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Like most moms, I was a perfect parent until I had actual children.

But ever since that first big, “It’s a girl!” announcement, I’ve been messing up with rather alarming regularity.

Thankfully, God has taught me some lessons along the way. This is one of them.

I was in the kitchen (my “office”) one morning not too long ago while my teenage daughter was up and getting herself around. From the banging, stomping, and crashing I could hear, it was obvious she was frustrated, annoyed, and upset.

At which point, I started to feel frustrated, annoyed, and upset, too.

I thought about all the blessings my daughter enjoys and how she was probably getting worked up over something trivial, like her hair. I started to plan how I would give back to her what she was giving out. How I would be snippy with her when she was snippy with me. How I would show her that I was annoyed with her annoyance. Because this would make A Point, of course.

But then.

I felt God nudging me (OK, fine, it was sort of like an electric shock . . . God knows He can’t be subtle with me). I sensed Him telling my mom mind and heart, “Don’t react in kind. Don’t feed this fire. Don’t give what you’re getting.”

Gulp.

Sigh.

OK.

So when my agitated daughter came into the kitchen, I told her, “Good morning,” even though it was clear it wasn’t. What I didn’t say was anything else. Instead, I tentatively went in for a prolonged hug. She only allowed it at first, but after a few seconds I could feel her relax into it and then return it.

When I let her go, she gave me a half-hearted smile that I took as a win, and we went on about our morning. I fed her, because food is our love language and often works better than words anyway. She fixed her hair. I played worship music in the background and did not try to dig around about what the problem was so I could solve it.

A little while later, when my lovely girl was getting ready to leave, she told me, “I’m sorry I was in a bad mood earlier. Thank you for making me feel better.”

Good work, God.

Now, mama—I totally understand if you’re rolling your eyes at this point. Or if you’re thinking, “Yeah, well, you should be in my kitchen some morning.” I get it. So let’s clarify a few things.

For starters, I did not want to obey God’s prompting that morning. I did not actually “feel” like it. Frankly, the very idea of it made me want to bang something myself. But I know I cannot only act and react according to my nature or my personality or my mood or my hormones. If I do, it denies the power of Jesus in my life. In Him, I can be who I’m not, do what I can’t (or don’t want to do), and feel what I don’t. In Him, I can choose not to go where my nature, personality, mood, or those blasted hormones are leading me.

I know all this. But the reality is that obeying God’s direction that morning was hard. I had to fight myself to do it.

It’s also worth noting that my little “don’t react in kind” experiment worked that morning with that child. It’s not some magic, sure-fire formula. On a different morning with a different child or a different problem, the story might have had a much different ending . . . one involving weeping and gnashing of teeth and, in all likelihood, yelling. But it worked that day, so now I’m hoping that with enough practice, my response will become less happenstance and more habit.

Don’t react in kind.

Don’t feed the fire.

Don’t give what you’re getting.

Instead . . . 

React in kindness.

Feed the fire of love.

Give what you want to get.

And if all else fails, my fellow imperfect parents, take the advice of a mom with some mileage on her: there are very few things a chocolate chip cookie or a bowl of ice cream—or both, for you and for the objects of your mothering—cannot make at least a little bit better.

Previously published on Ruthie Gray.Mom

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Elizabeth Spencer

Elizabeth Spencer is mom to two daughters (one teen and one young adult) who regularly dispense love, affection, and brutally honest fashion advice. She writes about faith, food, and family (with some occasional funny thrown in) at Guilty Chocoholic Mama and avoids working on her 100-year-old farmhouse by spending time on Facebook and Twitter.

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