I have recently had a parental epiphany. It wasn’t the good kind of epiphany that leaves you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, this was definitely more along the lines of an, “Oh no what have I been doing?!” epiphany. You see, I realized that I have been guilty of the cardinal sin of parenting: the sin of holding my kiddos to a higher standard than I hold myself. This epiphany has been nudging at the edges of my mind for a long time, years honestly.
This was particularly obvious in regards to food choices. I am a notoriously picky eater, but such a good mother because I was adamant that my children wouldn’t be! Every mealtime I dutifully placed a bite of everything on their plate and insisted that they eat it, while I happily chowed down on only the foods I enjoyed. Did I recognize my inconsistency? Absolutely! However, it was easy to justify away with thoughts such as: I’m doing this because it’s easier for them at their young age, I’m trying to help them avoid my struggles and this way they can learn from my mistakes.
I’m sure you’re rolling your eyes at my justifications, but at the time, that was the easiest way so it made sense. While this has been nagging at me for a long time, recently it knocked me upside the head just how inconsistent I was with my expectations of myself in comparison with my kiddos. We have recently discovered an excellent (and free!) opportunity to learn karate. Boy, I signed my kiddos up so fast! A few people commented to me, “What if they don’t enjoy it?” To which I promptly responded that it didn’t matter, they need to know how to defend themselves, they need to learn self-control, and they certainly need the physical exercise, so they would do it! And then I happily plopped myself down in the stands to observe.
As I sat that night I watched my children struggle. We had become very sedentary as a family, and as they began to stretch and work their muscles I saw their legs begin to physically shake as they held their poses. I saw their little bodies slump as they became more tired, I saw the sweat begin to pool and the color slowly drain from their faces as they pushed themselves harder physically than they have in years. But I also saw the light and determination in their eyes, I saw the way they encouraged each other, and I saw their excitement and pride in their efforts and accomplishments even by the end of that first lesson.
And then I felt the shame. As their mother, I was “forcing” (they really are excited and want to do it) them to exercise their bodies and learn self-control while I sat in the stands and chatted with my friends. All of my reasons for not participating ran through my head: I’m a big girl, I don’t want everyone seeing me jiggle, I’m so out of shape how embarrassing struggling through a push up in front of other people, it will be humiliating when I do something wrong and get corrected in front of everyone, my list could go on and on. And then I realized that almost every single one of those (with the exception of the big girl part) are insecurities that I was demanding my children face and conquer while I sat back as a silent observer. Shame on me!
Then I began to think of other areas of our home life: when their little brother is bored and wants someone to go play with I tell them to go play with him. When the weather is nice I send them outside to play. And even worse, when there is a new kiddo visiting at our worship services I send them to greet them. I verbally emphasize to my kiddos the importance of prayer and Bible study. I encourage them to always push themselves to grow, to tackle their insecurities and lean on the Lord for his strength. All the while I sit in my own comfort zone and observe their progress, content that I’m doing my “best” for them.
Sisters, I am now publicly stating, NO MORE. No more will I observe my children’s growth and progress from the sidelines. No more will I make requests of them that I am unwilling to do myself. From now on, I will grow WITH them, BESIDE them. They will learn karate and they will buffet their bodies, and I will be right there sweating along beside them. They will learn to eat their veggies as their mama stretches herself and tries new vegetables with each meal. They will introduce themselves to visiting kiddos as I introduce myself to their parents. They will invite their friends to worship as they see me invite those I encounter on a daily basis. They will learn to love God’s Word because they will see me loving the bread of life, rather than simply punching my “daily Bible reading” timecard.
They will learn the true meaning of Philippians 4:13 as they see their mother tackle things that are new, that are difficult, that hit me square in my insecurities and trigger my doubts and fears and overcome because I know that it is not my talents and abilities that matter, but rather the power of God Almighty and my willingness to let Him work in my life. They will learn the true meaning of Philippians 2:14 as they see their mother take on things that are difficult, scary, new or intimidating with a Christ-like attitude. They will learn the meaning of seeking first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33) rather than seeking first the kingdom of idleness, of comfort, or convenience, because they will see such single-mindedness in their mother.
Will I be perfect? Unfortunately never. Will I still fall, struggle, stumble, and make mistakes? Absolutely. But at those times, I will have my family, and my spiritual family, to lift me up because now I will be right there with them, no longer off to the side.
Sisters, I have broken the cardinal rule of motherhood, and I have been reminded of the wisdom of the saying, “You can’t teach what you don’t know, you can’t lead where you won’t go.” May I never be guilty of an unwillingness to go again.
So what about you? Have you been guilty of having higher expectations of your children than of yourself? Have you been guilty of a, “Do as I say, not as I do” mentality as a mother? Sisters, may we all lead our families not from the front as an administer who casually observes, not from the back as a drill sergeant barking orders, but from beside them, in the trenches with them, hand-in-hand as we show them what a life of faith, godliness and dedication really looks like.