When Parents Screw Up: Or, 7 Reasons Why Jesus Gives Me Hope When I Do

When I was younger, in my amazing hubris and immaturity, I used to look at parents who were actively screwing up – in grocery stores, at social events, at the pick-up line at school – and think, Wow, I would never do that. When I’m a mom, I’m going to keep it under control. When there’s a situation, I will have a strategy for this. I’m going to make cleaning up a game — better yet, I will train my kids like circus monkeys to put blocks away in bins laminated with both a picture of the object belonging in it, and a handwritten sign saying “Blocks” in perfect print. My kids will always put their shoes on when I cheerfully give the superfun code word. My kids would never lose it in the aisles of Trader Joes. I will never have to raise my voice beyond a Mary Poppins-style stern warning. I’m a teacher, so I know kids, right? (HA!)

Well, there is nothing like parenting to make you realize what a smug little jerk you are.

We are all going to screw up. Parent or not, we all screwed up today. If you don’t think you screwed up, you did. Not thinking you screw up is actually a screw-up in itself. (Please Google “Pharisee.” I’ll wait.)

So what’s to be done? Yes, parenting is an awesome responsibility. Yes, we should be filled with awe at the magnitude of the task before us, to shape a young person’s heart and mind. There is an equal magnitude of the possibility for doing good… and for doing some serious damage. And as moms commiserate, a clear theme is the guilt and shame that we share for these transgressions, great and small.

We know that we are not alone, but somehow that’s not enough. We are screwing up together, but we’d rather not be screwing up at all. And that is a good and right desire.

But there is hope. If you know anything about me, you probably know that my hope is in Jesus. And so I will offer to you 7 reasons why Jesus gives me hope when I screw up.

  1. He teaches us reconciliation (Matt. 5:23-26; Matt. 18:15-17)

One of the greatest gifts I can offer my children is a model for reconciliation. They need to know that Mommy can say, “I was wrong. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”

And they need to know that they can, and must, forgive us. And that when they are wrong, they can say these things too. They can take responsibility. They can apologize. They can ask for forgiveness. Because Mom and Dad do it, I do it too. And that together, and with the power of the Holy Spirit, we can work it make it better.

If we teach them this simple, yet enormous thing, I believe it can reap a harvest in their lives forever.

2. We can pray for our kids.

We often pray for protection for our children from the outside world, but what about the evil within? Yes, the evil at home – and it can cut deeper and be more insidious than much of what comes at our kids from the outside. When I feel weak I find myself praying – Heal them from the hurts I’ve caused. Let them know they are your children first, children of a perfect Father. Let them be secure in your love despite my failings to love them well.

Basically, I pray that their picture of God will not be polluted by their picture of their imperfect mom. But rather, that as a mom I will point them to Jesus. A lot of us come to adulthood with “mommy and daddy” issues and then have this great moment when we realize, but wait, God is my good, good father, and that is awesome. What if we taught our kids this from the beginning? That they are not ours first, but His? How would it change not only how they saw themselves, but us, too? And this brings me to…

3. Our kids can pray for us.

Crazy! I know! But honestly there have been times when I feel so out of sorts, so not able to deal, that I’ll say to my kids, sitting there behind the wheel as we’re late yet again – “Can you pray for Mommy that I’ll have a good attitude?” And they say yes.

I knew Sam was getting it when one day he came to me and said, “Mommy, I prayed that you would have a good attitude.” Um, praise Jesus?

No, really. That’s awesome. Thank you, Sam. And I hope that Grace and Peter, when they are old enough, will follow this example too.

4. Jesus wants us to ask each other for help, and to give it (Gal 6:2)

Sometimes this means, we read a parenting book and pick up a strategy or two. Sometimes this means, we talk with our spouse and find ways to support each other. Sometimes, we need to gather a few close friends around… or an army of prayer warriors. Sometimes we need a real and serious intervention. And sometimes, we just need a break. Ask for help, specifically (Can you watch the kids so I can have a break Thurs. morning?) or generally (I have an issue and I need to talk). Just ask for it. And pass it on, too. We need each other.

Always though, we relinquish the pride that we have it together, that we are self-sufficient. And always, we need to pray. He is where the real help comes from.

5. He releases us from our need for perfection.

Knowing that our kids are in his perfect love and care, we can rest knowing that he will fill in the gaps when we as parents are found wanting. And we will always be found wanting. But He is so full of goodness and light that his “grace is sufficient” for us in our weakest hour. We can parent confidently and, when we mess up, to “boldly approach the throne of grace.”

6. We grow in His grace.

(I just love this word ‘grace,’ can you tell?)

Thank GOD, I’m not making the same stupid mistakes I was three, four years ago. I see ways that the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – are producing a harvest in me. And because of that, I have hope that through Him, those fruits will multiply in years to come.

7. They, somehow, grow in His grace.

This is the real miracle. I mean, the longer I’ve been following Jesus, the easier it is to accept that he changes me, screwed-up me. But what about my kids? Isn’t that my job? Well, yes. And no. We can discipline and love them and train them up, day in, day out. But ultimately, only the Holy Spirit can change hearts. And he does. I mean, he really does. My son is not making the same mistakes he was a few weeks, months ago. He knows who Jesus is. He hears his voice, he asks him for help. And God is smoothing out those rough edges, one day at a time. For this, I am immensely grateful.

We are not the ones in control. If I could sum up the greatest lesson of parenting for me, that’s just what it would be – we’re not in control. But, knowing myself, and, more importantly, knowing Jesus… well, I think that’s pretty good news.

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