I don’t know about you, but the recent months of school at home exposed some pretty ugly cracks in the façade I’d created for myself of being a good mother. It’s much easier, it turns out, to parent your children when they aren’t in the same physical space as you every minute of every hour of every day. Somewhere in my head I’d always thought I’d manage pretty well as a home-school parent. Turns out… not so much. There were times I was ridiculously impatient with mistakes my kids made, where I yelled unnecessarily, afternoons where I stomped about with a stormy disposition, and times I took my stress, boredom and frustration out on them.
Sometimes I took to social media to mentally ‘check out’ of the house and my parenting failures, and I realised I was not alone. There I found much ‘wisdom of the age’ that sought to soothe the ache many were feeling at their substandard parenting. Perhaps you’ve also come across some Facebook motivational memes or Instagram posts like this:
“Sweet mother be kind to yourself. If you catch yourself saying something mean or hurtful to yourself, forgive yourself. Choose a new thought that feels better. Accept yourself exactly how you are.”
“I see you mama, trying your best. We all get short tempered, tired, snappy. It’s okay, everybody has been there. This is an unprecedented situation. You are a good mom. Say it, believe it.”
“Mama, in case no one told you today 1. You are doing great 2. It’s all going to be okay in the end and 3. You are amazing!”
“To the mum who feels like she is failing… don’t doubt yourself, you are enough.”
Each time something like this was posted I’d see many women comment underneath about how much they needed to hear this today. Women who were feeling guilty and overwhelmed at their failures in parenting read these words and felt seen, felt understood, and were comforted. I’m sure these posts arise from good intentions – a desire to make mothers with a low view of themselves feel valued and rid them of shame. When they tell us ‘you are enough’ they are probably trying to correct a cultural pressure for mothers to be thin, beautiful, fit, make chef-level meals and have accomplished careers all while caring for children. But if we view these pronouncements with gospel eyes, we can see they are actually lies. And rather than helping women, they are potentially driving them further from God.
Here’s a thing we Christians know. We are sinners. We sin against our children. Our children are also sinners who sin against us, inciting us to sin even more. To minimise sin is to call God a liar (1 John 1:10). Reassurances like the ones above lower the bar on sin, they give you excuses… ‘what you did wasn’t so bad, I mean look at the times we are in.’ They encourage us to look sideways at other struggling parents and decide we aren’t doing so badly, rather than holding ourselves to God’s perfect standard. They offer forgiveness when they have no right to be the ones doing that. I most dislike those that say, ‘I see you’, when they literally can’t! Who are they to possibly know how I might have sinned against my kids? It troubles me that a child abuser could read that meme and feel vindicated. It is God alone who sees us, who knows our every thought, word and deed. It is before him that we are to examine our parenting and see where we have failed to measure up to his perfect holiness. We feel the shame because we know we have sinned. But rather than ignore it, and convince ourselves we ought not to feel bad for our failures, the gospel has a far, far greater solution.
We who know Jesus have no need to hide our sin. We know that even seeing it, and seeing our rotten core, he still came to seek and save the lost. Knowing the depth of our sin, he died for us. We don’t need to sweep our sin under the carpet or minimise it or find excuses for it. We can confess it to him, knowing he is not surprised by it and has already stepped in to deal with it. He forgives each and every sin of the one who would call him Saviour and Lord. There is no parenting sin that you can commit that he will not forgive. You don’t need to offer some insipid sort of kindness to yourself, because he has been so richly and abundantly kind to you! You are not enough, because only Christ is enough, and he is enough for you. We need to confess our sin to know the release from guilt and shame that only comes from forgiveness from God, and then go on depending on his strength.
We do our fellow Christians no favours by minimising their sin. And we actually end up ‘de-glorifying’ God if we do. If I’m a mother who deserves acceptance and praise because she did the best she could, then why would I need God? These platitudes effectively push us away from depending on God and his grace. I would suggest they are in fact anti-gospel. The essence of the gospel is that we are not enough, that we need a saviour and that saviour is Jesus Christ. Of course, once we are forgiven, we don’t then wallow in our sin, beating ourselves up over and over again for our failures. We are set free from guilt and shame and given the Holy Spirit to enable us to press on.
In our parenting sins, we also need to be quick to apologise to our children. We are not to hide our sin from them either. How powerful a witness is a mother who will ask forgiveness of her children for the outburst of yelling, rather than justify it to herself because of the difficult season she is in. By confessing our sins to our kids, we model for them a humble and contrite heart that knows it needs the Lord for everything.
So, as we come across these things on social media, let’s hold them up to the light of the gospel. Do they minimise my sin and maximise my own importance? Do they tell me I’m enough as I am, or do they point me to my great need for my God? Do they encourage me to repent to my God and my kids, or will they entrench me in my own sense of self-righteousness? Praise God who forgives us all our sins and is making us into a people who will one day be freed to sin no more.