A children’s ministry leader motioned for me to come to the back during the church service one Sunday. She asked if I knew the parents of a certain child and wanted me to help her locate them. Their daughter had been scratched in the face by another three-year-old and she needed to inform them. She didn’t know the details or which child was the scratcher. When we arrived at the classroom, I discovered that it had been my daughter that had done the scratching. After profusely apologizing to the couple, I packed up my kids and scooted home as quickly as possible.
If I was getting a mom grade that day, it felt like an “F.”
Another time I sat in a school assembly where they awarded the citizen of the year to only one third-grader in the entire school. When my son’s name was announced, I beamed. Arriving home after being congratulated many times over, I felt like an “A” parent. (At least until one of the twins threw a tantrum.)
It’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing our kids as our grade cards. God calls us to train them, not to exasperate them, and to lovingly discipline them. So, when they obey that must mean we are succeeding and when they disobey we’ve missed the mark. Right?
Wrong. God modeled perfect parenting. He walked in the garden in close relationship with Adam and Eve. He clearly laid out instructions about which tree was off limits. His kids still disobeyed even when God loved them perfectly. He continues to discipline, instruct, and walk with His children. However, He doesn’t grade Himself with our successes and failures.
When we begin to use the behavior of our children as our measure as a parent we will find:
- We pass judgment on others when their children struggle rather than encouraging and praying for them.
- We yo-yo between pride when our children are compliant and shame in times of rebellion.
- We envy the social media posts of academic, athletic, and other achievements of our friend’s kids.
What does God expect from us in regards to the training of our children? We want them to develop character qualities like obedience, self-control, courage, and kindness. God calls us to train them. Proverbs 22:6 (ESV) says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” God calls us as parents to do all that we can to teach our children about Him so that He can work in their lives. Their character must flow out of a heart dependent on Jesus.
Rather than focus on our grade in the moment, we need to seek to be faithful to lead our kids to know and love God over the long haul. Some of the best times to do this come during our children’s bad behavior. We can teach them about God’s discipline, His grace, and His Gospel through the ups and downs of their choices.
Some of the best ways of training we can give them are:
- Modeling what we want them to become. (If we want them to read the Bible and pray, they should see us doing it.)
- Clearly communicating expectations and consequences. (Getting down on eye level and using few words so they don’t get confused.)
- Consistently enforcing consequences. (Even when it feels like it isn’t working in the moment, I’ve seen it work over a decade with patient consistency.)
- Admitting our own failures and asking their forgiveness. (Even though we are their God-given authority, we are also sinners who don’t always get it right.)
- Making God our parenting audience of One so we care more about what He thinks about our kids behavior than the watching world.
So, when I’m concerned about a disrespectful tone or a bad test score, I’m not going to embrace a parenting “F” for the day. Instead, I’ll pray for perspective and persistence to keep loving and parenting with complete dependence on the Holy Spirit to guide me through. If I’m not modeling, communicating, consistent, or humble, then I need to repent and ask God for help in making a change. Once I rest that I am obeying God to love and discipline my child, I’ll leave the results up to Him. Thankfully He calls me to be faithful to Him, not to produce perfect children. While we are instructed to train them and lead them to Jesus, our kids are not our report card.
Editor’s Note: A popular women’s conference speaker and Bible teacher, Melissa Spoelstra is the author of Jeremiah: Daring to Hope in an Unstable World (Abingdon Press, 2014) and Joseph: The Journey to Forgiveness (Abingdon Press, 2016). Her husband, Sean, is pastor of Encounter Church, a Grace Brethren congregation in Dublin, Ohio, where they live with their four children.
This first appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of GraceConnect magazine, the publication for the people of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches. A downloadable pdf version of this issue is available by clicking here. It also may be read online at issuu.com. If you would like to receive the magazine delivered to you at no charge via U.S. Mail, click here to subscribe.