Parenting is tough business. In addition to the blunt-force exhaustion from taking care of the physical needs of my children, I also want my children to turn out well. I want them to be well-adjusted, well-behaved, God-fearing, Christ-loving, authority-respecting, and some other hyphenated words I can’t think of right now. I don’t want them to be weird or outcasts or rebels or vagabonds (what exactly is a vagabond?).
I’m not alone in wanting my kids to turn out okay. Every Christian parent wants their children to embrace Jesus Christ, walk in righteousness, and stay away from the kinds of sin that can obliterate the good life spelled out in Scripture. Every parent prays for and dreams of the day when their children are baptized.
If we’re honest, we’ll admit that there’s a lot of pressure to make our kids turn out a certain way. We desperately want our kids to measure up to the kids around them. We want our kids to be as obedient as the other kids in Sunday School. We want our kids to know as much about the Bible as those kids who are always winning the Bible quizzes. We want our kids to be appropriately respectful of adults. We want our kids to reflect well on us.
When our kids don’t measure up, it can be pretty embarrassing. When our kids are disrespectful to adults or don’t care about the Bible or get caught smoking cigarettes outside of school, we feel like failures. We feel guilty. When our kids keep sinning in the same way again and again, and we keep receiving semi-angsty passive-aggressive suggestions from other parents, we feel awful. We try to do all the right things, but nothing seems to work. No matter how many times we lovingly correct our kids, they keep doing the same things again and again. No matter how many times we quote Scripture at them, they keep on sinning.
But is this parent guilt appropriate?
I don’t think so.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Obviously, we should be committed to training our children in righteousness as much as possible. We should appropriately discipline our children. We should work with our kids when they are caught in sin.
But the reality is, I cannot produce righteousness in my children. I can’t make my children godly, no matter how much blood, sweat, and tears I expend (I really hope to avoid expending blood).
Think this through with me. My children, and yours, are born into a fallen world as depraved sinners. My kids will automatically gravitate toward sin. They will act in accordance with their nature, which is why they scream and fall on the ground when they don’t get their way. It’s why my daughter Charis will insist she didn’t do something even though I watched her do it. It’s why Ella will lie to my face and claim she has no knowledge of her lie.
Little sinners sin. Two plus two is four, the Cleveland Browns will always be awful, and little sinners sin. It’s how the world works.
Any good thing my daughters do is a result of God working in their lives. Only God can produce good in a sinner. Only God can cause Charis to talk to me in a respectful voice. Only God can help Ella get her flaming temper in check. Only God can teach Gwendolyn to not manipulate her sisters.
Only God can cause sinners to do good things. Apart from God, we go the way of the people in Judges, who always did what was right in their own eyes. Apart from God, our children would always sin all the time. Apart from God my kids would not just be totally depraved (sin effects every part of their being), they would also be absolutely depraved (as evil as they could possibly be).
This means I don’t need to be racked with guilt over the sins of my children. I don’t need to be ashamed or embarrassed when my kids don’t measure up to other kids. I will do all I can to restrain their sin and teach them to obey God’s word, but I don’t have the power to really change them. I can’t make them obey me. I can’t make them stop arguing with each other (I would pay large sums of money for that power).
I trust God will work in the hearts of my kids. I can’t do it. He can. And I believe he will. Even though I can’t change my kids, I believe God will use my feeble efforts, in his time and in his particular way. I won’t allow myself to be dominated by guilt. Instead, I will trust God to work in my kids, often in spite of my failures.
Don’t wallow in parent guilt. You’re not God. God rules the hearts of your kids, not you.