As moms, it can be hard to move past the guilt and shame we feel about our perceived parenting ‘fails’. In this article, Terri Prahl shares how God’s grace has shaped her parenting journey and shares 3 ways we can begin to cultivate and experience grace based parenting with our kids.
As I pulled into the garage after running my son and daughter from activity to activity one evening, I was tired. Before I had even put the car in park, they were unbuckling and itching to get out. The warm weather had us driving around with the windows down, so I instinctively pushed the automatic buttons to roll them up as the vehicle lurched to a full stop.
Suddenly, my 9-year-old son began screaming for me to stop. Stop what? My mind had not registered that his arm was still out the window. Soon my daughter began to panic on his behalf, and chaos ensued. I released the button but the window was already squeezing his arm tightly, forcing his body to stand in the backseat to the height of the window.
I tried to reverse the window, but it would not retract. The fear and pain from my son were agonizing to hear. I turned to comfort him and assess the situation then tried again to lower the window, finally freeing him from being wedged between the glass and door frame. Thankfully he was fine physically but repeatedly asked why I had done that to him, assuming ill intent. I reminded them of past warnings not to put their arms out the windows while driving. They reminded me to check before rolling them up. Everyone was tense and pointing blame. ‘Horrible’ doesn’t begin to explain how I felt at that moment.
My son, now 23 years old, still remembers the time his mother almost amputated his arm in the car window (even though I still do not think that was possible). Although it will only occasionally come up now around the table at holidays when the past seems to be stirred to remembrance, it was a lesson for us all to be gracious with each other for unintended human errors and practice forgiveness.
A MARKED MOMENT
Even though we laugh about it now, this window mishap was one of those marked moments in my life as a mother. You see, though that incident unfolded and resolved in minutes, the lesson it taught me about my lack of control over my children’s lives has remained. It is a moment of dread that has resurfaced through the years as the enemy of my soul sought to bring shame upon my parenting abilities. Who shuts their kid’s arm in the car window? Why were you not paying attention? What kind of mother are you?
God, however, taught me that He is ultimately in control. No matter how loving and cautious I was, as a human, I would make mistakes—some bigger than others. It scared me to my core to embrace this reality until I also learned to embrace the kindness and grace of God.
“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:4-6).
God loves each of us so much that He made a way to save us—with no effort on our part to earn it. It is this grace and mercy that He also shows us every moment that we walk with Him through life. This includes what appears to be the slightly baffling and daunting task of allowing fallen humans to raise and train up other humans.
Parenting is hard and holy work, but it is not possible to protect our children from all pain and suffering. We must surrender them to God daily. We certainly have to do the consistent work of protecting and loving our kids, but ultimately, it is God alone that sustains each of our lives. Part of a healthy spiritual life is breathing in grace for ourselves as we seek to honor Christ with our best.
I never wanted to hurt my son in any way, and my testimony prior to this incident told him that this was true. However, in his fear and pain, he forgot my track record. Don’t we do the same with God? What do we do in those moments when we speak words to our kids that we didn’t mean? When we are busy with the concerns of life and forget to see and hear them? When the things we struggle with from our own upbringing spill out into parenting fails?
There are so many scenarios to illustrate our propensity to fail our kids. If we sin against them in any way, we need to sincerely repent, apologize, and seek restoration. Every time. Our kids will respect us for this. At other times, life will just happen, and despite our sincere motives, mistakes will be made. Constantly berating ourselves for this will hinder our ability to parent well. It undermines the work God needs to do in our own lives as we seek to embrace the grace He freely gives.
GROWING IN GRACE
God wants to invite us into His gracious rest and mercy when we feel guilt and shame for any failings that occur. The following two Scriptures are a powerful reminder to us of the kindness of God:
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
The same grace that saves us is the same grace that keeps and grows us. We are all ‘in-process’. Even as adults, we are maturing. We do not become superhumans as parents. Our dependence on God actually grows as we move closer to His likeness. Parenting reveals just how reliant we are—if we are wise.
We desperately need to depend on, walk with, and spend time with Christ. He is sufficient where we are not. He is able when we are weak. And “He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6, NKJV). Seeking Christ in our parenting is the only way to find the rest our souls need for this larger-than-us job of shepherding our children.
CULTIVATING GRACE-BASED PARENTING
There are three ways we can begin to cultivate grace-based parenting and imitate the kind favor of God. The Bible tells us that God’s mercies are new every morning, so wherever we are, today is a new day. Small steps over time move us closer to the heart of God. And when we take a step back, the Spirit within will guide us toward truth.
1. Foster a Culture in Your Home of Grace and Mercy
Be an example of the kindness and goodness of God. Children are formed by the pictures we paint through daily life. When you extend grace for your children’s errors, they will see that your heart is to turn them to life and not mere punishment. For God’s kindness leads us to repentance, and in our turning, we are moved toward light and life. That should be our intended aim.
“Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honor” (Proverbs 21:21).
“Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4)?
2. Release Your Children From Past Mistakes
Avoid holding grudges or throwing things back in their faces when they mess up again. God forgives and remembers no more—that is our example to follow. Extend the same forgiveness to yourself and others as God does. There is a healthy way to talk about things in the past, but when we use it to manipulate, demean, or condemn those we are called to serve and love, that is dangerous territory. We will never experience our own freedom from our failings if we can’t extend it to those closest to us.
“For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12).
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” (Ephesians 4:31).
3. Apologize Often and Freely
Children are smart. They know that we aren’t perfect, but if we act like we shouldn’t seek forgiveness from those we are in authority over, we set them up for disappointment and resentment. Listen to your children. Seek forgiveness when you wrong them, whether intentionally or otherwise. Healthy, Christ-centered relationships have no room for abusive authority, pride, or dishonesty. Be quick to forgive and quick to receive forgiveness.
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
“Fathers [parents], do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:12-13).
My children and I have forgiven each other for numerous failings on each of our parts. We have had to humble ourselves when we have been wrong and then boldly move on. There are times we rehash things that should have been forgotten and we begin again. Following Christ is a forward motion, yet imperfect walk. Failing to understand this leads us to weariness, angst, and sometimes running from the truth—to the detriment of ourselves and our families. Shame and condemnation are not of God in a believer’s life when our sin is laid before Him in humble repentance. Innocent mistakes, as well as egregious sins, are all covered by the great kindness of our Savior. “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake” (1 John 2:12).
As mothers, we can teach our children who God is by demonstrating His mercy in our own lives—and mommas, that begins within each of us. While we can’t undo the past, we can ask God to teach us through these daily opportunities and learn to accept His forgiveness and grace. Once we do this in our own hearts, it will naturally spill out onto others, creating a beautiful picture of a kind, forgiving God.
More than a perfect parent, our kids need to see a perfect Savior. Displaying the kind grace of God will never lead to a parenting fail but to the abundant life we all truly crave.
Are you struggling to forgive and move on from your parenting fails? Have you let an attitude of condemnation spill out to your children? Pray over these verses and ask God to help you begin anew today. He is always faithful!
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This was just the reminder I needed today! It’s easy to be hard on ourselves as moms, but God’s grace is big enough to redeem our biggest mistakes and messes. Thank you for the blessing of this story and for sharing these truths today!