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When Love is a Challenge

I thought I would lose it. My 10 year old was having a woe is me day, moaning at every task with slumped shoulders and hanging head; my 4 year old was being unusually loud and wild; and my 3 year old, recovering from pneumonia and a weekend stay in the hospital, was extremely clingy. I didn’t want to see their faces, hear their voices or feel them tugging on me. I wanted to scream, but I didn’t. I paused, remembered my role and got back to performing it to help stabilize them. They all had needs, some legitimate and others questionable, but what was true for each child was their world centered on them.

Though I had settled to perform my motherly duties, I still struggled as a mother in this moment so I took to Facebook: “I believe the selfishness in children is designed to squeeze out the selfishness in parents. I am being stretched on my selfless journey. Anybody know what I'm talking about?” I got dozens of likes and comments echoing variations of my experience, and I know plenty of you know what I’m talking about, too.

Children call our names a gazillion times a day wanting water, food, help with homework, to know where their favorite shirt is, money for this school project or that new outfit and a ton of other requests that seem endless. Even when our children are out of our homes the calls still come for us to come to the rescue. How do we respond to their demands? I have gone the gamut from gentle to gangsta, but I have found it best, so I can grow as a parent and a Christian, to observe what ugliness is still in me and investigate how to get it out. Chief among my ugliness is realizing my mother love had limits.

I tell my children, and I’m sure many of you do, too, that you will love them no matter what they do, say or become. “I might not like what you do, but I’ll always love you,” my mom would tell my siblings and me. I got that from her, but I also got from her the ability to shoot those sharp looks and spicy words when, at times, I see or hear something I don’t like. Here is where my conditional mothering kicks in: I will only exhibit the pertinent Fruit of the Spirit until the boys do something that goes way beyond my sensibilities (Galatians 5:22-24). I unconsciously placed a limit on my sweet talk, firm but not harsh talk, and loving looks. Until I really focused on what love is, I didn’t realize that with these disapproving responses, I had withdrawn my love, effectively displaying hate. My responses would serve to show my displeasure but also came with looks of disgust or words to shame or another flagrant display of emotion my flesh deemed appropriate for the offense. I can try to rationalize that my looks and words appear because of what the child may have said or done, but we don’t speak words and toss looks to actions; we speak words and toss looks to people, and they tell the real story.

Typically, how our children interact with us gives us a measure of how well we are responding to them. “Love is patient and is kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

We know these verses and they sound good and make us starry-eyed at weddings, but they don’t feel good when a situation challenges us to love like this. I have cringed at times at the thought of having to love like this again and have cringed again when I realized that I still can’t love like this, evidenced by my inner struggle and maybe a downcast look on my child’s face. I endeavor to do better because when we don’t love like the Scriptures tell us, we are not parenting the way God intends.

Maybe your weak area is not love, though I would suspect that its many points challenge most of us. Perhaps your high-achieving child shows that you are not just proud but prideful. Or having to give an update on your incorrigible child brings out the liar in you. Whatever the issue, we should not give up on and condemn ourselves, but instead, be thankful for children who squeeze each of our Fruit of the Spirit to see how ripe it is.

  • When our fruit is not ripe from lack of learning in an area, we may regularly respond based on our emotions.
  • When our fruit is overripe from an abundance of unexercised knowledge in an area, we may snap with a snarky sense of piousness.
  • But when our fruit is ripe for the picking, we can habitually respond in love. I am not saying that we won’t get agitated or frustrated, but we can choose to see our children’s attitudes and actions as tools to teach us how to be better parents and Christians.

When we get agitated and frustrated, let’s stop and examine the type of response we give our children so we know where we need to grow or stand firm, always seeking to put the Kingdom first.

As you respond to your children’s attitudes and actions, in what areas have you discovered you need to grow?

Reader Comments (12)

I don't have a Facebook page but if I did I would have been giving that a thumbs up! I have to be more patient with my boys. I have two: Matt and John and they drive me NUTS some days. I have a feeling I'll be reading this over and over again.

November 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSandy

Ouch. My fruit has been pretty rotten lately and I know it. I have been going through a lot and when I'm stressed I don't handle the kids as well. I am a single mother and my patience and temper gets short and I lash out more than I should. Really need to work on this area. It was hard reading this because I know I fail so much. But I am trusting in God's grace.

November 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPrecious


You know I know what you mean! I'm glad you found something helpful in this article.


Remember I wrote that whatever our wrong way of dealing with our children, "we should not give up on and condemn ourselves, but instead, be thankful for children who squeeze each of our Fruit of the Spirit to see how ripe it is." Please remember this and be happy God loves you enough to give you children--and an article : )--to bring out what He doesn't want in you. If you have the Holy Spirit within you, you have the power to change. If you ask God for wisdom, He will give it to you (James 1:5). Trust He will work through you.

November 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRhonda J. Smith

Rhonda, you always manage to say the things I need to hear to bring action to thoughts I have rumbling in my head but I am never sure what to do with. Starting tonight when I get home from a frustrating day I will endeavor to not yell at or spank my child or repeatedly threaten to take all of his toys away and give them to a child that appreciates his mother. I will say once in a tone of authority the message that needs to be conveyed and move on to the next activity within our weeknight routine so that I can remain focused on the good times and feelings I get from my four year old when he is not engaged in taunts to his dog or calling me booty butt head and poo poo head and not declaring that I am no longer his best friend because I won't let him just eat pop tarts for dinner. We will have a calm night if it kills me. And it darn well might. So then I better reiterate to you now how I always appreciate your words and insights.

November 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaren Wilson

Patience is not my thing. I need all the help I can get here so thank you for telling the truth and presenting the message so lovingly Rhonda. I really have a heart for God and I love my children, but there are tims when they CAN REALLY GET UNDER MY SKIN!!! So I need to give softer answers, listen more without snapping. Help me Jesus!

November 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGloria

Can I just say kudos to you for your transparency? Your honesty has helped me admit to myself my own weaknesses and flaws. I really appreciate this article.

November 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterUrsula

LOL, Karen. I love what you wrote. LOL. Thank you for your encouragement and your willingness to try to have a calm night. I'm glad the words God gives me continually help you. How did your evening go?


Patience has been a major struggle for me too. In fact, I remember that beginning at 17 I would set having more patience as my New Year's Resolution. Year after year, I failed horribly until I really confessed to God that I didn't have time for foolishness but I really wanted to be more kind to my children. Now, to my surprise, patience is THE number 1 thing people say to be about my mothering. That is ONLY Jesus! As is evident from my article, I still get agitated and frustrated but I try to pause to think about the outcome of my response BEFORE I respond and that really helps me to lash out less (Yes, I still do lash out, but definitely not like I used to).


Thank you so much. It is always a blessing to get feedback on what I share. I am so glad this article served as a mirror for you.

God bless you, ladies!

November 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRhonda J. Smith

Hi Sister Rhonda! God knows I needed to read this! I have a teenage daughter and we have been butting heads like crazy lately. My son is the quiet one. God is merciful! I just want to CHOKE her some days. She is just like me at that age but the mouth on that child. I am praying hard!!! I was raised in a household where the law was I brought you in this world and I will take you O-U-T. My momma did not play that. I heard things all the time like I will slap you into next week and it wasn't a joke in my house when Bernie Mac talked about beating somebody to the white meat! This patience and talking thing is a challenge. Whew! Ok needed to vent that to you.

November 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTerri


I'm here for you, girl! I think many of us were raised with sayings like "I brought you into the world and I'll take ya out!" LOL, Not the best way to raise children if we're trying to be biblical, but children can work your nerves where you want to say that! A few years ago showing mother love was so challenging for me and not showing it was so convicting that I wrote a poem about. Listen to it here: Carrier of Life. I think it'll make you laugh and serve as another reminder of our role.

November 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRhonda J. Smith

I love all your articles Rhonda but this one is about me. I have a defiant 2 year old and a 10 year old. They don't listen and their father thinks it is cute and funny when they go against me. But it is not and I tell him we have set rules and boundaries but he is not on the same page with me. Something has to change in our household otherwise when they get older I really won't be able to do anything with them and their rebellious streak. I have been going off a lot lately and it seems to be going in one ear and out the other with the kids. I have never screamed and yelled and hollered this much in my life. This is not the right way to discipline but nothing else seems to work. Maybe God istrying to work on me too from this problem.

November 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTeqoa

Good article

November 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterParis33


Your comment was the last one I responded to before the Thanksgiving holiday and I don't know what happened to the comment. Well, it went like this: Yes, children can be challenging. A few years ago I wrote a poem about my challenges and convictions about how I handled my challenges. Check out my Musings of a (Recovering) Strong Black Woman blog and type in Carrier of Life in the Search box. I put the link in my first response; in case the link for some reason caused my comment not to appear, I decided this time to just direct you to the site instead. The poem and this article, I believe, are good reminders to stay focused on how to deal with our children biblically. I think many of us grew up in households where parents proclaimed sayings like "I brought you into this world and I'll take you out!" SMH. LOL. These may have been effective in terms of us modifying our behavior but they definitely weren't biblical. LOL.


As soon as I read your post, I prayed. Being on one accord with your husband will definitely bring about a faster change in your children's behavior. I don't know what your husband believes about the authority of Scripture, but if he is a believer then perhaps you and he can read verses in Proverbs, such as 13:24 and 19:18, and see how your children are guaranteed to turn out and you can agreed on a strategy. My prayer is for you to be on one accord, that you will continue to seek to discipline your children biblically and not get discouraged and that your husband will see the detriment of you two having different responses to your children.


Thank you.

November 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRhonda J. Smith

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