Facing the Triggers
About the Guest
Once frustrated moms, Amber Lia and Wendy Speake talk honestly about triggers that used to set them on edge. For Speake, it was a messy house. She realized that what she really needed, rather than a spotless home, was self-control. Together Lia and Speake share that triggers--whether messiness or a child's immaturity--are really opportunities, and moms must remind themselves that they don't have to get angry. They can abide with Christ and gain His peace no matter the circumstances.
Amber Lia and Wendy Speake share that triggers–whether messiness or a child’s immaturity–are really opportunities, and moms must remind themselves that they don’t have to get angry.
Facing the Triggers
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, June 11th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. Do you have a strategy for how to deal with triggers?—those times when your buttons get pushed? We’ll help you develop one today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’m going to do a little English to—actually Christian to English translation here; okay? Did you know—because, sometimes, Christians speak a different language.
Bob: Yes; right.
Bob: Here is the Christian version: “I’m so frustrated by this”; right? What’s the English version of that?
Dave: I’m laughing because: “I’m ticked off! I’m really, really mad,”—you can’t say that though.
Bob: You can’t say, “angry,” if you’re a Christian.
Dave: No; because anger is a sin.
Dave: But it isn’t a sin, but many Christians think it is.
Bob: But frustration—it’s kind of like we can use that word, and we just use that as the closet word for: “I’m really angry.”
Ann: “I’m so angry at you!”
Bob: Yes; but we really—“I’m just so frustrated with this situation.”
Ann: “I’m upset.”
Dave: I remember this, Bob—when Ann and I got married, we were told by a counselor: “You can never go to bed angry, because the Bible says—
Bob: “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.”
Dave: —you know, where—“‘Don’t let the sun go down…’” I remember—we were in a fight, at about midnight. Ann’s like, “You can’t go to sleep!”
Ann: He kept falling asleep. I’m like: “Aww! You’re falling asleep—disobeying Scripture!”
Dave: Here is what I said—I’m like, “We started this fight at eight p.m.—the sun was already down—we’ve got until tomorrow night.” [Laughter]
Bob: Well, we’ve got a couple of frustrated women with us in the studio today. [Laughter]
Ann: Oh, that’s an opening!
Dave: Three of them, Bob—not us—there are three of them in here.
Bob: That’s not—
Ann: I’ll be in there.
Bob: —the way I should have set that up. [Laughter] Amber Lia and Wendy Speake join us on FamilyLife Today.
Ann: Good thing I’m here, girls—I’m defending you. [Laughter]
Wendy: Yes; thank you.
Dave: You just said you’re angry women.
Amber: Yes; those are some big credentials right there.
Wendy: I’m a bit frustrated that you said I was frustrated. [Laughter]
Ann: But we’re going to take a holy pause and not let that get to us. [Laughter]
Amber: That’s right!
Bob: Amber and Wendy have written a book called Triggers: Exchanging Parents’ Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses. This is a book you wrote out of your own experience of finding yourself frustrated—
Dave: I think, right now, Bob is the trigger. [Laughter]
Bob: Could be.
Dave: You just triggered something.
Bob: Could be. You wanted, not only to help yourselves, but then to help other moms get a handle on those things that are triggers.
Bob: They’re not all the same for every mom. I mean, some moms can deal with the messy house—i’s no big deal; right?
Wendy: Right; not me. [Laughter]
Bob: That’s a problem for you—the messy house?
Wendy: Yes; very, very overwhelming.
Amber: Me, too—I’m with you.
Wendy: I talk about—if my house feels out of control, and my child comes in and asks for a glass of water, it’s like—he didn’t even do anything wrong—and that was the straw that breaks my back. Sometimes, I can feel just out of control over one thing that has nothing to do with mothering; and while that’s a very exaggerated picture, really, oftentimes, that’s what’s going on.
We—I mean, we could be on our phones; and our kids act like children. We can’t cope with our ability to respond in kindness, because we’re distracted. I just find a messy home very distracting.
Ann: Well, I’ll tell you what one of my triggers used to be—was Dave being gone so much.
Wendy: Oh, yes.
Ann: We had mentioned, earlier, about kicking the hole in the wall. Here I am—I think our oldest was nine—so they were nine, seven, and four. He had been out of town for quite a few days.
Dave: Somehow, this sounds like it’s going to be my fault. [Laughter]
Wendy: No; it’s all about us. We just can’t cope well with it. [Laughter]
Ann: Exactly. My oldest son was doing his homework. He has ADD, so he’s very distracted at the table. His brothers are running around, and I’m doing spelling words with him. As we’re doing spelling words, I keep going over this same word—probably 20 times. I’m getting so frustrated, like: “CJ! Pay attention; pay attention.” Finally, I said, one more time, “How do you spell this word?” He hit somebody, or he was running around. I just went—“ERRR!” I was so frustrated, and the wall happened to be there. I just kicked the wall, and my foot went into the wall.
Ann: All of the boys were like, “Aww! Mom, we had no idea you were this strong!” [Laughter] The other ones were like, “I can’t wait for Dad to come home to tell him.” I am so humiliated—like I am out of control. I go upstairs; I get that wallpaper, and I cover that hole.
I was tempted to say to them: “Don’t tell Dad! Don’t tell the pastor, who is coming in a few minutes”; but I didn’t say that. I didn’t have them lie. Dave came in the door. They were, instantly, on him—said: “Dad, you will not believe what happened tonight! Mom kicked a hole in the wall!”
Dave: It was awesome; it was awesome. [Laughter]
Wendy: Well, you know what we could talk about? We could talk about ADHD—
Wendy: —that is a trigger. We could talk about learning disabilities—
Wendy: —that is a trigger.
Wendy: We can talk about stinking math—[Laughter]—that—that alone—I don’t care how good you are.
Amber: It is; it is a real thing.
Wendy: It’s a real thing; it’s a real challenge.
Ann: Much of that was displaced—it was displaced anger. It had something to do—another trigger from something else—but it was affecting my kids.
Wendy: Right; right. So often, I think that for myself, if I can see the trigger coming, then I can say: “You know what? We need to do this math,” or “…spelling; but in this environment, it’s not working. So, why don’t you go in your room and work on it? I’m going to get the boys settled with this. I’m going to meet you there.” Like, that’s what a sane person would do; right?
Ann: What are you saying—that I was insane? [Laughter]
Wendy: That is exactly what I’m saying. Oftentimes—when I’m in a moment and I can feel it welling up, physically, in me—I honestly feel like—and I am purposefully using present tense, because I can still feel this way—feel like I’m on a train: “I’ve got to go all the way down the track with it, because it is a-pumping”; you know?
Wendy: But if I let it carry me, I will do damage; so I’ve got to learn that muscular fruit of self-control.
Yesterday, we talked about the fruit of the Spirit. We spend time with the Lord; He spends time with us—His character rubs off on us; the fruit of His character hangs on our lives—but I always find it so strange that the final fruit is the one that I would have put first, because wouldn’t being loving be easier if we just had some self-control?
Wendy: Wouldn’t kindness be easier if we just had some self-control? Wouldn’t joy be easier if we just had some self-control?
I’ve learned that I need to slow down, recognize where I am going, and use/flex that muscular fruit of self-control before I run off at the mouth.
Dave: Let me ask you this: “How do you do that?” Talk to the mom—or dad—it’s all of us/it’s all adults and kids—that I’m thinking: “Okay; I’ve read the Bible;—
Dave: —“I want to apply it. I want that self-control fruit; but in this minute right here, I just can’t muster it up.” How do they get it?—because you’ve got it, but I want to get to where you’ve gotten.
Amber: The first thing that is really helpful is to have a shift in your thinking, where we look at these triggers and we think: “We’ve got to fix them,” “We’ve got to remove them,” “We need to handle them,” and “They are bad.”
I like to think of triggers in a more positive light—triggers, really, are opportunities. They are opportunities for me to read some signals from my kids: “Hey, looks like they need some more teaching and training in this area.” That’s my job, now, is to do that; so it’s a signal to me. Triggers are, also, opportunities for my kids to, now, receive my instruction toward them.
It’s also an opportunity for me, as a mom, to grow in the fruit of the Spirit—to grow in self-control. So, when I start thinking of this moment—with my child at the table doing their homework, or the sibling rivalry that I see in front of me, or even my messy house—immediately, my thought is: “Okay; I don’t have to get worked up about this. This is an opportunity. That’s all it is. It’s an opportunity for me, right now, to do the right thing.”
Bob: Did that take time to get there?
Amber: It did.
Bob: Yes; how long? [Laughter]
Bob: I mean; really, what—
Amber: I will tell you.
Bob: —to go from reacting to responding?
Amber: Yes; I wish that I could say that moment I had in my house—when I decided I needed to change—that it happened very quickly; but it doesn’t. There is no quick, immediate fix for these issues, really.
Bob: Because we are habituated toward angry responses.
Amber: Yes; we are.
Bob: It’s what we’ve done.
Ann: It’s our nature.
Bob: It’s reflexive; it’s the flesh in us—
Bob: —that is causing us to respond that way.
Amber: It took me a good six months of just very intentional thinking, and applying these things, and thinking about triggers differently for me to really say, “I am a different person.” That only snowballed the more that we practice right responses with our kids; but that’s key, I think—is recognizing that our triggers—really, they are opportunities. We don’t need to get so upset and worked up about these things.
Then, also, like, Wendy said, “Making a plan”; but some of us—people write to us and go, “But I am angry over the messy room, and the backtalk, and the whining; and I’m all alone, because my husband works a lot,”—and it’s overwhelming!
Wendy: Too many things to correct at once; yes.
Amber: So, take one thing—that’s what I did. I started with one issue: “What’s my biggest trigger? What’s my issue that I’m dealing with the most?” I talk about how it takes a childhood to raise a child. It’s going to take a parenthood—Wendy says—also, to learn how to parent well. Give yourself patience—take one thing at a time; don’t get overwhelmed. There might be four or five things.
When I was a teacher, I would get a student’s essay; and there were 20 things wrong with it. There were mechanical errors, and they didn’t stay on topic; they didn’t indent; and these words were not capitalized. If I had taken my red pen and I had slathered all over it every little thing that was wrong, I would have crushed those teenagers. I purposely would take one or two things that I felt were the biggest things that they needed to work on; and then I would teach, train, and coach them in that direction.
We can do that with our kids and with ourselves, too. Take that one thing that is most immediate. Don’t get overwhelmed—you’ve got a childhood to work on this. It’s always going to be changing; because as soon as the kids age and they reach another stage, the script flips on you; and you have to learn something new. So, be patient.
Bob: Parents could take the Table of Contents in your book, and they can go, “Okay; let’s just read through this, and let’s put a checkmark by the ones that are triggers for us.
Amber: That’s right.
Bob: “So, lying and deceit: you know, we’re okay; our kids aren’t liars—so we don’t have to worry about that.
Bob: “Manipulation: no; that’s not—video game addiction: okay; now, that’s one for us.
Wendy: Ding, ding, ding, ding.
Bob: “So, what do we do on that one?” You identify five or six, and then you say, “Let’s make June—
Amber: That’s right.
Bob: —“video game addiction month.
Amber: That’s right.
Bob: “Let’s address that one for this month—
Amber: That’s right.
Bob: —“and see if we can make some progress there.”
Ann: So, that’s what it looked like?
Ann: Did you just spend a month on one of those things?
Amber: Yes—or longer—I tell people that, too: “Let it take as long as it takes.”
Wendy: We still do this; you know, we’re not done—not just with our sanctification process in this regard—but our children keep growing up into new stages. Then, some of our children are not growing out of old stages, no matter how much we’ve done our—what we thought was pretty good parenting, if you asked us! [Laughter]
So, okay—because I think one of my biggest triggers is the tendency to be so disappointed that they haven’t learned yet: “Why are you still immature?” My maturity is put to the test; [Laughter] because I will join them in the immaturity, because I’m so frazzled that they are still immature. Instead, I say: “You know what? This kid still struggles with things that I think he should have learned at three and four years old. He just turned thirteen; what does that mean?”
Again, to what Amber said, that she had to make that specific paradigm shift in her thinking, which is: “Triggers are opportunities.” I see it, oftentimes, when my husband is parenting, where my kids are doing something so blatantly wrong. He gets angry; but I’m on the outside—I say: “Matt, all they are doing is telling you they need you to do some more parenting. That’s what they are doing. It’s an opportunity for you to teach them what they have not mastered yet.”
I’m able to look at my kid, that is still struggling with his morning routine and say, “Remember that poster/that sticker board we had in the mornings, when you were in preschool, about making your bed, and brushing your teeth, and getting dressed, and picking up your towel?” “Yes; that was a great sticker board. Could you make me one of those?!” I’m like: “You are 13. You have got to be kidding me.” [Laughter]
Ann: Did it work?
Wendy: But I took a moment and said: “You know what? I’m not going to draw a picture of your bed, [Laughter] because you can read that word now; but yes; I can do that.” I made a plan just on that one thing. Are there a billion other things to nag them about?—[Laughter]—yes; but I think that this one thing will, not only set him up for success in other areas, it changed the temperature in our home for other kids, too.
Ann: And you’re really choosing one for each child.
Amber: You can; you can.
Ann: Would you do that?—would you have that going on?
Wendy: Or choose one for yourself.
Wendy: You know what? I’m responding with a really loud voice. My kid—I’m just going to pretend like I have laryngitis. I’m going to tell them ahead of time: “Guys, because I can’t get a handle on my volume, I’m going to be speaking really soft. It’s going to seem so silly. You can laugh at me if you want, but I’m going to be practicing.”
I tell my kids, when I’m practicing a new behavior for myself: “I’m going to try touching you more and looking you in the eyes. The response that I’d like to see from you is that you come to the table,” “The response that I’d like to see from you is that you listen to me and you’re willing to go remedy your relationship with your brother.” My yelling isn’t working, so I just want to apologize that I’ve taught you that you only need to obey me when I yell. I’m going to do something—
Amber: Sometimes, you don’t know what to say or what to do in those moments. We hear from a lot of readers, who say, “Okay; well, that sounds great. I know I need to take this one thing and work on it—
Wendy: “But what do I say?”
Amber: —“but what do I say?—and what do I do?”
And like Wendy just shared, with that example with her son—not realizing that that chart was like the thing that would help him again—this is why it’s so important to be abiding and even just taking a small portion of Scripture at a time and focusing on it, because the Bible tells us that the Scripture is profitable/that it is useful; right? But it also tells us that God will give us wisdom when we ask Him. If we ask for wisdom, He will give it to you.
Ann: —and it says generously.
Ann: Yes; James 1.
Amber: —without finding fault.
Also, boy, an angry mom needs to know that: “He is not going to find fault with me. He wants to give me wisdom.” It’s this idea of discernment/of intuitively knowing, through the Holy Spirit prompting us: “This is the thing that you should do. This is the way. Walk in it.” It really does work; Scripture works!
Amber: It really does fit our lifestyles. So, I—we say—Wendy and I give lots of practical tips and suggestions in our books; but even if you didn’t have those books, you have the God of the universe, who—
Amber: —is on your side; He is for you. Do you think that He’s going to give you these precious children and then say, “You’re on your own, sister;—
Wendy: “Good luck.”
Amber: —“good luck. Yes; hope it works out okay.” No; He is our Gather—He’s a good Father; He’s our perfect model—He’s, absolutely, in those moments.
I could be standing there, not knowing what to do—and sometimes, it’s just these little prayers throughout the day: “Lord, I don’t know what to do in this situation with my son right now; and I can’t recall what that book said; but I know You, and I know that You are here to help me, and that You say that You are an ever present help in trouble. I’m in a little bit of trouble here; and I think my kid is, too. Could you help us?” He—time, and time, and time again—gives me insight: “Here is a practical thing to do next, Amber. Here’s something that you could say that would be a blessing to your child.”
Ann: So, you’re in constant communication with God—
Ann: —during the day? As moms, especially if you’re a mom at home—and you have kids at home with you—sometimes, your kids aren’t napping. It’s hard to find that breath—
Amber: That’s right.
Ann: —to even spend; but you are in constant communion with Him—talking, praying, asking for wisdom as the day goes on.
Amber: Yes; “Lord, help me.”
Amber: Not—“LORD, HELP ME!” but—“Lord, help me.” [Laughter]
Ann: He hears that prayer.
Amber: He does, and He is faithful to answer that.
Wendy: I love that you talk about wisdom. He says, “Come to Me”; right? “You will seek Me, and you will find Me when you seek Me with your heart.” Doesn’t our heart beat toward knowing what to do with our kids because we love them so much?
Bob: Have you guys dug into say, “What’s behind all of this anger?” We talked a little bit about this—but: “What is the idol of my heart”—
Bob: —“that needs to be addressed?”
Wendy: Oh, I love that question.
Wendy: I think that there are few; but I think for many of us is a self-love that just has to be laid aside, especially for this season.
Bob: When we can recognize that that’s at the root, it does help us, now, to be able to say: “This isn’t just a behavior modification technique we’re dealing with. We’re dealing with something—
Bob: —“that’s spiritually rooted in us.”
Amber: A lot of us—also, I think, it’s that shame piece, again—that we’re not being mentored in this issue, largely, because—I would have never gone to the women at my church or in my small group at that time and said: “Hey, I’m just really yelling at my kids a lot, and this is what I said to him the other day. He was so sad, and I don’t know what I’m doing,”—it would take a lot of humility to do that. I’m so impressed with the people that can be humble and do that; I was not in that humble state, early on.
We’re not really talking very much about this issue, so we’re not really addressing it much; and we’re not mentoring—especially, young moms. I was a babysitter and a nanny, for years, before I had my own children. Then, my kids came along. It caught me by surprise—my anger and frustration. I didn’t have somebody in my life I felt like I could talk about this with honesty—the shame was too great. I think that keeps us from addressing it.
That’s been one of, I think, our greatest joys—for Wendy and [me]—is to try to destigmatize this issue and allow moms to be able to finally come forward and say, “This is an issue.” We’re so caught off guard by our expectations; we don’t realize how hard it is to be a mom. We focus on all the good things about being a parent before we have kids; we don’t realize how hard and challenging it really is.
Wendy: I think that word you just used—“expectations”—
Wendy: —that can be a core/root issue—is our expectations aren’t healthy. We come into parenting, and we want—we see happy tuck-ins; and we see pictures with matching clothes; we see sitting at the table—[Laughter]—then, the reality is so vastly different that it’s hard to not take it personally.
One of the things that I have often said is: “Oftentimes, I feel like a victim—
Wendy: —“as though someone is doing something to me.” I say that my mantra/my reminder to myself is: “I’m not a victim. I’m a mom.”
Amber: “I’m a mom.”
Wendy: “I’m not a martyr; I’m a mom. I’m not a victim; I’m a mom.”
Wendy: When we change our mind about being present to help our children through the reality—not claw our way through what our expectations were and try to piece it together with a whole lot of yelling, and shaming, and tears—ours and theirs—but learn to embrace the reality of what God’s given us, and find Him at work, and allow Him to use us in what He is doing—what a joy that is.
Bob: Ann, do you think you would have used this if you would have had this book?
Ann: Oh, I would have used this so much.
One of the things that’s very beautiful is your relationship with one another. I think this is really key for women—is to have a relationship with other women because, one, we’re lonely. It feels like the enemy—we’re hearing lies in our head—
Ann: —lies about how bad we are, as mothers,—
Amber: That’s right.
Ann: —about how we’re destroying our children. We can get lost in that,—
Ann: —and the guilt and the shame from that can be overwhelming.
Ann: But when you go, and you get locked into a Bible-teaching church, they have M.O.P.S. groups, and mom’s groups,—
Amber: It’s very good.
Ann: —and groups where, hopefully, women can be themselves and share, “I need help in this area.”
Amber: —their real struggles.
Ann: Yes; that’s what I think is beautiful between the two of you—that you can pray together, that you can encourage one another, that you’re lifting each other up and reminding each other: “Keep going. God is with you. He is giving you what you need.”
Amber: That was a long time coming; you know? For those of you, who are saying, “I don’t have that person in my life,”—
Wendy: Right; “I want that.”
Amber: —I want you to know I went for a lot of years without that in my life. It wasn’t until later that, you know, that I found my Wendy. [Laughter] God brought that along.
Bob: But when you find it, and you’ve got it—
Amber: —you latch on.
Bob: —it makes all the difference in the world.
Amber: And it does; yes.
Dave: And don’t miss this: “Guys need it, too.
Wendy: Yes; that’s the truth.
Dave: “It isn’t just women.
Dave: “We need other guys in our lives.”
Bob: Sometimes, all it takes is one mom having the courage to say, “Here is what I am struggling with.”
Amber: Right; it does.
Bob: Now, all of a sudden, it’s like, “First of all, I want to be your friend; because we can go through this journey together.”
Amber: That’s right.
Bob: Maybe, you get a group of moms at your church—
Ann: I’m going to recommend it at our church.
Bob: —and you say: “I heard about this book on the radio, Triggers,” and “I thought maybe this is something we could all go through together.”
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You know, most of the time when we come face to face with the reality of our sinful reaction to relationships, we get discouraged; but there is reason for us to be encouraged, even in the midst of the challenge. With the struggle, there’s blessing alongside that.
David Robbins is here with me—the President of FamilyLife®. God’s at work in the midst of our struggles.
David: Yes; I mean, those triggers are opportunities to trust God—just like you say, Bob. That kind of sounds hollow when it comes out of my mouth and I reflect on it, but I think there is wisdom there.
It reminds me of the Scottish pastor named Samuel Rutherford who, hundreds of years ago, was reflecting on his counseling of his parishioners, who had struggled with sin, and suffering, and loss. I’m paraphrasing; but the core of his message was: “When we are being triggered—and battling our sin, and our sinful nature, and when we encounter how desperate we are in our finiteness, as a human—those are the times that Jesus comes to our bedside and sits next to us and says, “I am your salvation.”
He goes on; and Rutherford says, reflecting on his own personal challenges in his own life—which he had a long, challenging life in a lot of ways—he says, “I’d rather have that experience of struggle than to be strong all my days but never be visited by God.”
Though some days, as a parent, are a real struggle—and the ways we are triggered by our kids can drive us crazy and make us see our sin and wonder, “Will we ever really change?”—they can, also, drive us to experience God, Himself, and to encounter the Healer, Himself, and His Word for real transformation.
Bob: In our weakness, He is made strong; right?
Bob: Thank you, David.
I hope our listeners can join us back, again, tomorrow. Amber and Wendy are going to be here, again, to talk about how our kids trigger us but how we can learn not to get triggered, as easily, as parents. We’ll talk about that tomorrow. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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