Our five kids range in age from 10 to 15. As our oldest has entered high school, my husband and I have begun to talk about the empty nest. He has expressed how, despite his love for our children, he is looking forward to when they leave home.
These discussions always leave me with a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach. I honestly cannot imagine what life will look like beyond the days of constant activity and never-ending care for my kids. Even though they are older and becoming more independent, so much of my time is wrapped up in doing for them (probably a large portion of that because there are so many of them!). When I introduce myself to someone new, the first thing I share is that I am a mom and I have five kids.
Who am I apart from my kids? How do I define myself apart from my role as a mom? How do I fight the temptation to find my identity in my kids? This temptation is something that I fight daily, and writing this is more preaching truth to myself than me saying, “here’s what you should do.” It has been helpful for me to consider how I faithfully serve in my role as mom without making it my identity.
I am often tempted to live vicariously through my kids. This can be a crushing weight to place on our kids, asking them to live not only for what they want, but for our dreams and plans also. It is so difficult for them to deal with the pressure to be the best student, athlete, or performer. This pressure we place on our kids can cause them to break their necks to please us, feeling like our love is based on their performance, or cause them to rebel because they cannot meet the standard for being the best. When I am more upset by how a child performs in their game or dance recital than they are, I am really making their activities more about me instead of caring for them.
Pleasing the Father
Sometimes I buy the lie that the Father’s pleasure in me waxes and wanes based on how my kids are doing. One of our children has significant emotional special needs due to that kid’s traumatic background. This child has almost daily behavior struggles that cause a lot of chaos in our house. I often judge my standing with the Lord based on how well I handled that kid on any particular day. If I kept my cool, I must be doing okay. Blow my top, and I am a failure.
Though I know the truth of who I am in Christ, I often live as if my standing before God depends on my performance instead of what Christ has done for me. I have the false notion that I’m okay with God if all is ok with our home. Since more often than not someone in our home is struggling with some type of issue, my right standing with the Lord can feel very precarious.
I also struggle with feeling that I am completely responsible for how they are doing spiritually. If my kids are not walking with the Lord, then I feel like a failure. Shouldering that responsibility is so heavy. I begin to think that I am responsible for their being faithful disciples of Jesus and freak out when they are not walking with him.
My wrong thinking causes me to place pressure on my kids that is not helpful to them. I am unable to celebrate who God has uniquely made each kid to be if I am looking to what they are doing for me emotionally or positionally. I am responsible for praying, discipling, and loving them well. But ultimately, I cannot change their hearts anymore than I changed my own.
I need to be reminded my security in Jesus. I am a beloved daughter of my Father in heaven. He knows me intimately (Psalm 139:13) and numbers even the hairs on my head (Matthew 10:30). He sees me as righteous because of the work of Christ (Phil. 1:11). I truly have nothing to fear, either now or in the future.
In Christ, these children that I love so much are my brothers and sisters in the family of God. They are my neighbors and my most important discipleship group (Mark 12:31). God made them and loves them more than I ever could. He is committed to completing what he began in their lives (Phil. 1:6).
These things are true. But every day, my unbelief is exposed both in my behavior and by what I say. I confess to the Lord that I am trying to live vicariously through my kids or using them to pile up my good works before him. I repent to the Lord and to my kids. My only standing before the Lord is through the righteousness of Christ imputed to me. As I return to this source of true joy and peace in my own heart, I encourage my kids to go there with me. Christ’s righteousness through faith frees both me and my kids from the pressure to perform! I acknowledge my desperate need for God to change my heart and to help me parent my kids. I confess to my kids how the pressure I place on them is wrong and ask for their forgiveness.
The work God is performing in my parenting is the same work that he is doing in my marriage and other relationships – working in me to reveal my sin and causing me to see anew my need for him and his help. When I am tempted to find my identity in anything other than Christ, he lovingly reveals how my kids cannot be “god” for me, and he shows me my need for a Savior once again. I am free to rest in my identity as a beloved child of God and allow that love to spill over to my kids.