By Anna Ilona Mussmann
In Pitchin' A Fit!: Overcoming Angry and Stressed-Out Parenting Israel and Brook Wayne, Christian authors and speakers, discuss the corrosive effects of anger in the home. Their book addresses both practical methods for change, such as recognizing and avoiding the types of circumstances that tend to trigger anger, as well as the spiritual dimension of fleeing a life of wrath. Israel Wayne also shares about his own youthful rage that stemmed from his abusive childhood.
I prefer parenting advice written by people who have more than one or two kids--such writers are more likely to have tested their opinions on multiple subjects--and, with nine children, these authors definitely pass that test. The language of the book is more conversational than is always to my taste, but many readers will find the style approachable.
I appreciated a number of the authors’ points.
One is Brook’s discussion of the way that a habit of negative self-talk affected her parenting. She says, “I thought I was so ‘religious’ to keep myself ‘humble’ with my nasty inside remarks to myself. It wasn’t true humility at all, but rather an obsession with finding perfection.” As her children grew, she found that the pattern of inwardly belittling herself led her to talk to her children in the same belittling way. I have a feeling that a lot of women are prone to this. I myself am only a perfectionist in a few areas of life, but her comment makes me realize that I might be hurting others when I obsess over my own flaws.
Another point is that parents who lecture endlessly rather than taking active steps to change their children’s behavior are simply making themselves feel better by letting off steam rather than doing what is in their children’s best interest. It’s selfishness supported by the delusion that one has “done something,” and reminds me of “Auntie Leila’s” comment that a mother must “Understand that [your child] is indeed a person, not a machine with a reset button that’s talk-activated.” We mothers tend to need the reminder to stop talking.
The insight I was most struck with is the idea that in a Christian household, parental anger is what happens when parents are trying to force their children into the path of righteousness. Parents can’t take on the role of the Holy Spirit and re-shape their children’s inner selves. No matter how loud one gets, it doesn’t work. Parents can and must discipline, but we must also treat our children as independent beings in whom God is working through His (not our) Word.
Of course, this book is not Lutheran. Lutheran readers will stumble on some of the theological language and the implications thereof. I struggled with the question of how to interpret the idea that Christian parents with anger problems must “appropriate the power of the Holy Spirit” in order to change. I also hesitate over passages such as this one: “We fail, not because we have such difficult and demanding children, or because we just didn’t bite our tongues hard enough. We fail because we stopped, somewhere along the line, abiding in the Lord Jesus. The key is to get back to walking with the Lord as quickly as possible.”
I am uncomfortable with admonitions that turn a sinner’s attention toward himself. As a poor, miserable sinner, I cannot appropriate the power of the Holy Spirit. Instead, by God’s grace and through the means described in Scripture, the Holy Spirit comes to me.
Rather than thinking that I must “get back to walking with the Lord” through my own willpower--which suggests that I need to watch where I am stepping--it is far better to turn my eyes upon the cross. Otherwise, I will fall.
This kind of a book must strike a difficult balance. On the one hand, sinful human parents cannot rid themselves of the sin of anger. On the other hand, we parents also have a duty to strive to fulfill our vocation and to die to self in love for our children. Mixing practical tips for fighting anger with spiritual language can run the risk of creating the idea that we have grace “on the layaway plan” and must earn it with good behavior; and yet anger does have a very spiritual root.
These issues are not mere semantics. Just as a small difference in measurement can kill a spacecraft; a difference in emphasis can lead to despair and works righteousness. Because of this, I do not recommend this book to readers who are not solid in their understanding of Law and Gospel. However, even though their language can be interpreted as sometimes blurring the line between faith and willpower, the authors appear to be orthodox Christians with, at base, an understanding of salvation by grace.
I appreciated much of what they had to say, and no doubt others will as well. In closing, here is a quote that I find helpful:
“As basic as it sounds, simple gratefulness to God for the children with whom He has entrusted us can be an asset in helping us turn from anger in our relationships to a greater awareness of God’s hand on these children we call our own. Gratefulness turns out attention from us, and our rights or irritations, to the call of God in our lives to raise our children.”
Note One: You can listen to the authors discuss their book HERE.
Note Two: I received a free review copy of this book. All opinions in this review are my own.
After graduating from Concordia Wisconsin, Anna taught in Lutheran schools for several years and became so enthusiastic about Classical Education that she will talk about it to whomever will listen. She is a big fan of Jane Austen, dark chocolate, and the Oxford comma. Anna and her husband live in Pennsylvania with their two small children. Anna's (neglected) personal blog is Don't Forget the Avocados and her work can also be found in The Federalist.