Over the last few months, God has used some well-placed sentences in blog posts and books that seemed to shine a spotlight into some dark corners of ugliness in my heart.
From different sources, in places where I wouldn’t have expected, I have been hearing whispered admonitions to check my heart regarding how I look at my children.
Specifically, do I look at my children as the builders of my reputation?
I’m not that parent!
I’ve seen those parents!
I’ve seen parents get absolutely angry with their children for making mistakes at practice or in a game.
I’ve seen parents center their whole world around one child’s sport or activity, sometimes to the neglect of their other children.
I’ve seen parents overreact big time when their child misbehaves in public, clearly out of embarrassment.
There are parents who relate to their child solely in terms of the child’s grades, oblivious to the child’s character, other talents, or interests.
There are parents who act completely disinterested in their child’s abilities, behavior, or talents, pouring all their effort into making sure the child looks perfect in all the latest clothes and styles.
These parents become overly invested in their child’s performance–behaviorally, academically, athletically, socially–because they have fallen into the trap of believing that their reputation as a parent is staked on their child’s performance.
It’s all too easy to do.
Our society even enforces it. Ever heard of the Mommy Wars? Books and articles and comments judging this type of parenting or this method of feeding or that kind of sleep training? Well, when the babies grow up, the rules of the Mommy Wars adapt. With older kids, the ammunition doesn’t come from the choices the Mommy makes. Now the bullets are pointed your way when your kid brings home a bad report card, or throws a fit in Walmart, or is overweight, or doesn’t make the team, or has reached the ripe old age of ten without showing brilliance at anything. Because, according to some, all of those things are clearly Mom’s fault.
Was I acting as if this were true? That my kids’ performance determined my reputation as a parent?
I started to realize that there have been little sprouts of this tendency in my own heart over the years. Probably the biggest indicator for me is how embarrassed I get when my kids act up in public. Why is embarrassment my initial reaction? Because I’m afraid of what people will think. Not about my kid, but about me. Apparently, in those moments, I’m operating on the belief that my reputation is staked on the behavior of my child.
As this was already in the back of my mind, I read a post on a gymnastics blog I follow that seemed to be like a microphone from God saying, “Watch out–if you’re not careful, you could be the type of parent she’s warning about. The kind who sees parenting as a competitive sport.”
Then, buried in a little book called Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full, I found this sentence: “No child should have to shoulder the weight of her mother’s glory and reputation.”
Wow. That hit me hard.
The further I get along this parenting journey, the more I see this trend that could have devastating consequences on our relationships with our children.
And the further I looked into my heart, the more I saw this trend right in me.
I think–I hope–God pointed it out to me before I let it cloud my relationship with my precious children. But the inklings of it were there.
From being embarrassed when one of them acted up in the middle of the sanctuary after church to feeling almost offended when another one didn’t get a solo to feeling jealous when someone else’s kid scored higher than another one of mine.
All of this stems from making the performances of my children way too personal.
I have a hunch that I’m not the only one who struggles with this.
These feelings–embarrassment, anger, jealousy–are often warning lights that something is wrong in our hearts. And in this case, it’s the fact that we have inserted ourselves into our child’s victories and defeats.
And you know what? Our children are not blind. They know when they are being forced to shoulder the weight of Mom’s reputation. They know because Mom is probably consistently disappointed with them. They’ll figure it out when they start to realize that it’s getting harder and harder to measure up, that affection only comes when they win, that their best is only good enough when it’s better than all the other kids.
And when that child grows up, Mom will be left with lots of trophies and no relationship.
I absolutely do not want to do that my child.
Praise God for showing me these seeds before they bloomed in an ugly way.
So, now that my eyes have been opened to the fact that “there but by the grace of God go I,” I hope that I will continue to love my kids unconditionally, and never based on their performance. I hope that I will not look at their victories as a chance to pat myself on the back, or at their struggles as my embarrassments.
And when they do struggle or lose or completely blow it, I will be disappointed for them, not disappointed in them.
Because a reputation as a mom who genuinely and fiercely loves her kids no matter what they do or how they perform is far better than a reputation as a mom of kids who win.