I figure that, when it comes down to it, most mothers fall into two categories: those who are pretty proud of their skills, and those who are deeply worried that their flawed parenting is ruining their children for life.
Most of us, after a really great parenting day, when our kids have behaved well in public, have scooted our toes across the line to stand in the “pretty proud” category. But then in the next hour, when the children misbehave or we lose our temper, we trudge back into the category where we spend most of our mental energy wrestling with guilt and shame. It’s so crowded on this side of the line that we assume it’s a normal place to be and even a sign of a good Christian mother who hawkishly watches over her children and seeks to manage every aspect of their lives.
On both sides, the environment is toxic with pretend control.
We talk so often of teaching our children about grace, about how our love and God’s love do not depend on what they do or don’t do. Obedience doesn’t earn love, we say. Obedience honors the love we already have, we say. We pound this drum, for it is the heartbeat of the gospel, the freedom song we long for our children to dance in.
But so often this message doesn’t translate into who we are as parents. We try playing a beautiful song of grace for our children, when we ourselves are deaf to the music and its rhythm.
I practically whispered to a friend once: “I feel so much inexplicable shame about parenting.” My shame is not attached to something specific. Instead, I feel an aching combination of desire for the good of my children and a sad awareness that the brokenness of this world (that lives in me) will decay them. I want so much to do this parenting thing right, and I know so deeply that I am flawed. The flawed part, because it scares me, pounds at me with urgency: do all the right things, plan all the right things, teach all the right things, say all the right things, feed them all the right things! Right things! Do! Do! Do! Plan! Plan! Plan! Control! Control! Control! And what? My children will be saved? My hopes for them will come to fruition?
I can say this because I’ve learned the hard way: Right things don’t earn well-behaved children. Right things don’t earn the Lord’s approval and, therefore, good outcomes for them by the power of His hand. God is not a vending machine, and neither are my children.
I am but a child myself, poor in spirit, weak in flesh. I have no ability to save, no ability to pierce a heart. My shame wells up at my own inabilities to perfectly direct the steps of my children. It has been born out of a worldly belief that I am in control, that if my plans are well and good that the world can be shifted right again, that I am guaranteed something.
Oh, I see. Standing on this side of the line, wallowing with the guilt crowd, is all about me. Parenting is about me, because well-behaved children look good on me. Bad parenting days are about me, because their poor behavior means I am an utter failure. The guilt is more akin to fear: that I won’t have something to show for myself for all this hard work.
The freedom song of God’s grace and love that I sing to my children shoos away anything that hinders their intimacy with and enjoyment of Him. Why can’t I sing it to myself, or better yet, let God sing it over me? Shame over my frailty makes me hide, but instead of turning to Christ, who has swallowed up my every sin, I turn to control and it’s fruit: fear and guilt. Pretend control is tiring.
The third way of parenting — the fearless way — is living by the biblical truth that God is in perfect control and that His power is most seen in our weakness. We therefore must embrace our weakness (which is easy to assent to in theory, but difficult to face in reality) and beg of God daily that His power will enable us to parent our children according to His will. This is parenting from an identity of Dependent Child rather than from the trapdoor identity of Perfect Christian Mother so many of us are seeking to master.
The third way of parenting, simply put, is Out-Of-Control Parenting: parenting not to get it “right” according to our own standards or in comparison to others but rather parenting for God’s eyes and God’s honor by God’s power. When we practice Out-Of-Control Parenting, we not only become more cognizant of both our powerlessness and God’s power to save, but we put our children in the most secure, trustworthy hands possible. We listen intently for how He wants us to lead and guide our children.
Christian parents, even more than you delight in your children, God delights in you. His will for you is to not to parent out of shame, guilt, or fear. His will for you is to parent out of dependence on His Holy Spirit living in you, who loves you and longs to help you imprint Himself on their hearts. Parent today out of the joy those truths bring.
Let’s stop playing pretend.