Everybody dreams of a perfect family. Even though we know it doesn’t exist, we still feel guilty when we fall so far short.
While rearing our three children, Sarah and I were there many times. I remember well what it is like to win a battle but realize I might be losing the war. As parents we were not perfect, as Sarah relays in this story:
One day in a conversation with our oldest son, Jonathan, he said to me, “Mom, you wanted a perfect family, and you didn’t get it!” I was stunned.
I had never said that, but I obviously had communicated it without words.
Having come from a broken home and determined to do things differently, I realized at that moment I had wanted something that was impossible to attain…I had often asked God to compensate for my mistakes, but in return had I thought He would give me perfect children?
We were not perfect parents, our children were not perfect, and there is no perfect family!
Two years ago I started writing "Love & Respect in the Family: The Respect Parents Desire; The Love Children Need." I wanted to quit several times as I re-visited my failings as a parent.
Ironically, though I wanted to give up writing primarily because I felt I had often failed my own three kids, it was these same kids who wouldn’t let me quit!
They cheered me on, telling me I needed to give myself more grace. And in the end, they signed off on everything I shared -- the good, the bad, and the ugly!
I have a feeling that you can relate to my feelings of parenting failure...at least some of the time. But I also want to give you hope in the midst of discouragement! While there’s no perfect family, I believe God has given us the perfect parenting plan in His Word.
But what if I told you that His plan didn’t guarantee a perfect family? In fact, what if I told you that His plan for parenting didn’t have anything to do with your kids? You would probably tell me I was a bit crazy. Parenting is all about the kids!
Or is it?
Did you know that Scripture tells us to love Christ more than we love our kids? Jesus said, “He who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37). Yes, we concentrate on the kids in parenting since that is inescapable, but we focus more on Christ in parenting since that is incomparable.
What do I mean? Briefly put, we are to do what we do and say what we say “as to the Lord” (Colossians 3:18-23, KJV). To parent “as to the Lord” actually means that in a most profound way parenting has very little to do with children. In a sense, our kids are secondary. Beyond the feelings of our children, we are to have a reverent regard for the feelings of Christ, the One we desire to please in the ultimate sense.
Parenting God’s way means that we follow His plan regardless of the choices our children make.
As I talk to parents across the country, I find a lot of people who feel defeated as parents because of how their kids behave (or have turned out).
One mother wrote: One of my problems is that when the kids misbehave or don’t act as I think they should, I feel it is such a reflection on me and an extension of me…this seems to be what wears me down and then paralyzes me, and I feel defeated.
Her comments make perfect sense to Sarah and me. Our motive for wanting perfectly behaved children was pure (we wanted to protect them from the consequences of bad choices), but when their behavior caused us to question our worth as parents and even our worth as Christians, we became deeply discouraged.
On the heels of many wrong choices made by our children, Sarah and I sat sadly and quietly as we wondered where we had gone wrong. How did we fail to help our children make the right choices? What was wrong with us as parents?
There were some dark evenings when we had to deal with these feelings, but would we let these situations and our self-pity cause us to stop parenting God’s way?
The good news is that such reflection caused us to face off with our identity in Christ. As we confessed our failures and defects to God, we allowed Him to remind us of His love, that He is for us, and that He will work all things together for our good. We let the Scriptures create a new script in our hearts and minds.
What is your inner script? Have you come to grips with your position in Christ? Do you realize that you have worth because He says you have worth, not because of anything you (or your kids) do or don’t do?
All Christian parents will one day stand before the Lord at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:10). Our parenting will be part of this judgment.
We will not be judged for our children’s conduct toward us but for our conduct toward our children. We will hear His humble and true evaluation of our actions and reactions toward our kids.
We all know the story of the prodigal son. But think about the father. He had two sons: a selfish, indulgent second born (the prodigal) and an older son who was self-righteous, judgmental, and angry.
Would you invite this father to teach in your church on how to parent? Probably not. Yet Jesus tells us that this father represents Abba Father!
Are some of you parents of a prodigal? Are others of you standing in judgment of those who are?
I believe that some of you who feel judged have loved your disobedient child by keeping your eyes on Jesus, and this has touched the heart of Christ in ways you cannot imagine. I believe you have parented God's way and will hear "Well done" even though your child has wandered away from the faith.
Parenting is a faith venture. As we parent “unto Christ” we reap God’s reward, “knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord” (Ephesians 6:8 NKJV).
Will you choose to parent God’s way, in spite of the actions of your child? You too can hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D., an internationally known expert on male-female relationships, presents the Love & Respect conference with his wife, Sarah, both live and by video to more than 50,000 people each year, including to groups such as the NFL, PGA, and members of Congress. He and Sarah have been married since 1973 and have three children. His latest book is "Love & Respect in the Family: The Respect Parents Desire; The Love Children Need" (Thomas Nelson 2013).