How to Accept That Raising Children is Not a Formula

Published: Feb 22, 2017
How to Accept That Raising Children is Not a Formula
We often believe that good parenting = good children. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) that's just not the case. Here's a more biblical way at looking at parenting your kids.

"Whatever you do, just get this right."

I sat in the glider-rocker in my daughter's nursery, eight months pregnant with her, pouring over parenting books. You would think with expecting a baby in a few weeks the books would be about breastfeeding and sleep schedules. But no. Instead they were about discipline and training - subjects I wouldn't need advice on for a few years.

That didn't matter, though, because the words above rang through my mind. At all cost don't screw this up.

Over the years I had watched children grow-up, and somewhere along the way, even though I didn't have children yet myself, I came up with a formula of how to raise good kids: Good parenting equals good children. Bad parenting equals bad children.

Sure, there was the occasional pastor's kid who turned out rebellious, but I just assumed there was more to the story behind closed doors. The parents must have done something wrong.

I took this formula into parenting, and for the first few years of my daughter's life it worked great. I was doing all the right things, and she was a great baby. Then she turned three-years-old, and for the first time I realized that my daughter was indeed a sinner. But I didn't attribute her sin-nature to herself. Instead I attributed it to me. If she was being disobedient or defiant, then I must be doing something wrong. So back to the books I went trying to figure out what I was doing to create such a difficult little girl.

I made behavior charts, tried new discipline methods, and prayed for God to show me how I was failing as a mother. There were good days, and some of my new approaches worked for a time, but then there would be days when I for sure thought my daughter needed a behavioral diagnosis.

My formula began to disprove itself.

With the help of my mentor, I began to rethink my parenting formula, and to do that I first needed to repent of my pride. I needed to repent of judging parents whose children were not living obedient, righteous lives. I needed to repent of my Pharisaical attitude that I could ever be capable of raising good children.

Then I needed to gain a biblical view of parenting and the Gospel.

In John 9 Jesus' disciples ask Him about a man who was blind from birth. They want to know who had sinned, the man or his parents, to cause him to be born blind. This is much like how I questioned my parenting. What was I doing wrong that I could not fix my daughter's bad behavior?

But Jesus replies in a way that takes the focus off of the blind man or his parents, and it takes the focus off of me as a mom. Jesus says in John 9:3, "Jesus answered, 'It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.'" In other words, it's not about the man, his parents, my three-year-old daughter, or me. It's about Jesus. Because sin entered into the world and into mankind through Adam, life on earth is not perfect, and people are not perfect. There is nothing I can do to fix my daughter's sin-nature, or my own, and there is nothing she can do to fix her own sin-nature. But in that sinful state, God still has a plan of redemption to manifest His glory. 

Of course I need to always be in prayer asking God to show me my sin as a parent and to help me parent my children well. But I also need to remember that God wants to get to my children's hearts. He does this by revealing their need for a Savior.

When I take responsibility for my children's sin with the formula "bad parenting equals bad children", I am not allowing them to own their sin-nature which is the first step in realizing there is nothing they can do to be right with God (Romans 3:10-18, 23). This realization is what ultimately leads them to the Cross knowing that there is nothing they can do to save themselves but it is only the blood of Jesus that saves them (Galatians 3:24).  This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Without understanding the Gospel, my children will become self-righteous little Pharisees who never experience true faith in a merciful God who laid down His life for them. They will always think their right standing with God is dependent on their circumstances, how other people have treated them, and how they've performed. The blame will be on other people, and they will judge themselves based on their good deeds and not their hearts.

So what do I do as a mom when my children display their sinful nature in disobedience, defiance, and selfishness? I take myself out of it.

My children's sin should never surprise me because I am acutely aware of my own sin. They are not misbehaving because I've done anything wrong or because they are out to make my life miserable. They are misbehaving because they are sinners. By seeing my children's sin nature for what it is I am able to point them to the Cross instead of to me. I am able to show them that they can do no good apart from Jesus (John 15:5). I am able to declare the Gospel to them (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 3:18; Romans 6; 2 Corinthians 5:17).

The biggest gift accepting that raising children is not a formula has brought me is freedom. I am now free to parent my children with grace and love without analyzing every word spoken or action taken as possibly messing them up for life. The goodness of the Gospel has brought refreshing life to my relationships with my children by allowing me to enjoy them, even on the hard days, because it's not about me but it's all about Jesus. And I also have freedom to no longer be the judge and jury as I observe mothers and how they parent their children. I see them and their children as I see me and my children - sinners in need of the grace of Jesus.

For more information about this topic, I recommend a resource my mentor recommended to me, Parenting is More Than a Formula by Jim Newheiser.

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Brenda Headshot Brenda Rodgers considers herself a “recovering single” after years as a single woman chasing after marriage instead of chasing after Jesus. Now her passion is to mentor young women to live purposefully and grow in their relationship with God and others. Brenda has been married for five years to a heart transplant hero and is the mom of a toddler girl miracle. She is also the author of the eBook Fall for Him: 25 Challenges from a Recovering Single. You can also read more on Brenda’s blog, and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.