"What do you think, Mom?"
My daughter stood in front of the mirror at the department store and modeled her favorite swimsuit. I asked her to turn and critiqued it from every angle. It was modest, attractive, and reasonably priced, but still I hesitated. What will the other home schooling mothers think?
I almost said no just because the style was different from suits I'd seen at swim lessons, worn by the other daughters. I feared my friends would disapprove. The suit honored propriety. My only hesitation was what my friends would think of me.
The experience caused me to reexamine myself, and I wasn't pleased with what I saw. Instead of thinking through the decision based on God's standards or even my own, I focused on how it would make me look to others. I realized this was not an isolated incident.
As Christian home schooling moms our whole life centers on our family. We spend hours each day with our children and hope and pray we train them well. We want to see them succeed in their endeavors and grow into spiritually sensitive, mature adults. What sets us apart from parents who don't home school is that our children aren't as impacted by outside influences. If they don't do well academically, we can't blame the schools. If they are disrespectful, we can't blame their peers. If they don't love Jesus, we can't blame the culture. It puts tremendous pressure on us. And somewhere in there, I let the pressure take me into sin. I began to develop an identity in my children's choices and behaviors. After all, I spend more time with them than anyone else. If my children do something another parent deems inappropriate, won't that point back to me—my ability, spirituality, and choices?
I began to notice this misplaced identity in other areas. I caught myself reprimanding my children in public for things I thought perfectly acceptable at home. After all, someone else might not allow it. I worried my children would embarrass me.
As I've talked with other moms and their children, I found I am not alone in this struggle. Friends have admitted to the same struggle. Kids have told me about times their parents hurt them by basing choices on other people's opinions.
Scripture teaches us not to do things that cause a weaker brother to stumble. But does the Lord want us to base our choices upon how others see them? I don't think so. Especially when it impacts the relationship we have with our children and their individual development.
To parent our children based on how it reflects upon us can be damaging. Besides putting our children under an unnecessary burden, we jeopardize their respect for us, their development into the individuals God created them to be, and the sweetness of our relationship with them. They sense that we are looking out for ourselves instead of them and it hampers their ability to trust us as we make decisions that affect their lives.
When our identity becomes wrapped up in our children's behavior, we are no longer functioning under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but under the tutor of our own egos. How can we hear the Spirit whisper if we are more attuned to what people think of us than what God wants for our children?
Christ tells us that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. He instructs us to rest in Him and learn from Him. Sometimes, in our efforts to look good, we deny our children the freedom of that Scripture. We strap them down underneath backpacks of rules and expectations that don't come from our Lord, but from our fear of looking like a poor home schooling parent. We stifle their creativity and limit their choices, based upon what others might think of us.
Should we not offer our children the same restful existence our Lord gives us? Too often we tell them to ask God to direct their steps and to listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but we teach, by our behavior, that ego and appearances dictate choices.
The swimsuit incident was a small one. The lesson it taught me was profound. I need an identity firmly planted in the roots of my salvation. Anything worthy in me comes from Christ. He gave His very life so that I might know the complete acceptance of my Creator and live in relationship with Him. My identity is one of a chosen daughter of the King of the Universe, completely forgiven and loved.
When I wrap my children up in my quest for validation I put them in a no-win situation. They can never be perfect enough to make me okay. That is Jesus' job. It scares me to think I might cause them to feel responsible for something they can do. I don't want to set my children up for failure. Looking to others to validate me puts me on a path leading to the destruction of my heart and the hearts of my children.
I'm also concerned that I might miss something wonderful God has in the unique design of my children if I parent them based on other people's opinions. What if God has created my child to be the next Renoir, but I hamper her creative expression, afraid it will be questioned by my peers? What if God has chosen my child to do things that require great courage to be different, but I've trained him to be attuned to other people's opinions, instead of the Holy Spirit?
God didn't call us to home school so we could form a sub-culture of tense, cookie-cutter children, who make us look good to our peer group. He called us to raise children who are totally in love with Him and willing to follow wherever He leads.
It's time to release my children into God's plan and not worry about how it makes me look. I want my decisions to be based upon Scripture and the prompting of the Holy Spirit, even if it seems a little outside of the subculture I've chosen to immerse myself in. I need to remember that Christ's death and resurrection purchased me a new identity—solid, valid, accepted, and loved. I can live in the freedom God gave me to guide my children based upon His whisper in my heart and not the fear of the whispers behind my back.
A home schooling mother of four, Paula Moldenhauer loves hiking in the mountains, a good novel, and baking with her children. She's published in various magazines and offers a free weekly devotion through her website, www.soulscents.us. Her website also includes book reviews and home schooling hints.