You know that moment when your kid is doing something really defiant or disobedient and instead of calmly correcting and disciplining them you get angry and let your temper get the best of you?
No? Ok, think harder then, because we’ve all been there.
This common occurrence in parenting is one I wasn’t quite prepared for: sinning against one’s own children. I don’t know that anything makes me feel quite so low, quite so inadequate, quite so hideous as when, instead of teaching my children by example, I display the very thing I’ve asked them not to do.
My attention is wanted, and I say “Not now, I’m busy,” in exasperation. The same instruction is disobeyed for the 40th time in one day and I yell, “Just do what I say!!” A fight breaks out between 2 (or more) and everyone gets sent to their room in anger instead of being engaged and trained and disciplined.
I wish these were hypothetical situations for me, but they are all too real. And perhaps they are real for you, too. Perhaps you find yourself wallowing in guilt as you think of the ways you haven’t parented as you should have. And yet it is this very thing, this moment of failure, which can be one of your greatest opportunities as a parent.
Somehow in all the parenting literature and teaching I think we’ve lost the importance of repenting to our own children. Now, don’t get me wrong. Instructing children in the way they should go, when they rise up, when they walk along the way, when they sit down to eat, when they lay down to sleep, is vastly important (Deuteronomy 6).
We are called to it, and it IS indeed vile and disappointing when we don’t live it.
Yet we live on this side of the cross, where the perfect parenting life was lived by Jesus, and our punishment for sinning against God in parenting was taken by the death of Jesus. His life and death make it possible for us to both live holy parenting lives AND repent freely when we don’t.
If you’re anything like me, though, repenting is the LAST thing you want to do. Not only is it embarrassing when you act like a spoiled child TO your spoiled child, but usually, said child is in the middle of sinning against you when you sin against him/her. So even if you feel a little guilty you also feel a teensy bit justified.
For instance, when one of my kids is out of bed for like the 18th time because sibling has just body slammed her, I don’t think it’s entirely out of the realm of reason that I would throw myself face first onto the couch and yell “JUST GO TO BED ALREADY FOR THE LOVE.”
Although it feels justified in the moment, we all know the regret is coming. So the question is, what do we do with these all too frequent failures to parent well?
Lately, one of my children, who shall remain nameless, has been having a bit of an extra hard time with being told no. Said child pouts, glares, refuses to respond, stomps, slams doors, and cries. Here are 2 responses to this kind of behavior:
#1 – I calmly send the child to his/her room. Then I calmly explain why this behavior is unacceptable. Then I, again, calmly talk about the gospel and how it is the only way to God, who is the only one who can give us hearts to obey. Then I continue to calmly respond as said child either repents or continues to rebel.
#2 – GAAAAAAH ENOUGH ALREADY JUST GO TO YOUR ROOM AND STAY UNTIL YOU CAN HAVE A GOOD ATTITUDE.
Obviously approach one is both preferable and significantly more godly. In it, I reveal the gospel to my child through my words. But in the second, if I repent to my child, I’m able to reveal the gospel to my child through my actions.
The child sees that saying sorry for sin and asking forgiveness isn’t scary, it’s freeing. If mommy can say, “That was wrong. I’m so sorry. Please forgive me,” then he or she can say it, too. If mommy can pray and ask God to cleanse her of sin and renew her heart, then he or she can go to God, too.
Besides showing our children a very tangible picture of the gospel, repenting to them also gives us credibility. Our pastors have often said that children can sniff out hypocrisy in their parents like nobody’s business. And it’s true. They know when their parents aren’t who they say they are.
BUT, if their parents are honest when they haven’t lived as they’re called, it’s not hypocrisy, it’s the gospel.
For some reason, we want to hide our true selves from our children. I suppose it’s because we all want to be heroes in our children’s eyes.
But our calling isn’t to make ourselves into heroes to our children. It’s to make our children see Jesus as their hero. It’s important that we acknowledge to them that we aren’t the heroes of the story. They already know it. They’re not blind. But when we admit it, they see through our failings to a gospel that saves and frees us to live lives of obedience and repentance.
Parent, don’t be afraid to let those kids see your weaknesses. You might find that your best parenting is done when you’ve completely failed. After all, His power is made perfect in weakness.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)