I have amazing children. They are sincere, loving, generous and kind. They also purposefully hurt one another, spill milk on the floor when I fail to give them a pink bowl and run away when I ask them to come. It’s incredible trying to raise a human. Ellia is learning how to ride a bike, and she’s reading. Olive just learned to spell her name and she has more attitude than the cast of New Jersey’s “Real Housewives.” These girls are so alive, so entertaining, and I hang on to every word and every facial expression and every hug.
Parenting is amazing. It’s no wonder so many of us face the temptation to be kid-centered. It makes sense: our children need to be shepherded. They require guidance on everything from brushing teeth to navigating hurt feelings. And they won’t stop needing us. No matter who else is in their lives, they only have one mom and one dad.
But I’m afraid we spend far too much energy being anxious and regretting what we don’t do as parents. We’re worried our jobs or our softball leagues are somehow going to land our kids in a relationship with a drug-addict or a politician.
Many of us live on the stressful line of a desire to be good parents and a need to be present elsewhere.
Some days, we actually believe we have to be Martha Stewart or Michelle Duggar in order to live up to our “#1 Mom” mugs.
Soapbox alert: It drives me crazy when married couples say they are “starting a family.” It’s more accurate to say that you’re attempting to acquire children. We actually start a family when we covenant to be with someone for life.
Your family already exists. Kids are invited to be a part of an existing family. They are welcomed into an existing safe place—and this place’s stability doesn’t depend on them. Children are a deeply valuable and important part, but the family as a unit doesn’t rest on their tiny shoulders.
When kids become our singular focus, nobody wins. We put our children in a position to meet some kind of need we have for purpose. We isolate our spouses when we reserve our emotional energy solely for our kids.
But above all else, we become people who forget who we are. Of course you’re a mom. Of course you’re a dad. But first, you are one who belongs to God. And your call is not to be family-centered or World’s Best Mom—the call is to be God-centered. The call is to discipleship.
If we’re completely obsessed with our performance at home, if we’re measuring our value by the report cards of our children, we can’t be present to God.
When we are present to God, we are willing to have open hands with our children. We are willing to love them by showing them they aren’t the crux of our existence. We build in them an understanding that the world is bigger than their needs and their wants.
Through our attention to our world, we teach our kids about the ever-extending heart of God. Through our practice of self-care we offer instruction on living out of our true identity.
And when we fail them, it hurts us. It sucks. But in our failure, we also remind our kids no person, even an almost-perfect mom, will ever be enough.
By moving away from a kid-centered existence, we’ll become better parents. We’ll loosen our death grip on control. We’ll find the grace for ourselves we desperately need. We will see ourselves as children of God and recognize God as the one who wants to parent through us.
And maybe we’ll even let go of some of that anxiety—the anxiety that cripples—the fear that our children will end up in therapy.
You belong not to your kids and not to yourself, but to God. Learn to listen to God’s voice above the drive toward perfect parenting. You may find yourself in unexpected friendships or impoverished parts of your community. You may find yourself in a job outside the home. But wherever you are, you’ll most certainly find a peace and purpose that go beyond how well you have “the talk.” Give your kids the freedom to be who they are by living out of who you foundationally know yourself to be.