Parenting is infinitely harder than I ever imagined it would be. And infinitely more rewarding. Very few things in this world have filled my heart more than the sleepy newborn snuggling on my chest, or the enthusiastic little leaguer waving from the outfield, or the curious new Christ follower listening intently as I share truths from His Word. Parenting brings some of the greatest joy and most heartbreaking pain. Such a huge responsibility because so much seems to hang in the balance. In my 11 years as a mother, I’ve learned some important things beyond the obvious that have come as a bit of a surprise to me. These 11 things now inform and guide how I do this thing called parenting.
#1 SINNERS SIN. Ummm… yeah… seems pretty obvious. But if you’ve ever asked one of your kiddos, “Why in the world would you do that?”, then you know what I’m talking about. When we are shocked, perplexed, and confused by our children’s sinful choices, we are forgetting that they are, in fact, hopeless sinners in desperate need of Jesus every day. Just like us.
#2 BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS AREN’T A DISRUPTION TO MY DAY, THEY ARE THE AGENDA OF MY DAY. There is a radical shift in my daily focus when instead of being irritated, annoyed and inconvenienced by their sin, I begin to recognize the teachable moments they afford. Every single ugly argument, disobedient action, and selfish attitude gives me the opportunity to speak the gospel into my children’s lives. After all, my main job as a mother is to teach and model confession, forgiveness, repentance and reconciliation.
#3 BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION WILL NEVER CHANGE THE HEART. A loving parent provides expectations, boundaries, and consequences for behavior. But I must, must, must keep in mind that behavior management techniques and consistent discipline will never change their hearts. There is no sticker chart or reward incentive or punishment strong enough to make a new creation in Christ. Outward compliance may not reflect a true heart change.
“Maybe God’s goal wasn’t for me to raise a good rule-following child, instead His goal was for me to raise a God-following adult.” Lisa TerKeurst
#4 MY JOB IS NOT TO RESCUE MY CHILDREN FROM PAIN, BUT TO WALK WITH THEM IN IT. It took some intensive (and expensive) therapy for God to break me of the destructive patterns of co-dependence. To learn that I could be okay even if those I love the most aren’t okay. The mysterious role of suffering in the lives of believers to mold us into the image of Christ applies to my children as well. As painful as it is to watch my children in pain, I get to surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit, who loves them infinitely more that I ever will.
#5 SURRENDER THE RESULTS TO GOD BECAUSE THERE ARE NO GUARANTEES. This one makes me weak in the knees. Example after example in Scripture points to evil parents raising godly children and godly parents raising evil children. I am quite certain that my children’s spiritual journeys will take twists and turns that I never would have chosen for them and in the end, I have no guarantees. I can imagine no greater pain than my children not knowing new life in Christ. And God is good. And His grace is sufficient for me. No. Matter. What.
#6 GRACE, GRACE, AND MORE GRACE. Teaching them God’s law is an essential part of helping my children understand the gospel because His holy and perfect law shows them just how much they need a Savior. But it is grace that will save them. The grace demonstrated by a Savior who loved them so much He died to fulfill that perfect law in their place. And I can never teach, preach, model, live or give too much grace. Contrary to what the world or our parents or our own natural inclinations tell us, shame and punishment will never produce a Christ follower, only His love has that power.
“What causes actual love for God is God’s love for us. His love for us is what motivates love from us. The Bible is very, very, very clear that grace and grace alone carries the power to inspire what the law demands. Love, not law, compels heartfelt loyalty.” Tullian Tchijidjian
#7 I GET TO GUIDE MY CHILDREN INTO WHAT GOD WANTS FOR THEM, NOT WHAT I WANT FOR THEM. I must constantly examine my own motives for how I lead them in making life choices. My dreams may include college, marriage and solid equity in a nice family home, while God’s dreams for them might be inner city ministry straight out of high school, life-long singleness, and a rent controlled apartment. Am I willing to let go of what I think will make them happy and yield to what God knows will make them holy? Ultimately, I must keep in mind that my greatest desire is for my children to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength.
#8 PARENTING IS AS MUCH ABOUT GOD DISCIPLING ME AS IT IS ABOUT ME DISCIPLING MY CHILDREN. There is nothing like parenting (except maybe marriage) that brings all my junk to the surface. Impatience, anxiety, pride, control, anger and downright selfishness to name a few. The beauty of it is that when I acknowledge my sin and invite the Holy Spirit to do His work in me, I take leaps and bounds on my own journey and my children get front row seats to the sanctification process!
#9 SOMEONE HAS TO BE THE ADULT. I am embarrassed to admit how many times this phrase crosses my mind as I am about to lose my cool with my children. It kind of makes me laugh and certainly calms me down when I’ve reached a boiling point. How can I expect to teach my children to use self-control, patience and love by living in the Spirit when I so clearly display the fruits of the flesh before them? I’ve come to realize that in all of our relational conflicts, while the results might be important, they are not what’s most important. The most important thing is how we treat each other in the process.
#10 “I WAS WRONG. I’M SORRY. PLEASE FORGIVE ME.” These words are spoken in our home every single day, very often by yours truly. I am amazed that so many of my friends who grew up in Christian homes never heard their parents apologize for anything. I get that it’s hard, but it is also an incredibly practical, simple and powerful way to preach the gospel to my children in our day to day life. When I use these words with my husband and my children, I am acknowledging my sinfulness, modeling humility, and seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. What a beautiful picture of the gospel!
#11 THE MOST INFLUENTIAL THING I CAN DO AS A PARENT IS TO SHARE MY OWN FAITH JOURNEY AS I WALK IT. As my children grow, I’m sharing more and more of my own struggles, joys, failures, revelations, trials, questions and victories. And not just in retrospect, but right smack dab in the moment. When I’m anxious or sad, I share how I’m struggling and we pray. When God has revealed a healing, life-changing truth during my time in the Word, I excitedly share it with my children. When I’m disappointed and doubting God’s goodness, I tell them and we remember His promises together. When I’m petitioning God with heartfelt prayers, I do it out loud for them to hear. My primary goal is to give them a glimpse into what life with Christ looks like and God’s amazing and undeserved faithfulness to me.
As much as I’ve learned, at any given point in time I feel like I’m falling short in one or two or ten of these areas. And I’m sure I’ll add a whole lot more to the list in the next big chapter of parenting: teenagers. Though I know with certainty that I will continue to both fail and succeed in this most precious and important responsibility, discipleship is not teaching perfection, it’s teaching dependence. And God will be faithful to guide me and grow me every step of the way.
Held by Him,
For a print out list of these 11 Parenting Reminders, click link!