My 8-year-old and her friend were playing with Lego one afternoon. When I went into the room to get something from my table, I saw some papers tossed around. Annoyed with the mess, I picked up one of the papers and began to scold her.
Before scrunching it up, I glanced at it for a second. I froze as I saw the f-word scribbled in childish handwriting with a pencil. It threw me off completely and I just walked out of the room with the sheet of paper.
All my annoyance at the messy room seemed irrelevant now.
Later that day, I asked her about what she had written. She told me it was a bad word and she wanted to show it to her friends so they would know it was a bad word too.
I wished the floor would open and swallow me whole. Appalled that she was going around “educating” her friends, I asked her where she heard it. She replied that another friend of hers told her about it.
I was angry and horrified, upset with myself for not protecting her better, furious with the world for teaching her things she was too young to understand, and embarrassed that she was spreading the information herself.
Until now, my husband and I have encountered the usual culprits in parenting children—lying, disobedience, and misbehaviour.
Our younger children are three and two years old respectively, so dealing with tantrums and disobedience is standard operating procedure for us. But this incident with my 8-year-old was a first.
I was blindsided by how it hit me so suddenly. Unsurprisingly, I reacted badly. I did all the things I should not have done.
First, I scolded her. When she asked me why it was a bad word, I scolded her again. Then I refused to offer any explanation. When she asked questions out of curiosity, I laid down the law and declared, “Because I say so.” Finally, I scared her into compliance. Needless to say, that did not work.
A few weeks later, she confessed she “accidentally” used the bad word again. My heart sank as I imagined a life where her friends’s parents blacklisted us.
Parenting is going to be a lifelong task, not quick two-minute monologues.
Yet, even as I felt like I was losing the parenting battle, it struck me that this is what parenting is about. It is not simply cleaning the mess of a boisterous toddler or soothing a crying infant. That is just the beginning.
Parenting is Discipleship
Parenting is helping my daughter make wise and godly moral choices. It is helping her realise she will always have a choice between right and wrong and will often feel tempted to do and say things because others are doing and saying those things.
As her parents, my husband and I are responsible to help her see the power of making the right choice and to think for herself, not follow the ways of the world.
The Bible says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). The operative word is “train.”
Parenting is going to be a lifelong task, not quick two-minute monologues. I need to accept that and change the way I parent my daughter. So I began to pray and wondered how to begin a new way of parenting.
One night, I casually told her, “Sweetheart, if you want to ask me anything, you can.” It was like a light went on in her mind. She excitedly came to me, sat in front of me, and began pouring out all her worries.
Apparently, her biggest fear was that she might blurt out the bad word in class and that her teacher would be upset with her. She knew it was a bad word and could not seem to get it out of her head.
I listened to her and talked her through her fears. Then I explained how she was too young to be burdened with the knowledge of certain things, like what the bad word meant. She looked so much happier for having told me everything. I could see it in her face. I was ashamed I did not do it sooner.
While this is an excellent story on how not to parent, it taught me some invaluable lessons on gospel-infused parenting.
Humility: Seeing and Acknowledging My Failures and Weaknesses
First, I have to stop making excuses. Perhaps parenting is not going to be as easy as it was earlier. Shifting gears from parenting toddlers to parenting a pre-teen is going to be hard. It is going to take time and I will have to be purposeful about it. All these things are unpalatably true.
I had to let go of the facade of the ‘perfect parent’ and trust that God could use my imperfect parenting for his glory.
But if I am going to be the parent God wants me to be, I am going to have to stop making excuses, stop being lazy, and rise to the occasion. That requires humility.
I need to humble myself to make peace with the fact that I will never be perfect and my children will never be perfect.
Parenting is a journey of perseverance. There are no quick fixes and I have to humbly trust in God’s persevering love for us and our children.
Vulnerability: Willing to Seek Forgiveness, Again and Again
Vulnerability is tough. But to make any progress, I have to be intentionally vulnerable with God and my children. It is surprising how much my flesh protests against going back to God for the umpteenth time in the space of a few hours when I have lost it (again) with my kids, or I am being impatient and unkind to them, or I am shirking some parenting moment because I am too engrossed with my work, my phone, or Netflix.
But I have to seek forgiveness from the Lord. The beauty of the gospel is that God does not brush me aside, nor does he look at me askance when I have messed it up, yet again. Instead, he lovingly forgives, sets me back on my feet, and encourages me to enter the fray again.
He has authority to forgive, so I can be vulnerable and repent.
Teachability: Eager to Learn
It is a huge lesson to learn that I will never have all the answers or parent correctly every time. In Christ, the Lord has removed all self-condemnation so I do not need to beat myself up (Rom. 8:1). He remembers that I am dust and wants me to trust in his righteousness, not mine (Phil. 3:8-9).
The Lord wants to work in my children, through me. I need to be malleable, so that my children can see my Heavenly Father mould and shape me into the likeness of his Son.
He wants me to be willing to ask the help of those who have walked this road before me. I need to let go of the facade of the “perfect parent” and trust that God can use my imperfect parenting for his glory.
I have not mastered any of these lessons, but I am learning. When I fail, I do not need to punish myself. I just need to take a deep breath, say a quick prayer, and head back into the fray.
In all this, I can look to Christ, the true humble, vulnerable, and submissive one. Though he was a son, he humbled himself, shared in our vulnerability through his suffering, and learned obedience to become the source of our salvation (Heb. 5:8).
Through him, I enjoy the patient, pruning, compassionate, perfect love of God, so I can freely share with my children what I freely receive from the Lord.