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No, Your Child’s Bad Choice Does Not Make You a Bad Mom

No, Your Child’s Bad Choice Does Not Make You a Bad Mom

From the moment we meet our child—whether through birth or adoption—we get a front row seat to watch them grow. At times their behavior makes our hearts sing. Their first smiles. First steps. Watching their darling personalities emerge. Some things they do might invoke hysterical laughter, or a bout with serious sickness may bring out the most sympathetic feelings we have in our hearts. Each day that passes find us falling more and more in love with him.

Then one day, our child may do or say something that causes us alarm. Even embarrassment or anger. Or it threatens to make us look like we don’t really know how to parent because his behavior is exasperating, not exemplary.

I remember bringing our first child home from the hospital. I had studied hard. Observed others. I just knew with enough hard work and diligent effort, I could figure it all out. I would apply all of the knowledge from the books I read and from the other mothers who seemed to be pros. All would go well.

Then came the first day we took our new baby to church. Instead of sweetly sleeping through the sermon, she began to cry. And boy, did that girl have a pair of lungs on her! 

I had this nifty little equation cemented in my mind. It went like this: crying baby = bad mom. And this wasn’t the only calculation I had tucked in my brain. There were also other things that pointed to a bad mom. A toddler throwing a tantrum. A bully on the kindergarten playground who pushed another child down. A preteen with an attitude who rolled her eyes at an adult and flippantly said, “What-evvvver” when asked to do something. A teen that broke the rules. Or broke the law. All of these things I felt could be traced directly back to the child having a bad mom.

Well, at least one of my children has done all of the above! I guess that puts me in bold contention for worst mom of the year. Or decade.

Or does it?

Are we really bad moms just because our child makes a bad choice? While of course some behaviors of toddlers and small children can be due to a lack of training on our part, as our kids grow older, they must take responsibility for their actions. We cannot beat ourselves up when our child makes a wrong choice, assuming blame for their actions. Besides, think of it this way—if you are directly and solely responsible for your child’s bad behavior, then is the flip side also true? Should you take credit for their good and godly choices? No. Anything good and godly in my kids finds all the credit going to God. They make right choices despite my being their parent, because I am imperfect. Any bad choices they make, they own.

When our kids make a misstep, we must still continue to be a parent—guiding them, loving them, and cheering them on. It doesn’t mean we wink at their wrongdoing, passing it off as no big deal. It does mean we fight the urge to blow up and shame, condemn, and reject.

One of my friends found out her college-age daughter was pregnant out of wedlock, the result of a bad decision one night at a party with a guy she barely knew. As my friend wisely told me, “When you want them the least is when they need you the most.” So what is a mom to do? Here are two perspectives to keep in mind:

Raise your children on your knees.

Most crucial. Most needed. But sometimes, most overlooked. Especially if you are a “doer.” Doers like to do. Moms who are doers think they should not just sit there but should do something. Sometimes prayer feels like just sitting there. But prayer is the most crucial thing when it comes to raising our children. We must raise our children on our knees. Going to God in times of crisis and in times of joy helps to solidify our relationship with him and helps to bring about change in the life of our children. So pray, mom, PRAY!

Remind yourself that you are seeing the beginning of their testimony.

Once when I was especially distraught over a not-so-hot choice one of my kids had made, I called a friend. Through my sobs, she heard my heartache and wisely said, “You have to remind yourself that you are seeing the beginning of their testimony. This is not the end.”

Her words caused me to stop the runaway monologue in my head about my child’s bad behavior. Instead, I suddenly recalled all of the wonderful people I know today who have a wild testimony. They all had made horrible choices as a teen or young adult. However, despite their bad choices early on in their life, God drew them to himself and they responded. Their testimonies today show to others the compassion and forgiveness of a holy and mighty God.

Mom, God is greater than the fallout from the choices of your small child. He is greater than the bad decisions they might make during their elementary school years. He is far greater than the consequences of their wrong choices as a teen. And he is greater still than what heartache they may bring to you when they are adults.

Do not tether your identity to the choices of your child—whether stellar or stupid. We are not our child’s choices. Their choices—and their behavior—are their own.

You keep doing your job—leading, guiding, and wearing holes in your jeans praying. Then, trust God to do His. 

Karen Ehman is the co-author of Hoodwinked: Ten Myths Moms Believe & Why We All Need to Knock It Off.

Publication date: January 5, 2015