I’m fairly certain I have given my children the impression that they are supposed to behave so they don’t embarrass our family or bring us grief. That’s not what I intended.
These past six months as we have been settling into a new community, new school, new church, new jobs, new everything, I have talked (probably endlessly) to my children about making good first impressions. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. As King Solomon said, “To have a fool for a child brings grief; there is no joy for the parent of a godless fool” (Proverbs 17:21).
First impressions are important, but isn’t that what many parents teach their children—Christian and non-Christian?
What sets my parenting style apart from that of responsible and loving unbelievers?
What do I say to my kids about the why behind first impressions? What is the reason that we act the way we do?
Do I encourage them to get the best grades possible (or win their sports games) so they can get scholarships? Or do I share that they are blessed with opportunities to use the brains and bodies God gave them when he formed them? Am I a parent who tells my children to help the neighbors because we are kind, or because we get to model the love of God, who sent Jesus as the ultimate Servant? Am I so wrapped up in raising good citizens that I forget to emphasize their citizenship in heaven? Hmmm, honestly, maybe. Okay, probably.
See, when my children screw up—and they will because surely they are sinful from birth (Psalm 51:5)—they know they have broken God’s commandments. Because I’m usually in a hurry to get back to whatever it was that I was doing when I was interrupted, it’s easy to just remind them of their sins, dole out consequences, and leave it at that.
Grace—true grace—sets Christian mothers and fathers apart, and changes the way we talk to our children. Living in grace means we include what Jesus did for them or how much God cares for them. What would it do for our children’s hearts if the following situations lead to the following conversations?
- A brother putting down his brother so he can look cool in front of the other neighborhood kids.
By putting down your brother in front of other kids, you are acting as if you need the other kids’ approval to be cool, to be “somebody.” Because of what Jesus did for you, laying down his life for you, God already approves of you. Jesus calls you his brother and encourages you to love your brother the way that Jesus loves you.
- A child complaining or being disrespectful about other kids or teachers or coaches.
You know, sometimes I act like my attitude is based on things going the way I think they should go. So when you don’t understand why kids are being mean (or the teacher seems harder on you or the coach isn’t letting you play or fill in the blank) try to remember that God uses every situation for your good. Maybe right now you aren’t sure how God will use this to bring you closer to him, but he promises he will.
- A tween or teen using texts or Instagram or Snapchat to talk about other kids behind their backs.
Maybe right now you feel more powerful by putting people down, but that’s not where true power comes from. Jesus actually gave up his power to come to earth. He lived his whole life being mocked by others, so he knows what <other child’s name> is going through. Then he died on the cross to forgive the times you mock her. The Holy Spirit lives inside of you to give you the strength to be kind.
Even after consequences and conversations, sometimes our kids will still feel guilty. God not only took their sin away, but he took their guilt away. So let’s remind them: “We know that you <fill in the blank>. Isn’t it amazing that Jesus never <fill in the blank>? Jesus forgave your sin when he died on the cross, and I’m so glad that now when God looks at you, he chooses to not even remember what you did. He says, ‘Sin? What sin? I don’t see any sin.’ God sees Jesus’ life instead.”
One last thought . . . what would it do for your parenting if you remembered that God’s grace covers your weaknesses and failures too? Please don’t beat yourself up for your mistakes; Jesus already took that beating. Give yourself the same good news that you are giving your children.
Linda Buxa is a writer, Bible study leader, and retreat speaker. If a parenting book is out there, she’s probably read it: Bringing Up Boys, Creative Correction, Love & Logic, and Have a New Kid by Friday—the title of which offended one of her kiddos. She loves these books for the insights and discipline ideas they provide, but only in the Bible does she find the grace to set her parenting apart.