Parenting is one of the hardest things ever.
Before you had children you pictured being swept away in the bliss of motherhood. Aaaaah.
Well, sometimes you find that.
But now you also find that bringing up children is exhausting, confusing, demanding, gut wrenching, unending, and frightening. You expend yourself until you’re worn to the nub. You agonize, and worry, and feel inadequate.
I am a far from perfect parent. When I was bringing up my children, I struggled. Sometimes I felt like I was the worst mom.
But that’s why I want to write this blog. I want all of the mothers out there who are struggling to have something to hold to that is true and solid. In this world of a thousand different messages on how to raise your children, I want to give you the confidence of a few things that work.
In short, what works is reflecting the characteristics of God in your parenting. God is loving and gracious. He is also righteous. When you make these things the foundation of how you raise your children, you will feel like you have done the best you could do.
But what does this look like in practical terms?
Let’s start with the good stuff — LOVE. Effective parenting involves loving your children the way that God loves you. It’s the daily battle to remember that you are incredibly valued, and then pass this onto your kids.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34
What is the biggest expression of God’s love? It’s that Jesus laid down his life. Our love for our children must also be sacrificial.
Yay! This is something we moms are good at! It feels natural to sacrifice for our kids.
But there’s easy sacrifice, and there’s hard sacrifice. Love is sacrificing for your children in ways that are uncomfortable, and take extra effort. It’s getting on the floor and playing baby dolls, racecars, Barbies, Legos, Peppa Pig, etc. with them. It’s doing that thing with them that they love, even though you’ve done it a thousand times before.
It’s carving out time to read Bible stories with them and have family devotionals. It’s praying with them at bedtime, and then listening to them talk about their day, even though you’re bone weary. It’s swimming with them when it’s freezing cold because they love it so much. It’s singing with them in the car. It’s taking them on “dates.” It’s having the talks with them that take forethought and intentionality.
I do want to mention that the goal of this is not to teach your children that the world revolves around them. You can still set boundaries, so that they are considerate, and so you have some time for yourself.
But here’s the thing, moms. You’re exhausted, and yet you’re also brimming over with all kinds of plans and dreams. You want to do something cool, make a difference, change the world, be successful. You want to fix up your house. You want to involve your children in all kinds of activities.
It’s going to take a conscious, determined effort to make the important sacrifices, and not let everything else sap away all of your available energy.
God’s love is also incredibly appreciative of our individual worth. Jesus saw the leper, the sinful woman, the Samaritan woman, the tax collector. Each of these was an important person in his eyes. To him, the whole sum of the law and the prophets was, “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” (Matt 7:12)
Jesus was consideration personified. He calls us to be the same.
This can be a challenge for us. We just need our children to behave!
And obedience is important. I’ll talk about that in the next blog. But if we’re going to love like God, we have to seek to listen and understand. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19b)
When I surveyed my mom friends, they were vocal that respect is a crucial element of parenting.
- “Instead of ignoring my daughter because her behavior is undesirable to me, I try to empathize with how she must feel in those moments.”
- “Take the time to listen. When they are in preschool years ask them to tell you about the picture they brought home. Talk to them like you’d want to be talked to! When my son was an older teen he would come in to my side of the bed and talk to me every night when he’d get home. I can’t help but believe that it’s because I always tried to listen to him.”
- One empty nester friend told me how she expected her daughter to obey without discussion. She had a “just do it” approach, and didn’t allow her daughter to express what she was feeling. This led to a lot of conflict, and pushed her daughter away.
- Another friend related how she and her husband treated their youngest child as they did their older ones, without realizing that he was different and needed a different approach. This proved to be very detrimental.
I will caution you, though, that even at 3 or 4 years old, your kid can do a better sales job on you than a used car dealer! Don’t let your child talk you out of what you know is right. Be sure they know you are listening and that you care. And then be firm.
The last thing I want to mention about God’s love is that it is positive. It is so encouraging to me that Jesus named Peter the “Rock.” He called Nathaniel a “true Israelite in whom there is nothing false.” Jesus saw the best in people and believed in them. He reflected the truth that, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (I Cor 13:7)
We reflect God’s love for our children by believing in them and having hope for them. We see the good in them and praise it.
If I could do it over again, I would work harder at being positive with my children. As moms, we feel the burden of making sure our children turn out right. We see the terrible consequences of a character flaw. The thing they need to change can become bigger to us than all of the things that are wonderful about them. That was my tendency.
So we have to be intentional about praising our children. We have to look for the things we can commend. Moms, praise your children often! More than you correct them. It will be as good for your heart as it will for theirs.
In conclusion, the goal of love is that they will love.
“We love because he first loved us.” I John 4:19
If there is one thing we can instill in our children, let it be a crazy love for God! We do want our children to do the right thing. But even more, we want them to do the right thing because their heart is so filled with inspiration that the obedience comes out of the overflow.
Crazy love has to be caught as much as it is taught. They have to see it in you.
But this is good news, because this is something you can do. You can have a great time falling more in love with God! Start a gratitude journal. Find the love stories in the Bible. Work on the doubt, bitterness and fear that hold you back. Pray to know how much you are adored.
“I pray that you would be able to comprehend, along with all the saints, how wide and long and high and deep his love is.” (Eph 3:18)
And then tell your children often how awesome you think the Lord is, and how amazing it is that he loves us. Help them see him, and his faithfulness.
As our children grow up, they will find that life is hard. There will be so many assaults to their self-esteem. There will be so many times when something goes wrong and they will wonder if God cares.
Teach him that God DOES care, and cares deeply. Teach them to pray and reach out to the Lord when they are hurting. Teach them the magical scriptures that are salve to the heart. Teach them the ways that God has worked in their lives already.
Sister moms, I know, I know. Parenting is intense. And everyone keeps telling you something different to do.
But hold to this truth through the craziness: If you’re seeking to love as God loves, you are on the right track.
“Love never fails.” (I Cor 13:8a)
“Love covers over a multitude of sins.” (I Peter 4:8)
(Stay tuned for Part II of “Momfuddled,” coming soon!)