I read a really good blog entry yesterday by a mother who was unhappy with the kind of parent she’d become, and how she was able to change. Her story is touching, and got me thinking.
Our family has a tradition of giving something to Christ each Christmas—such as a resolution or change that we know the Lord would appreciate. Last year, Jenni and I both independently decided we wanted to give up our anger towards the kids. We’d both been shouting at them more often than we knew we should, and we were determined to stop. So we decided that we’d give up our anger. Obviously, there would be feelings of frustration and disappointment, but we wouldn’t allow ourselves to become visibly angry. I should say up front, we’ve never laid hands on our kids. We don’t even spank (and no, I’m not making a statement about whether or not spanking is okay—we just don’t do it at our house). But we have been known to get unnecessarily loud and use mean voices. I don’t think we’ve been verbally abusive, but we’ve been bad examples of how to handle a negative situation. It has only ever exacerbated the problems we’re reacting to.
This last Monday for family home evening we talked about last years gifts to Jesus, and Jenni and I just looked at each other and laughed. We both failed. We’d become visibly angry almost regularly lately.
But then I read the blog entry and it got me thinking more about it.
When I was a teenager (mind you, the quintessential time for emotions to get out of control), I didn’t get angry with people. I got frustrated with stuff, but never people. I had a teacher in college who laughed when I said regarding some negative current event that had taken place, “That makes me so mad!”
I turned to him, and said, “What’s so funny?”
“Sorry, it’s just that I can’t imagine you mad!”
Then I laughed, and realized that I didn’t show anger in public anytime that I could remember. I do remember thinking, “I wish that were so in private, too.”
Jenni was told similar things when she was young, and even someone in our ward said that they couldn’t picture the two of us angry.
My first thought was that I must be quite the hypocrite to make my public life so drastically different than my private life. But that too, got me thinking. If I can choose in public to not become visibly anger, why should I be unable to do it at home.
There’s a talk by Elder Lynn G. Robbins, called Agency and Anger that is an absolute masterpiece. One line of that talk is,
“Understanding the connection between agency and anger is the first step in eliminating it from our lives. We can choose not to become angry. And we can make that choice today, right now: ‘I will never become angry again.’ Ponder this resolution.”
I highly recommend you read the whole talk, but that paragraph sums it up pretty well. Anger is a choice. It’s true there will be frustrations, disappointments, and unmet expectations, but how we react is still our choice.
So I decided to renew my gift to Christ. The way I figure, I was setting out to overcome my anger, and it’s not the next year’s Christmas for two more weeks, so I have two weeks to fulfill my effort.
And I’m going to do it. Especially toward my kids and Jenni. I won’t become visibly angry. I’ll be firm with the kids as necessary, and I’ll see that there are consequences for bad behavior, but I won’t shout. I won’t let my temper flare. I simply won’t do it.
I’m doing this for me, I’m doing it for my family, but I’m mostly doing it for the Lord (after all, it was His birthday present, right?).
And just to keep myself accountable, I’ve created an anger calendar. It’s a simple PDF with Elder Robbins’ quote and three pages laying out every day of the year. I’ve taped it to my bedroom wall, with a multicolor pen stringed to it. Every day that passes that I don’t get angry, I’ll X out in black. If I become visibly angry, I have to X it out in red. My goal is to first make it a week (I’ve already made it one day-WAHOO!!!), then a month, then the full year. If I can make it a year, I think I can make it a lifetime. Maybe I’ll even reward myself for each progressive state.
And, just in case you’re interested in trying it out yourself, you can download the PDF for yourself. I’ve long known that no change ever happens in the future—resolutions start today or they don’t start at all, so the beginning date is the first day of this week.
What do you think? Want to join me, and try it for yourself? If you’re not ready to commit long term, start with today. Just try for a day. Then try for a week. If you can make it a week, maybe you can keep it going.