She turns and looks at me and I can see it in her eyes – that glimmer of obstinance that I find almost daily present on her three-year-old face. We’ve gone head-to-head in this battle of the wills several times already on this particular day and this time I’ve pushed her over the edge. It seems I’ve once again made some unreasonable request and she is unwilling to comply. So she fights back, “No, you stupid mommy! I will not obey!” And now I am faced with a choice. How do I respond in this moment, when tensions are high and I feel desperate to regain control?
The struggle is real, people. The struggle is real.
I definitely do not always respond well when my children disobey, but I’ve come a long way from where I used to be. And as I have spent time reflecting on what has changed in our home as I’ve moved away from being an out-of-control parent to a calmer one, there is something that stands out to me more than anything else:
I no longer expect my children to be holy.
I’ve realized that at the root of many of my frustrations and overreactions as a parent is an expectation that my children will someday no longer need to be parented, that I will eventually have repeated myself enough times that they will suddenly stop needing to be reminded to do routine tasks, and that they will one day wake up and no longer fight or whine but will simply smile and sweetly say, “yes, mother!” to my every request. Obviously, this is ridiculous. So why do I live like that is the goal? Why do I act like my job as a parent is to eliminate the struggle in my home?
Maybe part of the reason we as parents get so frustrated when our children don’t get it right is that we have a wrong view of how God parents us and of the grace He extends to us every moment. Maybe we haven’t realized our own ongoing need for the gospel. The goal of the gospel is not to eliminate our struggle against sin. God never expected us to be able to get it right or to obey perfectly in this life. From the outset God expected that His people would mess up and disobey and make a great big mess of the world. That is why He provided a way for things to be made right – a Savior who would bring us back to Himself. He is glorified in our lives as we become more aware of our need for forgiveness and humbly turn to Him for the power to obey.
I am learning to be okay with the struggle against sin that my children and I experience everyday. My goal is no longer to have kids who don’t fight or whine or disobey, but kids who know how to seek forgiveness when they’ve messed up and who understand the power of the gospel to bring them back to right relationship with God and with others. I can trust God to be all He promises to be and to do His good work in my family. Parenting from this perspective gives me so much freedom because I no longer feel responsible to solve every conflict or address every misbehavior as if it’s an emergency. It frees me from the pressure to always be a perfect example and from the guilt I experience when I fail. It allows me to walk hand-in-hand with my children toward a common goal of becoming more like Christ.
The struggle of sanctification is real. I’m thankful for a heavenly Father who is patient with me in my struggle and who gives me the grace to teach my children to struggle well, too.