“What am I doing wrong?” This is a question I’ve asked my husband many times through tears after a day of our boys flat out defying and disobeying me. Why can’t I train them up, guide them, discipline them? Am I not giving them enough love? Is it the food I feed them? Their sleep patterns? Their screen time? My parenting techniques? Have I not consulted enough books? The right books? Am I neglecting to show them the consequence of their sin is the death of Jesus? Or am I showing them it too much so that they don’t think sin matters because of grace? Am I over disciplining and over-parenting so that they need to rebel against it? Am I not giving enough boundaries? Have I provided too many over stimulating activities that they can’t process it all? Have I not provided enough stimulation? And what kind of adults are they going to become?
My husband’s response is always “You’re not doing anything wrong. You’re doing a wonderful job.” And I’m so grateful for that encouragement and his comfort – but the truth is I’ve never been able to believe his words. Surely if I was a better mum their behaviour would improve?
But James hasn’t just been telling me I’m doing a good job – he’s been praying for me to know the truths of God. And where James’ words haven’t been able to convince me that it’s not my doing that my children misbehave, the Word of God has. Now, please don’t think I’m about to say that my parenting has nothing to do with their behaviour – we’ll get to that. But what my soul needed to hear, the rest bite it needed from the constant criticism I was throwing at it, was that I am not a failure as a mother because of my children’s behaviour. There are three main truths God has taught me recently which I need to remind myself when I’m listening to lies.
- The Perfect Father has sinful disobedient children. Adam and Eve disobeyed God even when they had the perfect relationship with Him. The disciples sinned even when Jesus was right there with them. Sin is still very much present in the lives of everyone. Does this mean that God has failed in his parenting? I think not. My children are no less sinners in need of the grace of God than me, and so their behaviour will be no less sinful. In thinking I can eradicate sin in their lives through my parenting I sinfully elevate myself to the position of Saviour.
- There’s no simple formula between parenting and a child’s behaviour. Of course my parenting impacts my children’s behaviour – I’m coming to that. But look as Josiah in the Bible – the boy king who restored the temple and bought the people back to God. His father was truly evil (this is one of the reasons why we called our second born ‘Josiah’). Or Cain and Abel – same parents, totally different outcomes. The impression we get of Timothy in the New Testament is that his father wasn’t a believer, yet he is strong in the faith. You can’t draw a simple direct line between your children’s behaviour and your parenting.
- I am not in control of my children’s behaviour. I believe in a sovereign God. A God whose will cannot be thwarted by my inadequacies. This is far more nuanced and complex than we can think about here (especially as I’m writing this while making dinner!), but God’s not taken by surprise by their behaviour and He’s not panicking about it – and if He’s not, then neither should I.
So, if all the above is true, then what’s the point of trying to parent well? Why not stick them in front of a screen and feed them processed junk all day? Well, there’s a lot of answers I could give here, but it kind of all boils down to this one:
It’s what God’s told me to do, so I need to get my head down and get on with it.
In His Word, God tells us to ‘Train up a child in the way he should go’ (Prov 22:6) and in Deuteronomy we are told to teach our children the ways of God and to bring them up accordingly. This is no insignificant task, and it doesn’t matter whether or not I understand the interplay between these commands and God’s sovereignty – this is what God called me to when He gave me children so, by His grace, this is what I will do.
In Romans 14 we read that we are to take care that we do not cause another to stumble. And in Matthew we read an even more damning instruction –“but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea”. So when we make it harder for our children to obey, perhaps by feeding them unhealthy food, or giving them too much screen time, or shouting without taking care to deal with the underlying problem, or not ensuring they feel secure in our love, we sin. We absolutely must do all we can to make the path to obedience as smooth as possible through the way we parent. But, never forget, that there is grace for you too. We are all sinners, and this is so very regularly evidenced in our parenting. But Jesus’ blood has atoned for all our sins – even those we commit while parenting.