My highest priority has always been to be a great mother to the kids I was so blessed to receive. They were long in coming, and well worth the wait. But afternoons filled with struggles over homework, messy rooms, and sibling squabbles seem to rob us all of the joy I expected. My mind circles like a piranha, always looking for what else they should be doing at any given moment… is homework done? Any chores need to be done? Are their things put away? The louder I get, the less they actually hear. It seems that in my earnest desire to mother them well, I am ruining our time together. The kindness of the Lord brings about repentance, not the anger of the mother. If I know all this, why am I still stuck here? Shouldn’t I have this down by now? I couldn’t try any harder, but I continue to fail. They try to please me, but they fail too. We all keep falling short of what we should be, and we need God’s help to do better.
Perhaps I need to rethink this whole parenting thing. Who is responsible for my kids’ behavior? For the development of their character, or the relationship they develop with God? Even for the way they turn out as adults? I act like it’s entirely up to me and the job I do as a mother. I think I have been carrying the full weight of that. No wonder I would get so angry at their failures, as if everything is riding on their obedience. But what if God was responsible for my kids? There are countless stories of people whose lives are remarkably different than the environment of the homes where they grew up. I can think of story after story where God used flawed parents to do amazing things in the lives of His people. That’s right! God’s power is made perfect through weakness. What a relief! Maybe His grace is big enough to use my imperfect parenting to grow them into the people He designed them to be.
One afternoon, this truth began to sink in. My 3 kids and I were running errands after school, stuck in the car for a while. I was focused on myself, relying on God to be responsible for them, and to help me keep my cool instead of getting angry with them over small things. To my amazement, I was enjoying them more than ever. They made mistakes, but I was so busy thinking of how to calmly teach them about grace, that the environment changed. It felt like I was on vacation with my kids! I was shocked to realize that the reason our afternoons had been so tense was me! But instead of being disappointed in myself, I was completely energized and hopeful about being able to have more fun with them in the years we have left together! I only needed to remember to trust God with their development and future, and rely on Him and his grace to make me the mother I want to be with them.
If I care more about their obedience than teaching them grace, they will become little Pharisees, believing they are good enough without God’s help. They won’t even see a need for a Savior. If they are aware of their inability to obey, without grace they could become so discouraged they simply give up trying altogether. If our salvation was dependent upon our obedience, we wouldn’t have a chance. Thankfully God knows we can’t do it without him. The stories of Jonah and the Prodigal Son are both stories that are not about living in perfect obedience to God, but about a big God who has mercy on both the self-righteous and sinners. Jesus went out of His way to show how quick He was to forgive sinners, and to try to reach the self-righteous . If I want my kids to become the lights God wants them to be to the world, I need to be honest about my own need for a Savior and be patient with them as they seek Him. We want genuine repentance from their hearts, rather than outward obedience to quell a parent’s anger.
Lately, I am trying to recognize my own sin, and rely on God’s amazing forgiveness to wash it away, each time I see it. The more I can identify with my kids in their inability to get it right, the more they can see God’s grace at work within me. I want my kids to stand in awe of God’s grace toward us. Once we see how much we need His forgiveness, we are so much more ready to extend grace to others. I am so thankful that God is able and willing to work with me and all my mistakes. And I am relieved to remember that He can do everything He has planned for my kids, even when I don’t measure up as their mother.
For more reading on this topic, I recommend “Give Them Grace” by Elyse Fitzpatrick & Jessica Thompson. A special thanks to my dear friend, Pamela Brady for sharing these truths with me.