The Most Important Parenting Lesson I’ve Ever Learned
I have four pretty fantastic kids. I love them like crazy, but they are not perfect. In fact, sometimes they are downright miserable. Sounds like pretty much every single person on the planet, doesn’t it?!!
This past weekend, I had moments where I thought I would burst with pride. I left multiple conversations incredibly encouraged. And then I had a humbling moment that tempered the pride and kept me in my place. And this, my friends, is the most important parenting lesson I have ever learned (and keep relearning apparently!).
It started when I picked my 3rd born up from his Sunday School class. His teacher is a good friend and she told me (again!) that my boy is a “whip”. She said that he always wants to read, is able to answer all of the questions and could probably teach the class if he wasn’t, you know, 8! For a kid who has struggled with being shy and anxious in new situations, these comments on his growth mean so much to my mama heart.
Later, I was chatting with another friend and told her about playing the game Taboo for the first time with our kids the night before. I commented on how surprised my husband and I were when our 2nd born killed it, possibly doing better than his word-loving, game-loving, super competitive mother! We were surprised because this is our kid who had a speech delay resulting in other delays; issues with spelling, writing, and reading. Yet he handled a game, that in our experience has been difficult for youth boys, with ease and brilliance. We were amazed. My friend wasn’t. She has seen his growth over the past 6 years and was quick to tell me that she is impressed with him, with his ability to handle social situations with peers and adults. She informed me that he is a joy to converse with and my heart swelled for the 2nd time that morning.
As I hugged a 3rd friend and thanked her for spending a morning with my kids while we were on vacation, she told me that she just loves my oldest daughter. She found her to be endearing and sweet and while she said all of my kids were a joy, she raved about my oldest. This was precious to me because my girl has been harshly criticized in the past and told that she was a mean girl (with no hope of change- it’s just the way she is). While I knew these statements were not true, they still have been painful for me. So when I hear someone express a different impression of my girl, I am reminded of God’s goodness and faithfulness in my daughter’s life. And again, my heart was blessed.
And then. One of the dear nursery workers found me in the hallway and asked for me to come and handle a situation in the nursery. My precocious 3 year old had pushed a friend and was refusing to apologize. I was not surprised by this. As darling and dear to our hearts as our youngest is, she is also sassy, spunky and assertive (all qualities that when expressed by an immature kid are not so pretty). And so, I dealt with my girl who did eventually apologize (under duress!).
I then headed to the worship service with the thought that parenting is awesome and difficult, often times simultaneously.
What I have learned is that no one (child OR parent) should be defined by bad behavior or mistakes that they make because we are all a work in progress. A child’s future should not be dependent on their ability to handle every single social situation that is thrust upon them. They are not more amazing if they can read at 4 or less amazing if it doesn’t click until they’re 8 or 12 or whenever. Their middle school years with all of the jealousy, selfishness, drama and hormones that they are struggling to understand are not what will determine how they will turn out. And when a 3 year old pushes another child, it does not mean that she cannot learn to love others well.
I have had to learn to not define myself as a mom by my kids behavior. While I hope and pray that they will have hearts that seek mercy and kindness, I am not naive enough to believe that my kids will always respond the way my husband and I desire for them to respond. They are sinners in need of a Savior, just like their Mama and their Daddy. And while it is encouraging to hear others speak highly of my kids, I am completely aware that this is ONLY the work of Christ in their hearts and it has nothing to do with my amazing parenting (because truthfully, that expectation is too much. I’m not always amazing and that’s okay!).
And this is it, the most important parenting lesson ever learned- I cannot change my children’s hearts. I am powerless in this regard, no matter how desperately I would like to make them who I want them to be. This knowledge is both terrifying (I have no control!) and empowering (I can trust them to their Maker who loves them more than I can possibly imagine and who is powerful enough to change any behavior, any weakness, any sin and redeem it for their good and His glory!).
My youngest didn’t act in an appropriate way and I’m pretty sure this is not the last time she will act this way. I know this because in the short time since she pushed her friend, she has hit her sister and pushed her brothers. She has some big lessons to learn, but 14 years of parenting have taught my husband and I a few things. We’re not worried. We know God’s faithfulness. We have seen Him work in 3 other 3 year olds and we are confident in His ability to work in the 4th.
But if I know that I do not need to own my children’s bad behavior, I don’t get to take credit for their good behavior either. What I will own and take credit for is my own heart. Am I being faithful or am I being selfish? How do my behaviors affect my children? Am I actively seeking to woo their precious hearts and point them to their Savior? Am I leaning desperately on Jesus, trusting His work in my children?
As I sat in the service and contemplated all of these thoughts swirling in my head, the offertory played and these words penetrated my heart.
When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.
This truth is mine, but it is also a truth that is free for my children to accept and embrace. How GREAT is the love the Father has lavished on us (1 John 3:1)!
May they know His love, His salvation, His faithfulness and may they pursue Him with all of their hearts!