It doesn’t seem like that long ago when I was playing dolls with my sister and swinging carefree on our swing set in the backyard. Now I am not merely playing house anymore; I am trying to find a way to manage my own real life household.
Sometimes when the kids are getting out of control, there are messes to clean up and dinner needs to be made, I look around and wonder “now who’s going to take care of this?” Then it dawns on me and I realize, oh that would be me!
While I am comfortably past the phase where I stumbled around in that new mom sleep deprived stupor, I still long for the days when I was someone else’s responsibility instead of the other way around.
I took it all for granted: the trips to the playground, library and pool; the three square meals a day; a freezer and cabinets stocked with our favorite treats; new clothes every season, etc.
As a kid, I didn’t realize how much time, effort, and money went into every single childhood and adolescent memory. How much preparation went on behind the scenes of every vacation, birthday party and playdate. How many resources just went into raising me.
My own kids are too young to recognize everything it takes to parent them also. At 10 and 7, they have a limited ability to appreciate all that I do for them on a daily basis.
But I still want them to. As moms we give up so much for our kids. We lay down our plans, our comfort and quite often our desires for them. And we want it all to count for something, in very tangible ways.
Deep down we want that recognition from our children. We may not expect them to express their appreciation for all our hard work and sacrifices through words, but we do tend to use their actions as a gauge for how we feel about ourselves.
Setting Our Children Up As Idols
We think their behavior is somehow an indication of how well we’re doing as mothers and we immediately think we’re failures if our child struggles with sin. So we try to cover it up.
We settle for outward behavior change, focusing on them following the rules, and rarely go beyond appearances to the real issues lying within their hearts. We guilt them when they don’t obey and say things like, “How many times have I told you?” or “How dare you yell at me?” We enroll them in all sorts of extracurricular activities and sports and academic programs so they can look good to others.
But if I’m seeking validation from my kids or the congratulations of other parents for my smart, well-behaved, tidy children, then mothering has stopped being a ministry- it has become an idol.
Because it’s not about me. It’s about what God is doing in their lives. And all those occurrences of misbehavior are opportunities for me to point their hearts towards Jesus, instead of inconveniences.
When we’re focused on how their behavior will reflect badly on us, we have made them responsible not just for our happiness, but our own identity. That is way too great a burden for them to bear.
You don’t need a “parenting win”. Your children’s accomplishments don’t equal your success. Their failures don’t equal your worth.
Your identity and worth come from Jesus alone.
When we take their behavior personally and get angry or feel defeated by it, we’re more concerned with how they’re affecting us, than with the condition of their heart towards God. We’re trying to sanctify ourselves with good works instead of fully relying on Christ for HIS work on the cross.
Parenting with the right motivation
Of course, I want my children to be grateful instead of entitled. That doesn’t mean I lord every little thing over their heads and demand that they appreciate all my hard work and sacrifices, however.
I shouldn’t act like a martyr in our home, feeling as though they somehow owe me. Motherhood is about serving, just like any other ministry.
When it’s not convenient.
When I am exhausted.
When no one else sees.
When it seems fruitless.
Mothering has purpose and meaning, yes, but it doesn’t define who you are. You aren’t primarily a Christian mother; you are primarily an Ambassador for the Most High God. 2 Corinthians 5:20 says, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
You are telling your children, in all your interactions with them, “come back to God!” Not “look at all I’ve done for you”, or “you’d better obey me or else”.
You are not their Savior. You are not even the change agent. You are Christ’s representative, a living example of His grace and authority.
The Gospel should inform your parenting on a daily basis. Instead of me thinking this behavior is an interruption in my orderly day, or how many times do I have to correct the same thing, my thinking shifts to this is another chance to appeal to my children for God.
Their disobedience and sin reveals to them that they need to change and ultimately turn to the One who’s able to change them. I can use their behavior to give them the insight into what’s going on inside their hearts, so they come to realize their desperate need for Christ.
I am testifying that I value what God values, and that I refuse to value what the world values.
This is how you seek first the Kingdom of God, and not your own agenda. When God is your object of worship, your children stop being responsible for your peace, joy and identity. And mothering is no longer idolatry, but a tool in His sovereign hand.