May 24, 2012

Idolatry in Parenting


Do you have days when you are fighting with your children? Are there times when they just won’t cooperate or are disrespectful? Do you ever feel like you deserve better?

We love our children more than anything. We sacrifice for them daily. We put our dreams on hold to help them reach theirs. We even give up the majority of our days to educate them. Given all we have sacrificed and strained to do for them, is it wrong to have expectations? Shouldn’t we expect to have respectful, well-behaved, highly intelligent, successful children? I mean, after all, we did our part.

Though there are struggles throughout a child’s life, I think this tension is most evident in the teen years. Their world is expanding. There are opportunities out there they had never heard of in the shelter of our home. Sometimes their tastes even begin to differ from what they had been—ours. As they’re figuring out who they are, we are running up and down the sidelines sweating and trying to shout out wisdom. Sometimes they are listening, but sometimes they make their own plays.

What happens when we are frustrated with their decisions? How do we respond? Do we look at it as an opportunity to minister to their hearts or do we get frustrated and angry because after all our hard work they are blowing it? Sometimes the latter response reveals we may have created an idol in our hearts. The idol of a perfect child.

In their early years they mimicked all we did. They even wanted to help clean the toilets! As they age and hopefully mature they become more of their own person. Sometimes it is little things like a taste for music we don’t like. Other times it is bigger, more life changing decisions like their choices in friends or what to do to prepare for college.

Let me give an example of an idol in parenting.

The idol of success

I remember this day clearly. I had homeschooled my four children for much of the day, occasionally getting a draft of an article dashed off on my computer. I had tried to get some laundry and other homemaking tasks done because I had to work at the recording studio that night. I threw together some dinner for them and then ran out the door for work. I returned home somewhere around 11 pm hoping the home was miraculously in order and everyone asleep or at least in bed reading, especially since I had to work four more hours for a different job from home that night.

Instead, the moment I walked in the door three children rushed at me with complaints and the teenager who was supposed to be watching everyone was in his room playing on the computer. On top of that there were crackers crushed on the carpet and the youngest child was playing Wii. Yes, at 11 pm. I felt like a complete failure.

To be honest, I was angry too. There was a part of me that thought I had a right to come home to order. I was so exhausted and had such a long night ahead of me still. I was doing all of this for them. Why couldn’t they just keep their acts together for one night? Why wasn’t my teenager being responsible? He knew what I expected. I snapped. I yelled for my teenager to get to me right away while I tossed my work stuff on the couch and grabbed the vacuum cleaner to begin sucking up cracker crumbs. What proceeded was 5 minutes of me telling him how disappointed I was in the state of things. He knows better. I’m so exhausted and now I have to come home to this mess. And why on EARTH was his brother on the Wii at this time of night?!

Not once did I ask about his evening. Not once did I consider that maybe this teenage boy was tired too and he didn’t think it was fair that he was stuck watching his siblings every time the recording studio needed me. Not once did I consider that maybe the other children gave him a hard time.

All I was thinking about were my needs. I felt resentment that he didn’t understand how tired I was and how while they are sleeping I have to stay up and continue working. It was as if I had this imaginary world in my mind where while I was working the four of them got together and said, “You know, mom works so hard and she doesn’t get much rest or time to herself. Let’s make sure we make her job a little easier. We can clean some things and get to bed and read until she gets home. Then we’ll give her kisses and let her know how much we love and appreciate her. Hey! and let’s do the laundry too!”

It is completely unrealistic to think that children who have their own “natural man” to deal with, will, in the midst of their own stressful situation, be completely selfless, put their own needs aside, and serve those around them. Does it happen occasionally? Yes, and those moments are so special. Do I have a right to expect it and get annoyed when it doesn’t happen? No.

Tedd Tripp, author of the parenting book Age of Opportunity puts it this way:

We tend to approach parenting with expectations as if we had hard-and-fast guarantees. We think that if we do our part, our children will be model citizens… These assumptions pave the way for our identity to get wrapped up in our children. We begin to need them to be what they should be so that we can feel a sense of achievement and success. We begin to look at our children as our trophies rather than God’s creatures. We secretly want to display them on the mantels of our lives as visible testimonies to a job well done. When they fail to live up to our expectations, we find ourselves not grieving for them and fighting for them, but angry at them, fighting against them, and, in fact, grieving for ourselves and our loss. We are angry because they have taken something valuable away from us, something we have come to treasure, something that has come to rule our hearts: a reputation for success.” 1

This idol of success doesn’t just have to be one of character. What about academics? As homeschoolers we can become wrapped up in our child’s academic success as well. If he or she scores a 34 on their ACT then, obviously,we’ve done our job well. But what if they only score a 25? Or even get a low score? Will you resent your child not putting all the effort into their studies they could have? Will you make them feel like a failure because they didn’t meet your expectations?

I started thinking about this in our most recent school year. It was the first year my son wasn’t as faithful with his school work as he should have been. My first reaction was to force him to do the work over and over again until it was the caliber I knew he was capable of. When it took several drafts of an assignment I would get frustrated with him. After all he’s been a whiz kid his entire academic career. What could he possibly be thinking backing off right when it is time to start proving to colleges what he’s made of?

tearing down our idols

How do we keep from building up these idols in our hearts that tear at our relationship with our children and impede the Spirit in our home? To me, the key is remembering our role. These aren’t just our children, they are Heavenly Father’s children as well. Our primary responsibility is to lead them to Him, helping them return to Him in righteousness. We won’t do that just by being frustrated and angry when they don’t meet our expectations.

Instead of getting angry and wanting to change their outward behavior, let’s take a long hard look at the root issue. We need to find out what is going on in their hearts that is causing this behavior. Instead of anger, let’s work with them in compassion. They, like their parents, struggle with the natural man. They need to learn how to grow in righteousness and deal with the sinful desires and tendencies of their hearts. Compassion is what will help them see their need much more than anger and lectures will.

Instead of getting angry at my son for not keeping the house together while I was working, the conversation should have gone more like this:

I can see you’ve had a trying evening, huh? It’s not easy being responsible for a bunch of people. You’ve been given a big and important task. Sometimes when we have hard things to do the temptation is to kind of “check out” and ignore the problem. I bet you felt that way tonight. Maybe when you’re in this situation again you can pray and ask the Spirit to help you know how to handle things. He’s entrusted these souls to you tonight. When He gives you such a big job, He also gives you the grace to handle it. He’ll be there to help you.”

Of course, I’m only giving one side of the conversation, but I bet you can see how such a compassionate view would be much more effective than a lecture on how disappointing it is when he makes my life harder by not fulfilling his duties. You see I shouldn’t have even been a factor in the first place. Once I put away the idol of feeling I deserved better, it was easier to see what things my son may have been struggling with. That kind of thinking will help me shepherd his heart and learn that even hard responsibilities can be fulfilled through Heavenly Father’s grace.

When we put down our own idols, we are much better equipped to raise and love the children He has given us.

Annmarie Worthington is a single parent who homeschools her four children. You can learn more about Annmarie, including her conversion to the church on her blog

7 comments - Add a comment below -:

Dana ♥ said...

Wow! Annmarie, What a lesson to ponder! It hits a bit close to home I'm afraid. Thanks for these candid thoughts.

Holly said...

Great post! I do this all the time and it's just a matter of taking a deep breath and thinking for a few minutes before responding. So hard!

Tami said...

Thank you Annmarie! What a beautiful article, and so much to think about. I appreciate this message and will review it and try to do better.

Mama Rachel said...

Beautiful! I really needed this reminder today-- THANK YOU. I always enjoy your articles! :-)


bedheadmom said...

Loved this post for sure! I know I can be so self-centered most of the time. This will help me put that away! Great post!

Arterburn Family said...

Thank you so much! I really needed to read this this morning.

Heather@Women in the Scriptures said...

Wow, this was such an answer to prayers. I have already been feeling frustration about performance with my 4 and 2 year old. I realized awhile ago that most of my frustration came from feeling like they were embarrasing me, with their tantrums and such. Thank you so much for the reminder that i just need to take my ego out of parenting. It isnt about me. Thank you so much.