called to raise a child who glorifies God. A peaceful home and obedient children are what result from shifting our focus to glorifying God in our lives and parenting.

When I change my perspective, I start to see that much of my anger and frustration comes because I am not in control. I want my daughter to do what I want her to do.

But, we truly can’t control our children. They have to learn to control themselves.

If we do manage to control some of their behaviors only through fear of punishment or too firm of discipline, then we’ve done a grave disservice to our kids.

We’ve taught our children to act rightly to keep us appeased instead of acting rightly for righteousness’ sake.

“For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20

We should be striving to produce the righteousness of God in our children. Our anger with them, even when it is just, will not do that.

As a mom, I have to hold this truth at the front of my mind when my daughter hears me ask her to do something, looks right at me, and does the exact opposite.

A normal human response is to be upset. I’ve been ignored and disobeyed.

But being a peaceful parent isn’t a normal response.

Peaceful parenting when your children are at their worst, takes intentionality, mindfulness, and intervention by the Holy Spirit.

We are called to respond to life differently than the world, which includes our parenting.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2

Some of the intentionality has to start before we need it. We’ve got to be in God’s Word so our hearts and minds are being transformed to His ways.

When I expect her to sin, to rebel, and am prepared ahead of time with a response, I am better equipped to be the peaceful parent I want to be.

Sympathize with what they are feeling or needing.

While children are selfish sinners just like adults, kids are often being difficult because they are having a tough time.

Our children need us to demonstrate God’s unconditional love, grace, and instruction when struggling with their human nature.

Ask what is going on with them and listen. Are they tired? hungry? bored?

If your littles are not verbal yet, sometimes just stop and sit with them a moment.

What feels like a battle of wills, might be a physical issue that is hard for a little one to cope with.

I can’t tell you the number of meltdowns I’ve curbed by giving my daughter a snack. (Hint – even if that is not the issue, a drink or healthy snack can be a great distraction.)

If we assume it’s only an obedience issue, we miss a chance to love them in the struggle. Validate their feelings, even if you must constructively discipline their behavior.

Engage

Sometimes breaking the tension of a moment is a simple as a peaceful engagement. Try softening your voice to just above a whisper.

“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)

Another strategy is a trick I learned teaching high school. One secret great teachers use to maintain classroom discipline is proximity. Sometimes just being close to someone changes the entire dynamic.

Walk over to where your children are. Touch a shoulder. Get on her level. Look in his eyes. Hug her.

I’m constantly amazed at how this changes my heart, too. I can feel myself unfurl and calm down.

The times I’ve stopped in my anger and hugged my child deeply, I’ve seen the entire situation transform. Sometimes a sweet whisper during the hug helps too.

I’m having a hard time right now, too, but I love you so much.

If the situation is too volatile for a hug, try a joke.

Laughter is a great way to reset our hearts as well. A tickle, funny face, terrible pun are all wonderful ways to engage with your child peacefully to reset a tough situation.

Reset the entire tone of your home by turning on music. A dance party to worship music is so uplifting.

What about the children’s attitude and behavior?

Now that you’ve done all the things you can about controlling your feelings, keeping yourself peaceful, we need to address the part that is up to the kids: their attitude and behavior.

Like I mentioned earlier, we can’t control their behavior or hearts, but we can control how we respond when they don’t get it right.

Being Consistent is Key in Being a Peaceful Parent

Establish, clear and consistent consequences for misbehaviors and bad attitudes. Having a set consequence helps not disciplining from anger and helps her flex her self-control muscles because she knows the exact consequence she is facing and must decide if an action is worth it.

The more I parent consistently, the more I see my daughter knows what I expect of her.

Another teacher trick I like to use is to set procedures for how we do things instead of prohibitive rules about how not to do things.

Teach children the proper way to make the bed, feed the dog, respond to a request, even express frustration and hurt feelings.

Don’t expect your kids to get it right.

This is where we show them grace, undeserved love. When she is at her whiny worst, I remind myself of how deeply I love her, and respond to her as if she were being the best version of herself, kind of like how God sees Jesus when He looks at us.

*Also, that if whining works, it will be what she uses, so don’t allow it to get attention or results.

Show them how to be frustrated without being inappropriate.

If her tone is incorrect, I’ll model an appropriate tone and dialogue, then have her repeat it. The younger your children are the better this technique works. Give them the words to express hurt feelings, frustrations and you’ll build a healthy relationship in which feelings are validated even if behaviors need to be modified.

Modeling the correct tone, helps me keep mine calm, too.

Being a peaceful parent may not be easy, but it can be simple when we hit PAUSE to seek God’s face and search our own hearts.

At the end of the day, our children won’t remember many details from their childhood, but they will remember how we made them feel. Let’s try to get that part right.

***

This piece originally appeared at Heaven not Harvard, published with permission.

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Jennifer DeFrates
Jennifer DeFrates is a former teacher turned homeschool mom who writes about faith, family, marriage, and parenting at HeavennotHarvard.com