Looking over pictures from our kids' preschool days has reminded me of an important lesson God taught me about parenting during that time. As the boys and I were biking home in our three wheeler from a Day of Disaster at the
. Science Museum
The wind was blowing strong against me, so that I was pedaling hard but getting nowhere. My conversation with God went something like this:
I’m feeling very frustrated.
Why don’t these kids act the way I want them to?
You want your kids to be perfect.
Yes, I guess I do.
They make me look bad when they don’t act right. They can really embarrass me.
So you want to look good?
Yes, I guess I do. (starting to feel humbled and repentant)
Is that what parenting is about?
What is the purpose of parenting?
It was a preschoolers’ afternoon outing at the hands-on
. Science Museum was home taking a nap, and Jordan CJ and Joshua were running around the museum with their friends, having a blast, and being very hands-on. That would have been ok with me, except that one of the other homeschool Moms had printed out some worksheets. And that changed everything. The sheets were designed to provide some direction for the kids to hunt for different things in the museum and then write down (or have the parents write down) what they found. To me, it just spelled Performance: because now my kids couldn’t just run around, they needed to fill in some blanks. Only they weren’t at all interested in those sheets. But I felt they needed to do what was expected of them so that I could feel good about my job as a Mom.
At one point I took them into the bathroom for a “talk.”
“This is really not fun for me. You boys need to focus on filling in the blanks.”
They did try. As best as 4 and 5 year old boys can.
After awhile we gathered all the kids together and went as a group into the theater to watch a science movie. I have no recollection of what the movie was about. Because we didn’t watch very much of it.
The lights went out and the sound came on (loud). It was the kind of movie that you see all around you...the ceiling, all around the walls...and
CJ got freaked and started screaming. I quickly gathered our things together and we bumped our way past all the others down the row. I was crouched low but not low enough, because I wanted to be invisible. And I wanted different kids. Kids who could quietly watch the movie and not make a scene. Outside, the boys climbed into the back of our three wheeler and I gripped the handlebars and fought the wind in frustration and humiliation on the long journey home. And God spoke to my heart.
What is the purpose of parenting?
I realized that I was trying to produce “perfect” kids—an impossible goal that can only lead to frustration. I am not perfect and never will be. Why should I expect my kids to be perfect? They make mistakes and sin just like I do. My job is to help them recognize what’s going on in their hearts. And if there is sin there: to repent, seek forgiveness, and be restored in their relationships with God and whoever they have sinned against.
I realized that the disaster at the museum wasn’t an issue of sin on their part. I was the one with the sinful attitude because I felt I had “lost face” in front of the other Moms. Expectations of performance had hardened my heart toward my kids. And when
CJ got freaked out over the movie that scared him, he needed my comforting “That’s ok,” not my critical, “What’s wrong with you?”
I realized how selfish and wrong it was to want to look like a good Mom. I could see that with this mindset, my kids’ behavior on any certain day could make me feel either like a success or a failure. It didn’t have to be that way and it shouldn’t be that way. My identity and their identity is not based on performance. I could have relaxed about the worksheets. Let my boys experience the museum their own way, and just enjoy the time with them and the other families. I could have simply tucked those unfilled-out-sheets away. Instead I let the forms control me and turn the day into a disaster because my kids didn’t meet certain expectations or “perform” well.
God wants me to shepherd, to teach, to correct, to encourage, to equip, to guide, and to love my children, following the example of my Father God, using instruction from the Word of God, filling my words and actions with the Spirit of God, modeling through my own life as I direct them to the cross where they will meet Jesus.
My purpose is not to make them perfect, because it’s actually their sins and weaknesses that will help them see their need for Jesus.
My purpose is not to have them make me look good, or to even make themselves look good, but to help them recognize what’s going on in their hearts (which is so much more important than outward appearance) and help them to experience real heart transformation through Jesus.
My purpose is not to make them look like me, but to help them on their own faith journeys to understand and become who God made them to be, uniquely designed for purposes He has planned just for them. To help them develop a lifelong personal relationship with Jesus. That will carry them through the ups and downs of life when they are out of the home and "on their own."
God, help me to hear Your voice and to see how You’re working in each of my children’s lives, that I could work together with You in fulfilling Your plans and purposes for them for their good and for Your glory (not for my good or my glory). Amen.