If we haven’t met properly, I’m Jess. I’m not a mom with all the answers, but I’m not a mom with no answers either. I’ve been a mom for nearly 15 years, which is long enough to know some things by experience. And I’m a mom to 8 kids, which is enough kids to know some things by repetition. And as a Christian for decades, I know some things by study and observation.
I’m assuming, since you’re reading this letter, that you’re a gentle mama (or you want to be a gentle mama) to one or more sweet little ones. When I think back to my early years of mothering, I remember and can identify with some of the things you’re probably feeling:
- Your little baby is so sweet, and adorable. Sometimes you feel like he/she is practically perfect in every way. There just couldn’t be a cuter baby than your wee one.
- As the mama, you feel you have greater insight into this child’s character and heart than any other human on the planet. You’re devoting your life to doing this thing *right* and you don’t want to mess it up.
- You never want this child to suffer one thing… not a cross word from you, not a bullying moment from another child, not a hint of abuse or neglect, not an angry moment from any adult, including your husband. You want to prevent pain and sorrow. Maybe the pain and sorrow you’ve experienced still rings loud and clear in your mind and you’re determined to work against it in the life of this sweet little one.
And it’s this last point where I’ve noticed that contention can happen within marriages. That’s what I want to talk with you about today.
YOUR HUSBAND SEES THINGS DIFFERENTLY, YES?
I’m betting your husband probably has some different views on things. He doesn’t like tantrums that rage on and on. His eyes roll, rather than lighting up, at your child’s antics. Maybe you feel irritated that he can’t be more “patient” with your child. He might like to nip emotional outbursts in the bud with a quick rebuke, a spanking, maybe, or a stern word. You disagree.
Or maybe he thinks the annoying thing you laugh at needs to be corrected and curbed throughout the day. But you want to keep laughing at it. You just don’t see it as he does; you think he’s being overly critical. You think maybe he just doesn’t understand child development.
My guess is… he probably doesn’t like it when your 3-year-old screams “no” at him, or when your 4-year-old rages and kicks at him, rather than hearing and submitting to his teaching and discipline. He doesn’t like that bedtime drags on and on, or that your children don’t really obey or listen to either one of you. Things like tone and the words used get under his skin more than they do yours.
He might even get angry.
And you see your husband’s anger as the problem.
And this doesn’t even touch the issues and decisions you probably see squarely within your domain as mom:
- where your child sleeps
- what your child eats
- mealtime approach (i.e., does baby need to eat X, or X amount, before being “done”, etc.)
- how your child should be disciplined for various offenses
- if your child should be disciplined for various offenses
TWO PEOPLE, SO DIFFERENT… AND YET… “ONE FLESH”
How can we be so different? How can we see things from such different angles?
Can I just encourage you, that:
- God wasn’t making a mistake when he put gentle, sweet you, with that respect-oriented, irritated daddy who sees things so differently from you.
- God knew. And yet He led you to this man. And He let the two of you have these children.
Beyond that, there are some things that sometimes we have a harder time understanding, as women. Things like authority and respect don’t tend to matter near as much to us, as they do to men. (If you question this, think about the difference between the way Ladies’ Bible studies operate, vs. the way the military operates.) Women tend to rank relationship before respect… but men typically see respect as the foundation for relationship.
But here are some enduring biblical truths that matter for us as wives and moms:
- God has an order for relationships within the home, and there is an authority structure.
- “The woman is not the head of man, but the man is head of the woman.”
- Wives are told we “must see to it” that we respect our husbands.
- Children are to obey their parents “in everything,” because this pleases God.
We do well to place ourselves squarely within God’s chain of authority, even if we don’t understand it.
It may not make sense to you now. It may not seem that important. But there are more reasons for this than your current vantage point allows you to see.
THE DAY IS COMING WHEN…
- … your precious, precocious little 5-year-old son will be your same height. His feet will stink, he will start wearing deodorant (and– worse!– forgetting to wear it) and he will feel ornery and persnickety sometimes.
- … your sweet little feisty girl who “has her own way of doing things” and doesn’t listen as well as your husband would like will be an emotional teen with hormones raging through her body.
When you get to THAT point, whether or not your child respects authority matters a great deal.
It will matter to YOU.
I can’t tell you how thankful I am, now, when my 14-year-old… who’s nearly as tall as me, and stronger… backs off and willingly gives me his respect, even though technically he doesn’t *have* to.
And sometimes… when he doesn’t… I can not EXPRESS how grateful I am to have a husband (my authority!) who moves in, takes over, and can firmly, directly, man-to-man speak to my older sons in a way that I no longer can.
I am so thankful that God made my husband and I different!
YOU NEED YOUR HUSBAND TO BE DIFFERENT FROM YOU
Mama, don’t try to turn your husband into a sweet, detestosteroned “male” version of you. He is a man. He probably will care about respect more than you, and define it differently from you. He doesn’t need to have your same exact tone in discipline.
He doesn’t need to adapt himself to you.
Actually, it’s the opposite:
Wives, be subject (be submissive and adapt yourselves) to your own husbands as [a service] to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife as Christ is the Head of the church, Himself the Savior of [His] body. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. ~Ephesians 5:22-24, Amplified Version
You not only need your husband to be different from you, but, biblically, YOU are the one who is to adapt to HIM. He is the head, and you are the one called by God to adapt and submit yourself to your own husband– as a service to the Lord.
This is how we serve God as wives, and as mothers… to adapt our ways and approaches to the preferences of our own husband.
This is very different, I bet, from the things you read on forums… the things taught by other “gentle” mamas… the things other women are saying. But what God says about relationships and authority within the home is so much more enduring, so much more life-giving, and so much more all-encompassing, than what any human can say.
My final challenge to you, gentle mommy, is this:
- I’d like to challenge you to shut out mommy voices for a good long while. Take at least one month and commit not to read mommy blogs and forums and books (and FB fan pages, and status updates, and angry tweets, and tirades from “gentle mommies,” etc.) that put you at parenting odds with your husband.
- Commit yourself to lean in, read, and really take to heart what God’s word says about words like: authority, discipline, obedience, respect, parents. Read Hebrews 12 over and over and over and let it seep down deep into how you understand what relationship discipline and parenthood have. Look for the connection between discipline and pain. And discipline and peace. Ask God to help you prioritize and value HIS plans and thoughts about parenting more than any human’s.
- Give your husband the benefit of the doubt. Instead of seeing him as the enemy, take his words and responses in the very best possible light. Underneath whatever you’re seeing on the outside, what is it his heart is longing for, in your home? (my guesses: Peace? Respect? Honor? Obedience? Orderliness?) How can you adapt yourself to, and support, his vision?
To be clear: I’m not asking you not to be gentle as a mom.
We *should* value gentleness. Gentle care for the people around us is an indicator that God’s Spirit is alive and active in us.
Our children should be tenderly comforted, nourished, and affectionately loved by us.
But they need more than that.
They need to be taught to live within the order God has set up. They need their firm, respect-minded father. They need to feel the pain of discipline from people who love them and are committed to their long-term good. They need to learn to obey, and learn what it means to be under authority. They need a gentle mom who supports, and adapts herself to, her husband’s leadership. They need a mom who teaches her own heart, and her children’s hearts, to respect her husband’s ways.
I’m praying God will keep molding you and me into exactly that sort of mother– a gentle mom who trusts in her God and respects her husband (even in the ways that he is decidedly different from us)– so that we can raise up children in the admonition and fear of the Lord, and reap a harvest of righteous living and peace.
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. ~Hebrews 12:11
Grace and Peace,
14 thoughts on “A Letter to the Young, Gentle Christian Mama”
So what would you say to a wife who is in the exact opposite scenario? I am the more angry, firm, we-gotta-get-these-kids-in-line parent and my husband is the big softie, the pushover, the NON-authoritarian. He grew up with a domineering mother and a passive, gentle father and our marriage is a lot like theirs (except I do try so very hard not to nag him and to be respectful of him and not be that domineering wife my mother-in-law is). So what is a wife to do when her husband isn’t doing what she thinks he should be doing, but from the opposite side of the coin from you’ve posted here?
I would try to keep talking. Not nagging. But communicating and working to stay/get on the same page with him.
Do you guys talk about parenting in large/over-arching ways? For example, looking at different kinds of parenting and how it plays out over time? Looking at different marriages and dynamics like what you’re talking about, and what that produces in the kid years down the road? Etc?
I think working to get and stay on the same page is part of this whole thing. Shutting out voices that only back up what you want/believe, but focusing together on Scripture, what it teaches, and learning from the flesh-and-blood people God has put around you– these would be the places I would start. And I would stay actively engaged in that conversation to the degree my husband was willing to join me in it.
After this sort of high-level discussion between the two of you, perhaps he would be more interested in entering into “so how would you have me handle this?” Etc. For us, we’ve found that working through these parenting challenges have sharpened and changed us both. Especially now that we are entering the teen years and hit so many complex, emotional things, one or both of us might change positions in how to deal with something, even in a matter of hours, we might flip/flop, but for us the key has been to stay together on the same page, continually talking things through and thinking– “what is the long-term fruit of this approach?”
If he was entirely unwilling to enter into any such conversations, then I would try to be pleasant, submit in whatever ways possible to the areas where he *does* have a preference, and other than that, let Scripture be my authority for how to discipline the children.
Thank you Jess! He is not unwilling at all to discuss. The problem sometimes is in the execution of what we’ve discussed and not knowing how to change our patterns and habits… It is such a struggle sometimes for me and I often feel like we’re ‘ruining’ our kids because we are extremely inconsistent and often not on the same page. I think quite honestly this is why I have chosen not to have more kids. I feel like why ruin more children when we’re already ruining three. Sorry to be so dark but there it is.
My name is Erin and I’m a home school mom to five children 11 yrs to 3 yrs old. When I read your first comment about “what if the coin is flipped” I thought “Wow, can I relate to that!” I did want to share a few things that have helped us (we’ve hardly arrived but we’ve come SUCH a long way).
First, we did just keep talking about it. For so long I felt the evening conversations turned into NOTHING the next day, weeks, months. But then I started being more pro-active at being his helper in this area and that really made a difference. For example:
Johnny tells Daddy no to something Daddy said to do. Daddy proceeds to explain why Johnny needs to go do this thing and pretty much ignores the no. At this point, our agreed upon training rule has been broken. Saying No to Daddy is supposed to have an immediate consequence. And Daddy wants it this way (per previous conversations) but he’s forgotten or as he would say “he didn’t even hear it”. So to be helpful, I would ask my husband, “Oh are YOU okay with him saying no to you like that?” with a tone of curiosity, furrowed brow-ish.
Now the children see DADDY making the decision and not Mommy TELLING DADDY what to do (sorry, guilty of that sometimes) and it’s just a nice question to trigger Daddy’s memory about something he really wants to happen but in the busy-ness of the day forgot.
And then I OFFER to take care of the discipline (he nearly always declines because his conscience is pushing him, but it all sounds so nice in the home and I really am willing to help).
Another thing I found helpful was changing my expectations. I would expect Daddy to come home and train the kids the moment he walked in the door. I was tired and sometimes didn’t WANT to do it anymore by the end of the day :). Now, I keep plugging along when he’s home but there’s one BIG difference that made a HUGE difference. I address the thing that needs training, even if Daddy is right there in the room, but Daddy will often take care of the actual discipline. So I’ll say, “Johnny, that was unkind, go to Daddy for your vinegar spray” or whatever, and Daddy is usually HAPPY to deliver, but the confusion of what to address, etc. just seemed too much for him for awhile.
Okay, and LASTLY, to encourage you, my husband now does a LOT more of this on his own because of my EXAMPLE. He needed to SEE what it looked like. I still do a lot of what I mentioned, but when I see him take the initiative and use some of the same words I do, it makes me smile :).
HOPE THIS HELPS!
Thank you for taking the time to address my comment. Your advice is really helpful.
It’s funny, I think having more kids has forced us to get even more on the same page… and it seems like that’s the case with other couples I know. But I’m *not* trying to say “have more kids; that will solve all your problems.” Just that… (I think)… having more kids forces a couple to truly deal with issues and get on the same page because the stakes are higher and everything’s resting on it. Because if we don’t… it keeps coming up and up again until we (finally) deal with it.
I like what Erin suggested. It reminds me of something Doug calls “coaching up”– a business term for when the person below helps a boss/authority figure do what’s best/right without taking over authority from that person.
It sounds, actually, like being a “helpmeet”.
The other thing I would say, is this: are you the one with the kids all day, most days? If so, what’s wrong with you just being an authoritative, firm, decisive, no-nonsense mom, and working to help things go more firm and no-nonsense in the evenings?
Like Erin talks about, I would ask him if there are ways he would find helpful for you to “hint” at what you’ve talked about in private, when he’s struggling/forgetting in the moment. That’s actually a strategy Doug & I use when one of us is getting angry and the other can tell we’re close to “blowing our top”… we just say the other one’s name, and sometimes call the other one out of the room for a sec, to give a moment for that fierce anger to diffuse and self-control to be regained/maintained. Same principle here. Is there a way you two can find for you to help “remind” him (in a helpful/agreed upon way, not a nagging/rude way) of the things you guys have discussed in private?
p.s., it’s OK to be dark, if it’s honest. In Christ, we’ve all admitted to being rotten needy sinners… so we can be honest about it when we see weakness and wayward things.
Jess, I loved what you said about your technique to diffuse each other’s anger in bad moments:
“we just say the other one’s name, and sometimes call the other one out of the room for a sec, to give a moment for that fierce anger to diffuse and self-control to be regained/maintained.”
Do you have any other techniques for helping each other in situations of irritability and/or anger in parenting? I’d love to hear any of those.
Have a great morning!
Thank you so much, Jess, for this article! My husband is the “command man” and I am most definitely that momma who never wants to see her “perfect” babies get hurt! Haha…you described us exactly! We’ve been married for 26 years and have 7 wonderful children ages 25 to 15 and it took me many trials and errors to realize that having a husband like mine is a blessing and it is rare now a days, we are finding it harder to find real MEN for our daughters to marry! Mommas are raising their boys to be meek and gentle instead of strong and firm. I fought it for years and it caused great contention in our marriage. But now I am so thankful that my husband is one of those few rare men who puts my 15 year old son back in his place when he defies me! We work together now, my man and I, and we love how our children are turning out!
Any mommas reading this who have that rare strong not-so-emotional husband please PLEASE take this article to heart…it is SO worth it to adapt to your husbands desires and ways…be meek and gentle and sweet but let him be the MAN God made him to be!
I loved this article. This is awesome. As a former birth blogger, I saw WAY too much of the “gentle parenting” movement, even in Christian circles, and it is a downward spiral of destructiveness, exactly as you described.You are spot on. Thank you!!
I would love for it to reach moms who are truly wondering why they are at odds with their husband. It won’t make a difference, probably, for a combative mom who is only defensive about her choices. But for the mom who is reaching that 2, 3, 4 age, when “gentle” is producing a lack of peace in the home, I would love for this to open her eyes to why God gives us the gifts of authority, discipline, obedience, and structure in the home.
Jess! How did you know what I needed to hear?! I have had this question for quite some time. I’m not against discipline by any means but it has felt like there was too much harshness for my sweet babies. But it is so good to be forced to think of it outside of “my sweet babies.” I do want them to be strong godly men, I want them to understand feelings too but that’s exactly why men and women make a team in raising kids. Thanks for helping me realize I need to let my teammate play his role and it won’t hurt my kids it will make them better. (BTW this is Donna from seminary days 😁)
DONNA!! You’re a mama now!! How good to hear from you. Thanks for sharing honestly about where you’re at, and what you needed to hear.