Whether we like to admit it or not, it’s easy for us parents to saddle our identity to our kids’ behavior.
If it’s a good day, and our kids have been angels, we sigh contentedly and pat ourselves on the back. If it’s a bad day, we put them to bed early and then wallow in despair (okay, maybe you have never done this, but I have!).
As a young mom, I experienced the proverbial check-out line tantrums with my kids a few times. When your kid is flailing on the floor and a host of eyes are upon you, it’s hard to separate yourself from the actions of your child and not be supremely embarrassed. In that moment, you feel the actions of your child are reflecting badly on you as a mom.
Home educators are not immune to these feelings. In fact, we might be the most susceptible since most of our waking hours are spent working with our children. Our children are a huge focal point when it comes to our time and our priorities.
It’s easy to think that what our children are doing is a direct reflection of our own teaching prowess and parenting competency—or incompetency—depending on how the day is going.
The problem is that, when our children are our identity, our relationship with them is threatened because it places unhealthy burdens on both of us.
In his book Parenting: The 14 Gospel Principles that Can Radically Change Your Family, Paul David Tripp talks about two types of parents: 1) “ownership” parents whose identity is shaped by how well their children are doing, and 2) “ambassador” parents who realize that their kids don’t belong to them, but to God, and they are simply a tool God will use in the lives of their children.
“Parenting is always shaped by where we look for our identity,” writes Tripp.
Ask yourself these questions: Where do you get your identity? What does success mean to you? What do you define as the work you have been called to do?
“Do you feel it’s your job to turn your kids into something, or do you recognize you are nothing more than an instrument in the hand of an all-wise and all-loving God and that he is the one with the power to rescue and transform children?” asks Tripp. “Have you turned your children into a trophy or a disappointment, or have you surrendered them to God?”
“So much of what drives our responses to our kids is an unannounced set of laws that are more about what we want for ourselves and our lives than what God wants for us and our children…If you are not resting as a parent in your identity in Christ, you will look for identity in your children.”
According to Tripp, it is a crushing burden for your children to “have to get up every morning and carry the heavy load of your identity and meaning and purpose and all the expectations and demands that flow from it. No child will carry that load well.”
“We all tend to try to get too much of our meaning and purpose from our children,” says Tripp. “This is an exhausting way to live. It is exhausting to need little, immature sinners to perform well in order to feel good about yourself.”
How do you know if you are putting your identity on the shoulders of your children? Here are some indicators:
1) TOO MUCH FOCUS ON SUCCESS. All parents want their children to do well, but this is different from being driven by your children’s achievements.
2) TOO MUCH CONCERN ABOUT REPUTATION.
3) TOO GREAT A DESIRE FOR CONTROL.
4) TOO MUCH EMPHASIS ON DOING RATHER THAN BEING. What God values in our children is different from cultural values that drive our expectations and responses to our children. Our kids should know that our love for them is not based on their performance. We need to model God’s unconditional love to them.
5) TOO MUCH TEMPTATION TO MAKE IT PERSONAL. Taking our kids’ actions personally, when it’s probably not personal, just creates tension in our relationship with them.
“It really is the completeness of the work of Jesus for us that frees us from coming to our parenting task needy, exhausted, and discouraged, asking our children to give us what they will never ever be able to give,” writes Tripp.
How freeing it would be to base my identity solely in the work of Christ and to not put those pressures on my kids.
This is my parenting goal: To point my kids to Christ and live free from these identity traps.
Photo Credit: Image courtesy of Amy Koons.