Failing My Kids the Right Way

Starting out anyway, kids develop an idealized picture of who their parents really are. They see mom and dad as invincible. Perfect. People who can do no wrong. It doesn’t take too many years before that begins to change. As parents, we know who we truly are. We know that we make mistakes. That we aren’t perfect. When that moment comes, that you child begins to realize the truth for themselves, what will you do? How will you respond? The way that you respond will go a long way in modeling what it means (or doesn’t mean) to be a follower of Jesus.

I still remember the day that my oldest daughter (she was about four or five at the time) saw through that idealized picture of her dad that she had created. It had been one of “those days.” The kind of day where nothing seems to break your way. In my mind, everything that could go wrong had gone wrong. Then, from the moment I picked the kids up from school and the sitter, they were at each other’s throats. Twenty minutes. That’s how long the ride home took. It felt like twenty hours. They just wouldn’t leave each other alone. The yelling, and fighting, and taunts, and tears seemed like they would never stop. I hoped that making it through the front door would provide some relief. At the very least they wouldn’t be belted right next to each other in the back seat of my car. All I wanted was some peace and quiet. It didn’t come. It was like watching two angry little bears attached to each other by some short invisible cord. They were miserable together, yet neither seemed able or willing to walk away. Miraculously as I started dinner they began to settle down. My son went upstairs to play with his “big guys” and my daughter grabbed a book and began to read.

Peace. Finally. But the peace I so desperately wanted, and believed I’d finally achieved, didn’t last long. A few minutes later, my daughter came into the kitchen and began peppering me with questions and requests. “What are you making?” “I don’t like that.” “Can we have Macaroni and Cheese?” “I’m bored.” “Can you get the Play-Doh down?” “Can I color?” “Where are the coloring books?” “Where are the crayons?”

I snapped. I was yelling. She was crying. She stormed off, and I was left with my anger, which quickly turned to guilt. The peace and quiet I had wanted and believed that I needed was mine; if you didn’t count the sobs coming from the next room. There in that moment I saw what my selfish desire had achieved, and it wasn’t pretty. In my selfishness I had sinned against my daughter. I was at a crossroads. I could go back to cooking dinner as if nothing had happened. Or, I could do the right thing; the hard thing, and apologize and ask my daughter for forgiveness.

I walked into the living room, sat down in from of my daughter. I gently unwrapped her arms from around her legs and apologized. I apologized for not listening to her. For losing my temper. For my selfishness. I asked for her forgiveness. And my five year old daughter looked up at me and did what many grown adults find impossible to do when someone hurts them; she forgave me. Her reaction to my confession called to mind those words of Jesus words in Mark 10:15 when he was blessing a group of children.

“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”    – Jesus

After that, we hugged. She wiped away her tears. I asked if she would like to help me finish with dinner, and our night continued as if nothing remarkable had happened. It was probably just another night for her, but it had a profound impact on me. I saw anew the power of confession and forgiveness. This is an incredible gift that Jesus has given to each one of us. He has forgiven us and has freed us to forgive one another.

I’m not a perfect parent. And I’m OK with that. I don’t want my kids to see me as a perfect parent (eventually they’ll figure that out on their own anyway), nor do I want them to think that I think I’m a perfect parent. I want them to see me as I really am. Sinful. Imperfect. Yet forgiven by Jesus. And I want them to see themselves in the same way. This is what it means to fail my kids the right way. I want them to know, as I have come to know, that when they fail they have a God who reaches out to them with mercy and forgiveness.

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, Jesus is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”    – 1 John 1:8-9

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