When I became a mom, my dad asked if there was anything in particular I was struggling with about being a new mother. As I recall, the list was long. There is a steep learning curve in parenting! However, there was one unfamiliar and unexpected emotion I felt when my children entered the toddler stage: embarrassment.
We all know children can be embarrassing—they pick their noses in public, they knock things off shelves in stores, they throw tantrums and they may rudely share their opinions about other people’s weight. Some of these incidences I anticipated while others took me off-guard. One time my otherwise potty-trained child went to the bathroom not once but twice in the Chick-fil-A indoor playground. Hauling my 30-something body up that play structure two times to clean up the mess was embarrassing, to say the least, even though several kids were cheering me on. You’d think that was enough humiliation for one day, but my son once again had an accident near the front of the restaurant as we were leaving. I guess my embarrassment was on display for every Chick-fil-A patron that afternoon, not just the toddlers inside the playground.
If you’re a parent, there’s a good chance you have a story like this. It’s so bad you want to laugh, cry and resign all in the same moment. But, the type of embarrassment I was unprepared for was a deep embarrassment bordering on shame. The moment when one of my kids physically or verbally wounded another child and affronted their parents. The moment when they insulted a relative who was trying to help them. The time when they acted so disrespectfully to an authority figure I wanted to pretend I didn’t know them, as awful as that is to admit. Those moments hit a nerve in me that was deep, dark and prideful. Why is my child embarrassing me? Are they unable to see how their actions make me feel incompetent or like a failure?
It can take a lot of spiritual grounding to resist the temptation of finding your self-worth in your children. When you put your blood, sweat, and tears into raising your kids and praying for them, it can be a major discouragement to see them make bad choices, again and again. This discouragement can lead to humiliation and feelings of failure. There are a lot of teachers and pastors who have cautioned against finding one’s identity in your children instead of in Christ. I didn’t fully understand this concept until I had kids. It’s not that my children were the cause of my misplaced identity but rather it was revealed in having kids. Parenting has shown me how shaky my identity in Christ is as I have tried to find my self-worth in my own works instead of Christ’s work in me.
We live in a culture that puts a lot of value on image and that has seeped into parenting culture as well. As Christian parents, we have the amazing opportunity to preach the Gospel of freedom from these cultural pressures. Our kids don’t have to perform and neither do we. We don’t have to compete with each other because in Christ, we are fully accepted by God regardless of our works. On days when we are feeling embarrassed or discouraged in parenting, we can exalt in a God who doesn’t love us (or our kids) based on performance. We can laugh together over those Chick-fil-A moments and pray together over larger concerns. We can be free to worship a Father who is perfect and accepts us and our children even though we are not.
Sarah Crouch attends National Community Church, Potomac Yard Campus with her husband and three children, Tennyson (5), Adelaide (3), and Beckett (1). Motherhood has given new meaning to the phrase, “Don’t cry over spilled milk”, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. Each day has been both humbling and filled with joy.