When you become a parent for the first time, it’s like stepping over the threshold from youth into adulthood: You finally get to see behind the curtain into the real world of “grown-ups”. No longer are you the one depending on others for guidance, care and support; for the first time, another person is completely dependent on you.
This sense of responsibility—the constant need to step up and be the adult—is a burden that parents always carry. When our kids are sick or afraid, we have to be strong and steady. When our kids have questions, we need to find the answers. When our kids face problems with their development, health or learning, we have to become their primary therapist, nurse, tutor and advocate.
And when Christmas and birthdays come around, we no longer get to experience the pure wonder of the celebration—we’re the ones who have to create the “magic” for the next generation.
Sometimes, the responsibility of being a parent can be overwhelming.
When I first became a mother, I didn’t feel like a grown-up; I felt lost and helpless, like a little child. I felt completely inadequate for my new role: Surely I wasn’t qualified to care for this tiny little human! In those early days, all I wanted was someone to mother me: I wanted someone older and wiser who could look after me and show me what to do. I craved time with my own mum and dad—their comforting presence, their practical care and their wisdom born of experience.
Eventually I did grow into my new role as a mother; eventually I did learn how to care for and teach our little boy with some measure of confidence. But even now, I continue to have moments, days or even whole weeks when I feel unqualified and inadequate as a mother.
More than anything else in life, parenthood makes us extremely aware of our human limitations. Why?
Parenthood confronts us with our imperfections
Under pressure, we get angry and impatient; in our tiredness, we get lazy and inconsistent. With children around, there is nowhere to hide: we see our own poor behaviour reflected right back at us. Like when my children start snapping and growling at each other, saying “For goodness sake!” or “How many times do I have to tell you?!” When we see the dark shadow of our sin fall across our children, we feel completely inadequate.
Parenthood confronts us with our powerlessness
No matter how hard we try, we simply cannot stop bad things from happening to our children. We can buy all the right safety gear; we can keep our house germ-free and stocked with healthy food; we can keep a close eye on our children at all times. But the reality is that they still get hurt, they still get sick, they still suffer. Some parents have to watch their children bear unthinkable pain due to illness, disability or trauma. There is perhaps nothing harder than having to watch your children suffer.
Parenthood confronts us with our lack of wisdom
We feel like our children are our “guinea pigs”—hapless subjects in the big experiment of our parenting. Raising children forces us to face difficult dilemmas on a daily basis: Are they being disobedient or just childish? Am I expecting too much? Or maybe too little? Are they ready to take that next big step of independence? How can I balance the needs of all my kids fairly? No matter how many books and articles you read, no-one can tell you what to do at any given moment of decision. We can’t see into the future—we make the best decisions we can with the information we have, and just hope we don’t live to regret it.
Because parenthood confronts us with our human limitations—our imperfections, our powerlessness and our lack of wisdom—we yearn for a hero. We wish there was someone bigger and stronger and wiser who would come to the rescue when we feel weak and inadequate. We wish there was someone to parent us when we feel like helpless little children.
I have been a Christian for many years. But since becoming a mother, there is one aspect of my relationship with God that has become especially precious to me: Knowing God as my heavenly Father. When I reach the limit of my human capabilities—when I am too fallible, frail and finite to be the kind of mother I want to be—I can look up towards my heavenly Father who is parenting me. God is the hero that every parent needs: Perfect, powerful and wise.
Imperfect? He forgives
I can run to my heavenly Father when I am weighed down with guilt, knowing that He forgives. God knows I am not perfect: I don’t love Him and other people the way I should. God only has one perfect child: Jesus; yet Jesus died a sinner’s death. That’s because on the cross, Jesus took upon Himself all of our failings and carried them to the grave. He died in our place. So if we confess our sins to God, He promises to wash them away. Peace with God is something we could never earn—our forgiveness is a gracious gift from God, paid for with the willing sacrifice of His Son.
Powerless? He’s in control
I can also run to my heavenly Father when I am fearful about my children’s future, knowing that He is in control and He is good. God never guarantees His children an easy life—bad and sad things do happen. But God can take even the most painful things and use them for good.
God Himself knows the agony of watching your child suffer—he saw His own Son falsely accused, betrayed and put to death. And yet God had an eternal plan that couldn’t be thwarted by evil human schemes. After three days, God raised Jesus to life again, showing that sin and death had lost their grip on humanity. Everyone who trusts in Jesus for forgiveness will one day rise again too.
God has all of eternity in His hands; so I can trust that whatever lies ahead for me and my children, He can use it for good.
Confused? He guides
Finally, I can run to my heavenly Father when I am lost in confusion, knowing that He will guide me. God’s Spirit guides His children, helping them to know and to choose God’s way in their lives. One of the clearest ways that the Spirit guides us is through God’s Word—the Bible. When we read the Bible, we don’t find specific instructions for every parenting situation we encounter; but we do find principles that we can apply to our situation using the wisdom God provides.
The Bible promises, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).
I can’t count the number of times when motherhood has reduced me to tears because of my human limitations. But when I take those tears to God, I find forgiveness to wash away my guilt, reassurance to steady my fears and a fresh perspective to face my dilemmas. It’s such a relief to know that I don’t have to be enough for my children: God is my perfect, heavenly Father and He can be theirs too.
As mothers, we constantly have to step up and be the adult—the one who is calm and strong and confident. But the truth is that sometimes, even mums need a parent. Sometimes, even mums need a hero.
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