How do we practice self-control when the demands of mothering make our circumstances feel out of control? In this article Simone Griffin discusses why practicing self control and developing emotional maturity should be a priority as we seek to be an emotional healthy mom, and shares how we can grow in these areas and honor God above all else in our hearts and homes.
I collapsed onto the couch, surrounded by moving boxes, and burst into tears with the sound of two wailing children still echoing from upstairs. My 1-year-old was overtired and teething. My 2-year-old was in crisis because I couldn’t find the baby elephant he likes to sleep with. Through tear-filled eyes, I caught a glimpse of the overflowing dishes and the sprinkled remnants of the well-prepared dinner that my kids had thrown across the floor.
I sulked in regret and resentment from the events and messes of the day. And I was annoyed by how relaxed my husband was acting in the midst of it all. How can he always keep his composure so effortlessly when I feel like I’m falling apart? This time, however, I decided against making my usual escape to Target to walk around and sip an iced coffee. I knew God was pushing me to pause and sit with these feelings of overwhelm until I got to the root of the issue.
Before becoming a mother, I spent my days working as a school counselor. I provided parents with guidance to help them navigate a wide range of issues. ADHD, friendship issues, social skills deficits, behavior concerns, the list goes on. Now, my perspective has shifted in many ways. The strategies that were easy to advise as a counselor don’t necessarily come easily to me as a parent. But one thing God continues to teach me is that the majority of our children’s responses are shaped by our responses. The self-control we model as parents plants seeds of self-control for our children.
As believers, we don’t seek to live self-controlled lives to become ‘the best version of ourselves’ or manifest the life we want to have. We prioritize self-control because God commands it for our sanctification and spiritual well-being. “For this very reason,” Peter writes, we are to “make every effort to supplement [our] faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are [ours] and are increasing, they keep [us] from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8).
God has made it clear that self-control is a means to bearing the kind of fruit that helps us become the effective women of God He has called us to be (Galatians 5:22-23). But how do we practice self-control when the demands of mothering make our circumstances feel out of control?
PROACTIVE STRATEGIES FOR BEING AN EMOTIONALLY HEALTHY MOM
There are mindsets and behaviors we can implement into our daily routines to help prevent emotional meltdowns. These can help us develop the emotional maturity and self-control required to be an emotionally healthy mom. Oftentimes, we spend time regretting or responding to the events that unfold rather than focusing on what we can control in advance. Before we are placed in a situation that leads our emotions to spiral out of control, let’s implement two simple proactive strategies.
1. Make Intentional Space For Solitude
Overstimulation is at the root of many of our emotional struggles. As mothers, our senses are in overdrive for the majority of the day. Our ears are filled with the sounds of crying babies, whining littles, sibling disputes, and curious children who ask a million questions per minute. Our eyes see innumerable messes to clean—laundry piles, dirty diapers, a sink full of dishes, and sticky floors. We are touched by nursing babies, clinging toddlers, and eager husbands. We use every fiber of our being to serve those around us, and it’s exhausting.
Since we know that we will inevitably spend the bulk of our days being overstimulated, we must intentionally make space for solitude. There’s no right or wrong way to implement this. Maybe you’re in a season of being able to rise early. You can get ahead of the day by waking early to pray, workout, read the Bible, or cook a good breakfast. Or perhaps you prefer late nights. You can create an evening routine of reading a good book, taking an extended bath or shower, or filling out a gratitude journal to give thanks for the blessings of the day.
Choosing solitude in the morning hours can help you feel invigorated for the day ahead because you are meeting your own needs before everyone else’s. Choosing solitude in the evening can help you recharge for the next day. No matter what time of day you pursue solitude, doing so will help you balance the overstimulation you experience each day.
2. Identify Your Triggers
Psychiatrist Dr. Dan Siegel coined the phrase, “name it to tame it.” When it comes to being emotionally healthy, we have to name the triggers that challenge our self-control in order to tame them. If we don’t take time to pinpoint the things that make us spiral, it’s hard to find proactive solutions.
An essential part of naming your triggers is being aware of the way your body responds to stress. Like a smoke detector, our brain sends us signals when we’re about to explode. As a result of being triggered, we are naturally inclined toward a fight or flight response. Either we automatically go into defense mode to protect ourselves (fight) or we run away altogether (flight). As mothers, a ‘fight’ response might look like yelling at our spouse and kids. A ‘flight’ response might look like keeping our feelings bottled up and retreating without dealing with the problem at hand. Fight responses leave us feeling regretful and ashamed because we say or do damaging things that can’t be reversed. Flight responses leave us feeling resentful because we fail to address our emotions at all.
Pay attention to those moments that make your chest feel heavy and shorten your fuse. Notice the stressors that lead you to such overwhelm that you either explode or check out completely.
Are you triggered by too much noise and chaos at dinnertime?
Maybe you can try using earpods to listen to the Bible app or an encouraging podcast while you cook dinner.
Are you triggered by the constant rush of going from one thing to another?
Maybe you can consider cutting out one of the extra activities you’ve signed yourself or your children up for.
Are you triggered by the false appearance of ‘perfect’ families on social media as your family feels the farthest thing from it?
Maybe you can make a promise to yourself that when chaos is erupting around you, you’ll run to prayer instead of scrolling.
Whatever your personal triggers are, find comfort in the fact that feeling triggered is nothing to be ashamed of. The way we innately respond to triggers may reveal our sin, but feeling triggered isn’t a sin in itself. Let’s shift our perspective and consider the blessing in naming these triggers in order to help us tame them.
REFLECTIVE STRATEGIES FOR BEING AN EMOTIONALLY HEALTHY MOM
Implementing proactive strategies can help us modify our environment and better prepare for or avoid any potential emotional triggers. But the following reflective strategies are also important. They will encourage us to examine our behavior under challenging circumstances and grow in emotional maturity and self-control.
1. Welcome Feedback
Accepting feedback is an important part of growing in any context. In a professional setting, it’s common to be evaluated by a boss or have meetings assessing our performance. When developing a skill or hobby, we gladly receive feedback from people who have mastered it. We look to them for mentorship. Yet sometimes we fail to invest in intentional feedback about our most permanent and important job—the welfare of our households.
How much more would we grow if we not only accepted but asked for feedback about our daily actions at home?
What would it look like to ask our husbands where we are doing well and where we are falling short with our emotional regulation?
What could we learn from asking our children what they are observing about our behavior, too?
Let me be clear, I’m not saying we should be rated on what we are producing—like a sparkling clean house or daily, home-cooked meals. Rather, I think we could benefit from feedback about how we are responding. If the people nearest to us were asked about our daily demeanor right now, would they say we serve with delight or dread?
When we welcome feedback, we also model an important skill for our families. Operating from this place of humility shows our kids and our spouses that we acknowledge our own sin and shortcomings. It shows that we want to have a growth mindset about our emotional health. It communicates, “Mommy doesn’t always respond gracefully. But with the help of Jesus and the love and patience of my family, I’m learning how to do better.” And by our example in setting the tone, maybe the people in our household will follow and adopt this same approach.
2. Reflect and Repent
At the end of the day, reflecting through prayer is the most productive and promising action we can take to improve our emotional health and gain more self-control. Our sovereign God sees every single detail of our days, every action, every thought—the good, the bad, and the ugly. And even when we fail miserably at self-control, His grace wins. Throughout every exhausting day, we have the opportunity to bring our burdens to the Father’s feet with a heart of repentance. Here are a few biblical promises attached to confession and repentance:
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NIV).
“Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13, NIV).
“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8, NIV).
There is an offer of endless comfort and grace in these Scriptures. When we come to God in full transparency with our honest reflections, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal to us areas in which we need to grow in dependence on Him, He promises to purify us, meet us with mercy, and help us bear fruit. We can implement every evidence-based strategy for self-control and emotional health that exists. But repentance is the foundation of the true and lasting heart change that will transform our behavior.
GROWING IN MATURITY
The process of becoming an emotionally mature, self-controlled mother is lifelong. And we should view it as such. Because of our sinful nature, we won’t get it right every time or reach perfection. But let’s pray this prayer together as we seek to grow in this area and honor God above all else in our hearts and homes:
God of mercy and grace, meet us where we are in our messes.
Help us be mothers who yield to Your Spirit instead of our flesh.
When we are triggered or tempted, help us
Reach for our Bibles instead of our phones;
Feast on Your Word instead of the hidden stash of cookies;
Gaze upon You instead of looking at our circumstances;
And run into Your arms instead of running away from our obligations.
You are the Giver of life and stability.
You give us power, love, and a sound mind.
And you walk with us when we’re weak and make us perfect.
As we chase after You
Surely self-control will follow us all the days of our lives.
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So true that our kids take their cue for responding to situations from their parents. My babies are 28 and 25 and still watch us as they adapt to adult life, marriage, career changes and home ownership – all areas that abound with opportunities for emotionally healthy or triggered responses. I see how their adult responses are rooted in their experiences from childhood, and can only thank God for His mercy, wisdom and guidance in those early years. Thank you for your insight on proactive and reflective strategies; both are still relevant for my life stage of mom-with-adult-children.
This was so helpful, thank you!
I was feeling overwhelmed with motherhood and life this week, and getting discouraged looking at the dishes, the laundry, and the sticky floors (I had that exact thought about floors today and chuckled when I read that part). This was very timely for me; thank you for the encouragement and advice! I’m going to try and ask my husband those questions, and your prayer at the end is on point. Reaching for our Bibles and not our phones. Thank you!