Easily angered. Easily annoyed. That is irritability.
Many parents struggle with irritability. Your child doesn’t wait for you to finish a task before interrupting. Your child doesn’t set the table in the way that you asked them to. Your child sings a song off key.
There is a plethora of occasions in which a parent has the opportunity to respond in 1 of 2 ways: irritability or anything else.
The parent who is irritable is not in control of their impulses. The irritable parent struggles with self-control.
In his book The Duties of Parents, J.C. Ryle gives the following counsel to parents about their need to be patient: “We must not expect all things at once. We must remember what children are, and teach them as they are able to bear. Their minds are like a lump of metal – not to be forged and made useful at once, but only a succession of little blows. Their understandings are like narrow-necked vessels: we must pour in the wine of knowledge gradually, or much of it will be spilled and lost, ‘Line upon line, and precept upon precept, here a little and there a little,’ must be our rule. The whetstone does its work slowly, but frequent rubbing will bring the scythe to a fine edge. Truly there is need of patience in training a child, but without it nothing can be done. …
“Love is one grand secret of successful training. Anger and harshness may frighten, but they will not persuade the child that you are right; and if he sees you often out of temper, you will soon cease to have his respect. A father who speaks to his son as Saul did to Jonathan (I Sam. 20:30), need not expect to retain his influence over the son’s mind.
“Try hard to keep up a hold on your child’s affections. It is a dangerous thing to make your children afraid of you. Anything is almost better than reserve and constraint between your child and yourself; and this will come in with fear. Fear puts an end to openness of manner; fear leads to concealments; fears sows the seed of much hypocrisy, and leads to many a lie. There is a time of truth in the Apostle’s words to the Colossians: ‘Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged’ (Col. 3:21). Let not the advice it contains by overlooked” (pgs. 5-6).
If you find yourself struggling with irritability as a parent (or even as a non-parent), there is always hope for change (I Corinthians 10:13). You don’t have to be irritable. You can be patient. You can possess self-control over your emotions and respond in grace.
One way this can be done is by redirecting your irritability from the source of your anger to the One who can enable you to NOT be irritable, and pray about it. Paul tells the anxious heart to think on those things that are true (Philippians 4:8-9) when we are tempted to worry and ask “what if.” In a similar fashion, when tempted to be irritated, we should think on those truths that encourage patience.
For example, you might ponder how patient God is with us. Think God ever has an occasion to be irritated by our empty prayers, returning to the same sins, etc. He certainly does have opportunity and He certainly does show us patience and that I Corinthians 13 love.
Next time you are tempted to be irritated by your child, go fast to God’s patience with you. ask God to give you His patience.