So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11, NLT)
I was hiding in the bathroom, door locked, light off. Did I make it? Did they see me? I sat quietly and took a deep breath, and then I heard it.
I just wanted a few minutes of peace, a break. I was tired, and I really wanted to be sent to my room for a timeout, but that was not an option. I am the mom, after all.
We lived in Taiwan at the time, and the bathroom doors have slats in them for air circulation. Within a couple minutes of closing the bathroom door, a little face was peeking up through the slats saying, “Mom?” Then a toy car would come through the slats. The game had started. I put it back through, and he giggled as he pushed it back through to me again. It was a wonderful moment, but my alone time was gone.
I called my mom for some support. Her response was to say, “Remember you prayed for these children.” Yes, as a couple dealing with infertility, we did pray many years for children. But in my worn out, frustrated moment I blurted out, “Mom, I prayed for children. I did NOT pray for these children.” No, I wasn’t serious—well, not totally. I mean, did any of us pray for the children we received? Who imagined all that we’d go through and experience with each of these unique, interesting, quirky kids we are raising? What happened to those brilliant, perfectly behaved, quiet children we all dreamt of? I’m thinking they are off riding unicorns somewhere.
Truthfully, most days, I love being a mom. But sometimes, I get really tired of being the mom, the referee, the mature one—even now. I feel like a hamster on a wheel many days, and like a failure as a mom most days. I think of the perfect mom (I think she lives next door to the Proverbs 31 woman) who never raises her voice, who always graces her children with wisdom, and who has a craft for every home school lesson to drive home the main point of the lesson—and I feel deflated and kind of hopeless.
I lived for years as a failure of a mom and wife. I watched my kids growing up so fast, and I felt like everything was out of control. I think, too often, we think about our failures as moms. Like my friend I recently interviewed for my podcast, Nadia Swearingen-Friesen said, we think our job is to raise good kids, but our real job if to raise responsible adults.
Believe me, I know it’s hard. And I know friends who wonder if it’s too late to see success in their parenting because they feel they’ve done such a terrible job so far.
But can I encourage you today?
First, you are not alone in feeling like a failure. You are not alone in feeling like you could have, should have done more. We’ve all been there. We all fail. We all fall short of our own expectations, not to mention God’s perfection. We don’t feel like we’ve passed on the important things to our kids and have passed on a few too many not-so-wonderful things.
Second, if your kids are happy, well-fed, and well-cared-for, you are a success. My mentor pointed that out to me when I was feeling like a terrible failure. My kids were at her house having a great time. They were laughing and mostly polite. They were healthy and strong. They were secure in our family. She told me I was a successful mom. And I want to tell you the same.
Third, you are discipling your children daily whether you mean to or not. They watch you and will imitate you, sometimes in the most embarrassing ways. But they are learning. We may not be able to do everything right or perfectly, but we can do many things intentionally. We can make it a point to work on a scripture to memorize at the dinner table. We can sing songs while they take their baths. We can show contentment and joy as we carry out the chores that are a part of our daily lives over and over again. We can demonstrate God’s grace and mercy in the way we speak to our children. We can laugh often.
Fourth, if you got a late start on Christian parenting—maybe you are a new believer—all is not lost. You may not have the luxury of your children enthusiastically joining you in reading the Bible and praying or memorizing scripture. But as you do it, they see it. They can see the difference Christ has made in your life, and they can see how you handle challenges differently now. They will sense the hope you have. Then, someday, just maybe they will ask you about the hope you have, the peace that seems to rule in your life when they think you should be worried and upset. I like to think of the biblical analogy of planting seeds. Little by little we plant them in each kind word and grace-filled attitude. Trust God that He is at work in your children’s lives and pray often for them. And part of our prayers can be asking God for wisdom in knowing how to parent our specific children and meeting their specific needs (James 1:5). You might even want to get a prayer team together to join you in praying for them, and never stop praying. It may take time, but they have you lifting them up to God each day, and that will make a difference in their lives. Don’t think of it as the only thing you can do. Think of it as the most important thing you can do. That is true for all of us whether we’ve raised our children in the faith from day one or day 4751 (that’s around age 13).
Fifth, (I chuckle as I write this, but it’s true), like Winston Churchill told the troops in WWII: “Never, never, never give up.” Or like God says in 1 Corinthians 13, “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (vs. 7) Parenting sometimes feels like a battlefield, and in a sense, we are battling for our children’s lives in teaching them, training them, and praying for them. Remember, we are raising adults not creating perfect children. There were days I said, “I’d pray for strength, but I’m afraid I’d hurt somebody.” Parenting is tough, and sometimes the battle is with the stubbornness of our own children. (I would try to remind myself that stubbornness was a sign of their confidence and strength of spirit, not just rebellion against obedience—and sometimes that’s true, right?).
So, be encouraged today—or at least less discouraged. Remember that God is working in your kids’ lives, and He is also working in you and me. He’s growing us all up to be more like Him, and I really believe we don’t see the verse “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17) more at work than in our parent-child relationships. God is using all of this for His glory. Let’s put our days in His hands and trust Him and always ask Him for wisdom as we try to do the job of raising this world’s future adults (yeah, I know—that’s not terrifying!).