I holler over my shoulder again to stop wrestling right now! then turn back to the customized sandwich assembly line. Gluten free bread for Elias, no crust for Jude, creamy peanut butter (NOT chunky) for Noah. I press hard and twist the new jelly lid until it offers that satisfying pop and releases a fresh burst of blackberry perfume.
A fresh torrent of screams bursts from the back bedroom.
I don’t want to be a referee today. Help me, Jesus. Help them, I sigh.
Brotherly fun turned bitter bickering yet again.
“He kicked me” and “He started it” and “He cheated” and “No, you’re a liar” shoot back and forth like arrows of accusation. The middle one is using that voice; I stuff my hands in pockets’ safety lest I slam a door.
“Eyes on me,” I say loud and stern to cut through the chaos. “I am trying to make lunch so we can go meet friends at the park. You guys need to figure out how to play together nicely or don’t play together at all. I am sick of your fighting!”
I walk out before they launch into another round of “but it’s not my fault” justification. I turn at the doorframe to throw a final pair of laser-eye darts of the you better behave variety.
I return to my picnic preparations. Click on Pandora for some soothing George Winston. Breathe. If we can just get out the door . . . if we can just make it to the park and the promise of reprieve that fresh air and good friends will surely bring. I slice a few apples and fill up water bottles.
Thank you for this day, I pray. Please help us . . .
A soul-piercing scream interrupts my prayer.
The bedroom door crashes hard against the wall and three boys explode down the hall like a stomping, hollering, angry mob. Mean words fly between them as they put their hot read cheeks and wild eyes close to mine, clamoring to be the first to download his grievances.
I put my hand up. “Three boys on the couch right now,” I say.
They huff to the living room.
I want to shout back at them. Tell them I am fed up, that I’ve had enough. That I want to go to the park—or anywhere—by myself! Will they ever quit using the same out-of-control, self-centered script?
Script. Oh, I almost forgot about my script. I collect my thoughts with another deep breath and join my sons.
They’re scrunched sulky together on the sofa. I kneel down on the living room rug so we can see eye-to-eye. I fill my lungs with air and instead of laying into my boys, I use the script I prepared in advance.
“Boys, it hurts my heart when I hear you say mean words to one another. It hurts my heart when you choose to disobey the rules, when you choose to roughhouse when I’ve told you not to. I want to go to the park like we planned. But if you cannot behave appropriately and treat one another kindly when we’re home, then I cannot trust you to behave appropriately and treat others kindly when we’re somewhere else. The bottom line is this, guys: How we treat each other at home is practice for how we treat people anywhere else.”
They fidget like 8, 7, and 5-year-old boys do and one starts to stand up in his wind-up of protest. I put my hand up.
“Please sit back down and listen,” I say. “You’re going to want to hear this.”
“In order for us to still go to the park today, two things need to happen: First, you need to apologize to each other and to me for being disrespectful. Second, you need to get along with each other and use kind words until I say it’s time to go. If you can show self-control for the next twenty minutes, we will go to the park. If your words or actions are unloving, I will call our friends and cancel the playdate. Do you understand what I’m asking?”
They all nod yes and say sorry, some with more sincerity than others. I count the attempt a victory.
After I hug each boy they all run off to play. I hear the clickety-clank of a Lego avalanche overtaking the bedroom. I hear the ka-chung ka-chung of a bouncy ball against the closet door—another game of indoor handball.
My heart exhales.
Thank you, Lord. Thank you that even when I get it all wrong, you walk beside me. Thank you that you’re continually growing not only my boys, but me. Shaping me, training me, guiding me in your ways so that my own words and actions may better reflect your lovingkindness. Thank you for helping me be mindful of how I talk to my children. Help us get through these next twenty minutes so we can go to the park. Amen.
Twenty minutes come and go without incident and we make it to the park. We soak in the blessings of sunshine and swings and grass to run free. As I watch Elias fling his wild body from monkey bar to bar, crazy legs flailing, I can’t help but smile at God’s faithfulness to keep watch over me as I flail through this crazy journey of motherhood.
I never knew being a mom would be so hard. That I would feel stretched so thin. That I would care so deeply. That my buttons would be pushed so often, pushed to my core to the point of feeling cored out, empty, depleted, some days completely defeated. I also didn’t know that every challenge with my kids would push me to see my deeper need for Jesus. That He would graciously pull me through the grit to Him. That He would use the behavior battles and messy meltdowns to teach me how to press in—to Him.
Without exception, God’s Word is my first and greatest lifeline for getting through the crazy chaos days of raising kids. It is living bread and water, it is life and hope, the source of every treasure of wisdom and knowledge.
Read the book of James, precious mamas, and let the renewing work of Scripture transform your mind and your life:
“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” (James 1:5)
“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.”
Another lifeline God has given me again and again is the tried and trusted experience of godly women. Others moms who have been through the ringer with their kids and through the process of being right wrung out, they have learned a thing or twenty about walking with Jesus in the thick of motherhood. Wendy Speake and Amber Lia are two such women. Their new book, Parenting Scripts: When What You’re Saying to Your Kids Isn’t Working, Say Something New, is a parenting book meets workbook that helps weary parents figure out what they mean to say before they say something mean.
If you decide in the calm moments of life how to deal with conflict, there is a chance to respond the right way, each and every time. ~ Parenting Scripts
Through Wendy and Amber’s writing and online Gentle Parenting community, I have learned firsthand the power of the parenting script. It wasn’t without some initial skepticism and awkward first tries—anything new can feel wooden and will my kids even listen?! But the thing we all know to be true is that we never do our best thinking or our best parenting when that vein in our neck is pulsing mad from being disobeyed or disrespected or just plain ol’ irritated for the hundredth time in a day.
There is hope in prayerful preparation.
When I decided in advance what I really wanted to tell my kids in those push-my-buttons, out-of-control behavior moments, I felt less overwhelmed and better able to respond with purpose while in the thick of it.
The idea of using a script was instrumental in helping shift my parenting strategy.
A thoughtful script helps buoy parents out of their unproductive communication habits and equips them with life-giving words. Even the most seasoned parents can feel adrift in the wild waters of raising spirited kids. More stable ground is possible! Parenting Scripts can be our trusted guide to get there.