When Mom Gets ANGRY

I can still hear her English accent in my head, “CHRISTOPHER!” It may have been for not putting something away, having a messy room, or making a foolish mistake and earning a bad grade. I think every man (at least every man with enough siblings) can conjure up the frustrated, angry voice of his mother. It never did me much good. It would boil over and then she would feel bad about it–I knew things were better when a favorite food showed up in the pantry or a good meal was on the table.

The frustration of mothers with their teenage sons is universal–a rite of passage.

It does not help.

For many boys reaching for independence, their goal is to navigate the day with as little involvement from their teacher and mother as possible. They do not want a blow-up from mom, but they know that it will blow over when it does happen.

When you respond with anger, you distract your son from his problem. He does not mind this distraction. Your anger also communicates that his problem is really yours. He does not mind this either–his life just got easier. “Mom’s really mad about this, I guess I do not need to worry about it–she’s got it!” If you take all the anger and frustration, there is none left for him. You can care too much for boys.

chb

Sign on the door at Little Rock’s Catholic High School for Boys

What should you do?

Boys need consequences, and they need to feel them. Generally, they learn about the world by breaking things, banging into them, and generating causes before they think about effects. They understand that actions have consequences. That is why they hit hard in football or disrupt the classroom with their loud talk, laughter, antics, or subtle jokes. They go around thinking, “What happens if I…?” They need consequences that affect them when they mess up.

If your child does not get his homework done, make him miss whatever he was going to do so he can finish it. You cannot trust him when he says his work is complete and done properly–make him write down all his assigned work at school and then show it to you when it is complete–every day. People who do not do as well have to work harder to succeed. (He is learning this from his coach.) If his grades are lower than his ability–require that he spend a certain amount of time every weekend on studies. If he has a habitual problem, hold a meeting with him when no one is angry and lay out the consequences of failure. Then, when he does mess up, be SILENT. You will be angry because that is your habit. If you need to yell, find his father, but do not yell at or in front of your son. If you have the consequence system set up, just put it into action. Enforce it. Use as few words as possible. A mother’s silence is terrifying. Then go back to normal. It is just the consequence. He does not need anything else. You are going to love him, drive him to school, kiss him goodbye–he just won’t get his cell phone back for another week.

Anger is easier. You get to blow off steam and get back to life. A helpful response will take more of your time because you must enforce it, but it is what your son needs.

Dads, your wife might be drowning. You need to check in with her to see how things are going. You are the one who needs to step in and break the anger-feel bad-peace offering cycle if it is happening. This all works better if you are involved. He is learning from you. If your son messes up, mom can just send him to you and you can enforce the consequences. If he wants to complain, mom should not have to hear complaints, they can go straight to dad. Dad, if you see mom blowing her top or caving to your son’s emotional appeals–step in, give her the night off, and deal with your son. Be unemotional, love him, lay down the consequence, love him, and let it be done. You know what he needs, you have been there before with your own mother and probably with your wife too.

As a general rule (I cannot think of an exception.) do not follow discipline up with some peace offering to make your son feel better. He does not apologize to an opponent for scoring a touchdown or for winning a chess match. You do not need to apologize for giving him consequences he deserved. He understands this. Despite your feelings, he will love and respect you more for a straightforward approach. A peace offering communicates that you did wrong by disciplining him. (If you did do wrong, apologize.) Even young children get this message. Discipline him, and, like a good football player, give him a hand up when he gets knocked down, but do not apologize or “make things better.” He is the one who needs to make things better–do not do it for him.

As a headmaster, moms are generally easier to deal with, but we intentionally involve dads in discipline issues–especially if they are habitual. Dads need to be checking in on things daily and we want to encourage that.

Divorced families. You must be on the same page with this. Mom, you must ask dad to step up to the plate and help. Your son needs both of you to do this. Dad, don’t ruin what mom is trying to do to obtain your son’s loyalty or love. If you want your son’s love and loyalty, be on the same page with mom for his sake.

If your son has a habitual problem, you need to go deeper. Do not talk to him about behavior only. He needs the consequence, but his soul needs tending. Talk to him about God, sin, the Cross, and forgiveness. We all need saving from things that cause us habitual problems. When your son messes up, you have an opportunity to help him cry out for salvation–you are more interested in that than in any specific behavior. When you recognize that problems are invitations for deep discussions, you can be thankful instead of angry. You want him to get to the point where he seeks forgiveness and restoration and makes restitution without your intervention.

Words are swords.

This morning we read Proverbs 12:18 in Convocation.

In this proverb, Solomon likens words to swords. Speaking thoughtless, mean words is like thrusting about with a sword. A reckless, sword wielding man is a dangerous, friendless man. Unfortunately schools are notorious for being hurtful places when it comes to words.

Contrasting the dangerous swordsman with a righteousness man, Solomon tells us that the words of a righteous man are salubrious.

Christ is the prototype of the righteous man who heals with His words. Luke tells of Jesus’ words to the paralytic let through the roof of the crowded house. “And when he saw their faith, he said, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you.’ … he said to the man who was paralyzed—‘I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.’” (http://www.esvbible.org/Luke+5)

Here, our Savior and our example uses His words to heal not only the paralytic’s physical condition, but also his soul.

As Christians, we are God’s witnesses. Our words should bring healing and not destruction. We can all remember mean words spoken to us or mean words we have spoken, yet as we are recreated in God’s image through the power of Christ’s resurrection and the work of the Holy Spirit, we are transformed into healers, for as the proverb says, “the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Our first witness as parents is to our family. Mothers and fathers, do your words heal your children? The neighborhood, the soccer field, the playground can be tough places. Your children need your healing words. Fathers, do you cut your wife down or build her up? Daughters learn their self-worth mostly from their fathers. Your words are powerful and necessary. As sinners, we are all born broken and in need of healing. Are you present enough to make a difference in the lives of your children?

At school, we talk and teach about the healing words of Christ. We expect our students to be instruments of healing in the lives of others. We expect our playground to be a place where our children learn the healthful power of words.

Contentment

During Convocation this week we read Ecclesiastes 6:9, “Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind.” (ESV) I must confess that when I first read this verse years ago, I did not understand it. Like many good things, I had to read the verse several times and think deeply before it would yield its meaning. The “sight of the eyes” is what we can see in front of us. It is what God has given to us. The “wandering of the appetite” is wishing for something we do not have, something God has not provided.

Solomon tells us that wishing for something other than what God has given is vanity. I encouraged our children to be content with God’s provision. When we entertain a “wandering appetite,” we are telling God that what He has provided is not good enough. We are telling the world that our God is not great. Sometimes we sit down to dinner and complain about the food mom has made, wishing for something else. Our teenagers might wish for different parents, a different car, or a different body, but there is great contentment, joy, and lifelong satisfaction that comes from contentment with what God has given that we cannot change. The ancient wisdom of Solomon is good for us today. People who are not distracted by discontent have the mental resources and confidence to do great things with what God has given, making a difference in the world.

Walking Miracles

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who believe that people have souls and those who do not. An ancient example of this dichotomy is Socrates who believed the soul is immortal and Lucretius who believed that people are just a collection of atoms and nothing more.

Socrates: “Is not what we call death a freeing and separation of the soul from the body?” Phaedo.

Lucretius: “Must we not grant that mind and soul consist of a corporeal nature?” On the Nature of Things Book III

If we do not have souls, then we certainly are pure material as Lucretius says. Among the materialists are those who believe that if we collect enough data about a person, we can always know what the best decision would be in each moment. “Dataists further believe that given enough biometric data and computing power, this all-encompassing system could understand humans much better than we understand ourselves. Once that happens, humans will lose their authority, and humanist practices such as democratic elections will become as obsolete as rain dances and flint knives.” (Financial Times) In this world, science and technology reign supreme. Picture a digital assistant who is always there to recommend the best decision. With enough computing power and enough data, we could always know the right thing to do, and we could know the future. It would be like having an electronic conscience. But this world would be a tyranny of our own creation.

As a Christian headmaster, I believe that human beings and their actions are more than just a collection of data and atoms. It is the grace of God in the soul of a human being that enables great acts of sacrifice and giving. It is the grace of God that breaks through into our everyday lives to give us the power to do the right thing. It is the grace of God that helps our children do the good, hard thing. It is the grace of God that makes us into something the data cannot predict. As a soul and a body joined together, human beings are walking miracles. As Christians we are walking miracles even more, for Paul in Romans 6:13b-14 says, “…but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” We are not people who do what we want, and because we are not enslaved to our wants, we are truly free, and we are not predictable!

During teacher prayer this morning, I reminded our teachers of these things and that God is in our classrooms, the Holy Spirit is in the hearts of God’s children, and that God does wonderful and miraculous things. We need to live like it, teach like it, and talk like it.