by Sarah May
Disclaimer: I am far from the perfect parent. Recently I saw a t-shirt that said “To be honest, I’m just winging it. Life, motherhood, my eyeliner, everything.” It’s scary how true that feels at times. There are days where I feel so downright inadequate that I question why God placed these three handsome boys in my possession and has asked us to be open to the possibility of bringing another into our home. Clearly, to me at least, someone else would be able to care for their lives and hearts much better than myself and my husband. I cling to the verse in 1 Peter 4:8 that says Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Please Lord let my love for them, the love you have instilled within me, be enough to cover my screw ups!
Being the perfect parent is impossible. I laughed out loud when I read this quote from Holly Sprink, “As those of you with children know, rational parenting is like the Loch Ness Monster. We all hope it’s out there somewhere, but we don’t know anyone who has actually discovered it (and if we do come across someone who claims to have found it, deep down we think that person is a little off.”
Besides marriage, parenting is the number one thing that forces you to see your own imperfections, your own straight up sin, and therefore see your constant need for changed dispositions living within your heart. As Sue Detweiler said, “Moms are not perfect–we are being perfected” That goes for you as well dads! And it is my children who are the constant vehicle God uses to achieve much of my redeeming. It is a common, almost daily occurrence, that I will stop suddenly during my correction of one of my children as the Spirit reveals how much I need the very words I am sharing with them.
We begin our parenting careers with lots of expectations and goals. If you are alive on this earth it is because you yourself were born and have been parented, whether it was by your natural parents or not, and because of that, probably created two subconscious lists. The first being the ways you want to parent exactly how your parents did and the second being the ways you want to parent the exact opposite of how your parents did. Add those methods to the ones we glean from simply watching those around us, the books we read, and the mentors we have, and in our back pockets we think we have all the secrets.
One of my favorite quotes is from a book written by Ray Blackstone, “We spend vast amounts of time and energy crafting a thesis in our heads of how life should play out then almighty God spends an incredibly brief amount of time blowing our thesis to bits.” And my boys are the cannonballs.
If there was one thing I learned early in parenting, and learned the hard way, it was that I wasn’t going to be able to force my will, every one of my perfect parenting desires, on my children and the lesson came because of a pair of flip flops. At age three my oldest son owned two pairs of flip flops, one pair was red and the other was blue. He, in all his little boyness, was determined to wear one of each everywhere we went because he liked both colors and couldn’t choose. I in all my ‘people are going to think I’m a terrible parent because my child doesn’t match” pridefulness was determined he was not going to do that. I can not even remember the number of times this battle took place, but I do remember that besides my child finally obeying and therefore me “winning”, it did nothing to develop our relationship.
Yes, there are hard battles that must be fought as a parent to help your children trust and obey you and to grow and learn as a human, but y’all flip flops is not one of them. And I would argue there are a whole lot more that are not as well, you can’t die on every hill, it will leave you and your babies exhausted and plenty of relational wreckage.
I am convinced it was God’s gift of Grace that those lessons came so early, because from that time on my heart for parenting began drifting another way, though still very much in process. Instead of a focus on what we did not want them to do, it shifted more towards what DID we want them to do. Yes, at the very deepest root we want them to know they were created uniquely and very much on purpose by an all knowing all loving God, that He gave them Jesus as their Savior, and then that savior left His Spirit on earth to indwell in them as a guide through life. But there are countless outlets in which to be body of Christ and many character qualities that those members of the body portray. Which did we want to instill?
Prayer, search, experience, and discussion led to Ephesians 4:29, “Do no let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
Kindness, helpfulness, paying attention so that you can build up others in regards to their specific needs, being an example and benefit to any and everyone listening.
We now have two main words we filter much of our parenting through, Kind and Helpful. These two words come up in our encouragement of them, in our correction of them, and though there are occasional eye rolls when they have to repeat the two words in discussion with us, in their own self correction as they notice that the words and actions they are doing are not kind towards another or helpful to another.
We as believers want to be known by our love, are told in scripture that “we will be known as His disciples by our love.” As parents we want our boys to learn to love by “counting others more significant than themselves,” To be of kind service and helpful words, kind words and helpful service.
These are not the only character qualities beneficial to the Kingdom, nor are they the only ones we discuss in our home, but they are what fits best with our family right now, in the places God has placed us, and are subject to change as God changes us.
Now, I encourage you, if you have never thought about it, to see what character you are already leading your children, or yourself in if God has seen fit to bless you in other ways. Or if there is not any that already come to mind, gather together as a family, or go first to the Lord alone, to pray and see in what ways you want to benefit the Kingdom here on earth. Is it through Strength in times of trouble, is it with Courage to step out in the unknowns, is it to be Gentle in the midst of harsh surroundings?
I pray for you today as you ask, seek, knock, and find not only the ways your inner dispositions need to change in parenting, but that newness will be revealed as God continues His redemptive work.