I will never forget the day that little five year old Sawyer looked up at me and said, “Mama, you’re always mad.” It was a wake up call like no other. The truth is that I hadn’t realized how irritable I had become in that phase of life. But, when he said it, scenes flashed through my mind, revealing the hard truth that I had become increasingly unreasonable in my interactions with my family. I was turning every small inconvenience into a huge show of annoyance, and even though I didn’t necessarily feel angry and upset all the time, as far as my family was concerned, I was behaving like I was. Imagine how unpleasant it must’ve been for them to constantly wonder what was going to set me off next. Think of how the kids must’ve dreaded coming to me with a mistake or an accident. I had forgotten that I am the one who sets the tone in our home.
Mamas, you have been granted a special gift in the life of your family: you are the tone setter. It doesn’t matter if you have fancy decor or an immaculately clean house. It doesn’t matter if you work long hours or stay home all day long. When you are with your family, you guide the atmosphere. Your children are looking to you to provide them with a soft place to land after a wearying day in this big world. They are counting on you to greet them with smiles, to be able to deal with the stresses of your day without taking them out on your family. They are depending on your kindness, your unconditional love, your understanding, your courtesy. These are things that make it possible for your kids to walk through the door of your home and breathe a sigh of relief–because this is home, and being there with their mom is pleasant.
I am in no way saying that we shouldn’t discipline when we should, that we shouldn’t carry through with punishments and consequences as necessary. Children crave rules and structure–it’s one way that they know we love them enough to hold them accountable and teach them how to be responsible human beings. But, if we aren’t careful, dear sisters, we will let the overwhelming nature of running a family turn us into mothers and wives who are hard to tolerate. We can easily become prickly, rude, sarcastic, biting. We can be downright cold to the very people we love the most, and sometimes we can become that way without even realizing it.
And now I must speak a hard truth to all of us. The tone that we set in our homes is a direct reflection of our spiritual health. When we lash out at others, when we find that we are in short supply of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, when we can’t seem to speak a kind or positive word, when we are quick to criticize and slow to praise, then it is more than just a phase of high irritability. Chances are good that we have begun to try to live in our own strength instead of relying on Christ, that we have stopped studying His word with regularity, that our prayer life has gone stale and spotty. It’s quite a spiritual lesson for our children, when we show them that Christianity doesn’t make any difference at all in our ability to handle the cares of life, in our ability to shower love and mercy and grace on our families, in our ability to just smile at the little people that God entrusted to us.
It’s tough being a mama.
But it’s easier when we turn to Christ and ask Him to set the tone in our hearts. The Bible tells us that our mouths speak what our hearts are full of. (Luke 6:45) So, if we are responding to our family in unreasonably irritated ways, then we have a heart problem. We have to run to Jesus and let Him change the way we speak and the way we react. We have to ask Him to make us grateful, to make us joyful, and to give us a home that is welcoming to our very favorite people–our family.
What kind of tone are you setting, dear mother? Does it point your children to the abundant life that Christ offers? Or does it send the message that Christ can’t overcome a mother’s trials? Not every day will be a stellar tone-setting day, but after my wake up call from little Sawyer, I realized that what my family really needs from me on most days is just kindness. We can at least offer our dear ones the kind of courtesy that we show to acquaintances and friends. And we can never forget that our home is the place where our children get their first ideas about what God is like. Let’s show them His ways instead of our irritation, reaching for joy and peace with an open heart, an open Bible, and open arms.