I have long wanted to be the perfect parent.
When my children were born, I wanted them to come with a user’s manual. Instructions would have been nice. Especially after they could talk.
I wanted to parent my daughters well. Perfectly, actually. I assumed that if I encouraged and disciplined exactly the right way, I would produce perfect children. It made sense to me. I just needed to find the right formula.
I read and listened to Growing Kids God’s Way faithfully to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. I tried to model grace and instill obedience. But sometimes my children disobeyed and said things that would have set James Dobson’s hair on end. And sometimes I said and did things that would have done the same.
The harder I tried to be the perfect parent, the more I failed.
I started family devotions with great excitement but became easily discouraged if they were poorly received. I nagged when I should have listened and was lenient when I should have been consistent. I compared myself to friends and even strangers. They all seemed to parent better. More consistently. More graciously.
Somehow I felt my children were walking billboards, advertising my competence as a parent. And a person.
As a result, they needed to make me look good. And often they did. But in the moments when I wanted to be respected most, my children performed the worst. Screaming when I said “no,” challenging my authority, eye rolling in defiance.
I rarely responded well and usually left those encounters feeling humbled and defeated.
God, in His wisdom, knew that was the best outcome for me.
Before I had children, I thought I was patient and easygoing. Focused on others. Not easily ruffled. But parenting has exposed my weaknesses and sin as I struggle with people who live and breathe in the space that was once reserved just for me. They have needs that must be met, sin that needs sanctification, and character that requires training.
And under that daily scrutiny, my real character is revealed. I am impatient. Irritable. Self-focused.
I get impatient with minor annoyances. Irritable when things don’t go my way. Self-focused about looking good.
These responses have revealed what’s in my heart. Idols, like respect, that I unknowingly worship. Good desires for obedience and order that have become demands. Sins I need to confess and bring to the cross.
For years I explained away my sin. It was my children’s fault, not mine. But God has shown me that my response is as important to deal with as their offense. My sin shouldn’t be ignored. God is bringing it to light for my good.
I am the one whom God is training through parenting.
I recently read, “These guys who fear becoming fathers don’t understand that fathering is not something perfect men do but something that perfects the man. The end product of child raising is not the child but the parent.”
I am the end product of my parenting. Parenting is perfecting me.
As such, my children are a mirror for me, showing me what I’m really like and where I need to change.
They see and hear my tone of voice when I’m irritated. My defensiveness when I’m criticized. The inconsistencies in my life when I say one thing and live another.
On my office door I have a quote by Ann Voskamp: “The only words that matter are the ones that I live…”
My children hear the words I say to others. They read the words I write. And they know the words I live.
This scrutiny is painful but necessary. It has made me live more authentically. It has forced me to focus more on my heart than on my reputation. It has taught me humility.
God has used parenting to sanctify me more than anything else in my life.
Through it, He is making me holy, showing me my sin, teaching me to trust Him. I wish I could see what the end result will be, both in me and in my children, but He simply gives me enough light for the path in front of me. Jesus wants me to rest in Him. He bids me to take His hand, to entrust my children to Him and to listen for His voice.
But when I disregard that, I become frenzied looking for answers on my own. Reading books and articles, worrying incessantly, asking friends, hoping there is some method I can rely on. There isn’t. Or at least I have never found one.
What I did find was that I could rely on Jesus for wisdom and strength. Whenever I needed it.
I didn’t need to despair when the world could not provide answers because the God of heaven and earth, the God who intimately knows my children and me, the Source of all wisdom, was waiting to direct me. I just needed to ask. And listen. And trust that even when everything looked like a mess, He was working in the midst of it.
This leaning into Jesus has transformed me. It has kept me on my knees. It has made me dependent. It has diminished my fear.
I want to be a good mother, modelling Jesus to my daughters. Parenting is a critical task entrusted to me by God who calls me to be faithful, diligent and prayerful. I do not take this high calling lightly.
But ultimately, I cannot control whom my children become. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. I can neither take credit for their strengths and victories nor feel defeated by their weaknesses and struggles. All I can do is trust that He who began a good work in them and in me will be faithful to complete it.
I have found freedom in understanding that perfecting parenting is not about learning to be the perfect parent.
Perfecting parenting is about trusting Christ who is using parenting to perfect me.