Our sons were born only a couple weeks apart. When our families got together, conversation naturally revolved around our boys. We’d talk about all the developments they’d made over the last week—sleep patterns, poops, poundage, first words. You get the picture. Typical new-parent talk.
I’d smile as the other mom shared about how her son took fantastic naps, but inwardly I seethed. My competitive nature turned into a force of nature as I fought the urge to follow up with my own boast: “Oh yeah? Well, my son can roll over . . . and smile . . . and play three-on-three basketball at the YMCA with grown men . . . while blindfolded!”
I was Penelope from Saturday Night Live.
Every time we got together, it was the same. I’d find myself in a constant state of parental comparison.
As our oldest grew (and we added a few more to our herd), my comparisons shifted to my boys’ behavior—especially in public. I’ll never forget the embarrassment that washed over me the first time my child threw himself on the Target floor, thrashing and foaming at the mouth because I wouldn’t let him get one of those oversized inflatable rubber balls.
I looked around to see who was watching and yanked him up by the arm, all the while hissing between clenched teeth, “You stop that right now!”
I felt like a total parent loser. Not because of my actions, but because my son had embarrassed me. In that moment, he wasn’t the perfectly behaved trophy child who never asked for toys and always respected my “no.” His all-out fit meant I was unfit, and everyone was judging me (or so I thought).
For years, I allowed my kids’ behaviors to become the barometer for how I was doing as a parent. I took not only their bad choices but also their oddities personally—and little boys can be weird. Very weird. One of our sons went through a gobbling-at-strangers phrase; he’d turkey-call at anyone within a ten-foot radius. That was fun.
The flipside was also true. Whenever my son uttered an unprompted “thank you” or showed kindness to a friend, I swelled with pride. “I’m such a good mom,” I’d think as other adults looked at me, clearly impressed.
Parenthood had become all about me. I compared my kids to other families or to my own (often unrealistic) expectations. All the while, I felt like I was losing the game.
I began to overcompensate, my reactions exploding into overreactions. I’d scream at each misbehavior. I guilted my kids into saying they were sorry, to make myself feel better by seeing just a little remorse in their eyes. Little did I know I was trying to do God’s work. I was trying to change their hearts—and I was doing it poorly.
Somewhere along the way, God helped me see that kids aren’t merit badges. My sons are not reflections of me, but of One much greater. From the moment they’re conceived, they’re God’s, created for His glory, not mine.
Paul David Tripp says, “Children are God’s possession . . . for his purpose. That means that his plan for parents is that we would be his agents in the lives of these ones that have been formed into his image and entrusted to our care” (from his book Parenting. Go buy it now.).
Here I found freedom: My sons’ behavior, accomplishments, failures, fits, or likeability aren’t about me. My job is not to change their hearts or control their behavior, but to mirror God’s love and grace. Period.
A kid’s bad attitude isn’t a personal attack, but evidence that he’s (gasp!) completely human and in need of God. When he opens the door for an elderly woman or responds with a respectful “yes, ma’am,” it’s not because I’m mom of the year, but because in that moment he’s mirroring his Creator. And instead of cringing at my children’s odd antics, I can celebrate their uniqueness and laugh at all their wonderfully awful jokes. Too soon they’ll be “too cool” to be weird—and I don’t want to be the reason.
Being a parent isn’t about bragging rights, but about being signposts that point our kids to God over and over and over again. And to do that, we need to fill ourselves with God daily. We need to beg Him for help when anger gets the best of us and we want to scalp our mouthy tweenager. We need to fill our heads and hearts with His Word. We need to go to God and ask His Spirit to fill our homes—and, oh, how we need to pray.
For only when God is big, and we are not, do we #win as parents.