This week my oldest turned 9 years old. I’ve been a bit weepy (all the mama feels!), but also challenged with the realization that she is halfway to 18, and our most hands-on season of parenting is half over.
Looking back, here is some Christian parenting advice I’d give myself when I was a new mom. 9 things I’ve learned from 9 years of being a mom–a letter back to myself as a young parent, equal parts hope and nerves, as my freshly born daughter was placed on my chest.
9 Hopeful and Helpful Christian Parenting Tips I’ve Learned in 9 Years of Being a Mom
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1. You are doing something wrong.
You will not “ace” parenting. It’s impossible to do it 100% right 100% of the time. This is where grace comes into play.
Grace and therapy. You probably need some therapy because of some of the parenting choices your parents made, and your kids will probably need therapy because of some of the parenting choices you will make.
This can either leave you crying in your bed, depressed by your inevitable failure OR it can be goriously permission-giving.
You are off the hook from being the perfect mom.
Your kids will have a wonderful childhood AND you will get some things wrong.
Don’t discount the power of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, your spouse, your friends, grandparents, aunts, uncles, small groups, and babysitters to fill in your gaps. Raising your kids in community with lots of voices pouring into them will help reduce the overall impact of your inevitable, and well-meaning mistakes.
2. You are doing a lot of things right.
Overall, you’re doing a beyond fabulous job.You are a good parent.
The way you calmly explain why grass is green. The way you cook dinner and load it on their plates just the way they like it. They way you sing to them. The Bible verses you help them memorize. The silly games you play. The ways you teach them about responsibility and kindness. The way you show them a work ethic as you head off to work. The way you show them God’s love in the way you shower them with hugs and kisses.
All of it matters and you are an all-star mom in a myriad of ways.
Your unconditional love etches deep on their souls–and that’s what matters.
3. Take parenting advice as descriptive, not prescriptive.
Listen, I know your great-aunt and your sister and your bff from high school all have advice about parenting and what makes an awesome kid. You and your family may have different ideas of what makes an awesome kid!
Some Christian parents value creativity, some independence, some curiosity, some compliance, and some spunkiness. What people value as an appropriate, well rounded, awesome kid makes a difference in the kind of advice they give. God’s Word is clear that children should obey, be trained in righteousness, and not exasperated by their parents.
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord“-Ephesians 6:4
But whether that is with logical consequences or gentle parenting, in Christian schools or public schools or homeschooled, with lots of practical help or a less hands-on approach–is all about parenting style, ability, your unique family life, and your personal relationship with your kids.
So learn to see well-intended advice as descriptive, not prescriptive. Your friend is describing a way of discipline that worked for her, not prescribing it for your unique family and kids. Your mom is describing a way she handled sibling conflict, but that doesn’t mean it should be a prescription for your kids.
This perspective shift can help advice feel less about judgement and more about curiosity and exploration.
- What fits you and your vibe as a mom?
- What fits your family and your unique children?
- What method reflects the fruit of the Spirit?
- Why did that work so well for them?
- Would everyone in the family describe it as working well?
There is no ONE WAY to create that awesome kid and no ONE STANDARD of what an godly child looks like. So let that parenting advice be given with love and taken with a grain (or many grains) of salt. Christian families can look many different ways!
4. Admit when you mess up.
Back to point #1, you will mess up. So be quick to admit it, apologize and make a plan for how you will do better.
Don’t half-butt an apology either. (You know what I’m saying.)
“You kids just frustrate me so badly and if you weren’t always getting into stuff I wouldn’t have to yell at you!!”
Two thumbs down.
Give your kids an apology you would want to receive. Your little kids may not notice a difference, but your older children and teenagers certainly will. Be humble about your shortcomings and honest about your intentions. Kids are some of the most generous and forgiving people.
5. Make peace with the hard parts of parenting.
Parenting is hard work. Sometimes it is very hard. Expecting it to be easy, magical, and ask nothing of you is ridiculous.
Make peace with the fact that there will be hard times. You will clean up puke, mud and poop–a lot. Make peace with the fact that you will do some things on your own, without the help of your partner. Make peace with your child’s unique diagnoses, personality, and temperament.
Understand and be okay with the truth that a large part of parenting is dealing with the unexpected and inconvenient.
In her book Expecting the Unexpected Jillian Benfield writes about her son born with Down Syndrome:
“My child was not sent here to teach me something. Nevertheless, he is my best teacher. The unexpected event can be your teacher too.
Not all my experiences parenting a child with a disability have been bright; there have been shades of dark. But when held together, the whole is good. Grief and joy, disappointment and purpose, frustration. and delight can all coexist.” *
-Jillian Benfield, The Gift of the Unexpected, pgs 149, 180.
6. Have fun with your kids.
Parenting is incredibly joyful and rewarding!
After having 3 kids in 3.5 years, I was well acquainted with the hard of sleepless nights, two kids in diapers, and spending a lot of time solo-parenting while my husband worked a busy job in Christian ministry.
I embraced the hard so much I forgot to have fun!
Watching our younger kids blow bubbles or catch a firefly or see Cinderella’s castle for the first time is so heart-stirringly joyful. Helping your kid learn to bake or say a Bible verse with silly hand motions or go down the big slide at the pool–these are the moments that are overwhelmingly fun!
Relax and just enjoy your kids. Be silly. Be adventurous. Be young again with them. Their childhood is full of so many good things. Enjoy it–it goes quickly!
7. When in trouble, find some water.
Somedays everything falls apart. On those days–find some water.
A bath tub. A lake. A pool. A nearby river to throw rocks into. A water table. Washing the dishes together.
Water is incredibly calming to you and your kids, science says so! So when the walls are closing in and you feel like everyone is breaking down (including yourself) find some water and spend as much time there as you need to feel calm and regulated again.
8. Put on your own oxygen mask first
“You can’t pour from an empty cup.” and “Put on your own oxygen mask first.”
I hear these are cliche parenting sayings a lot, but they’re also true.
- Your relationship with God needs to be a priority. (I have tons of resources to help with this! )
- Finding and creating moments of joy in your everyday life will make you a better mom.
- Knowing and living in your purpose is powerful for your family now and in the future.
- A thriving, vibrant marriage is one of the best things you can give your kids.
Read more about Putting On Your Oxygen Mask First as a Mom.
Absolutely spend quality time with your kids and pour into your parent-child relationship, but don’t neglect to pour into your own relationships too! Your own time with the Lord, your spouse, good friends and outside interests matter too.
9. Point your kids to Jesus.
Don’t point your kids to obedience. Don’t point them to good grades. Don’t point them to sports. Don’t even point them to your own family culture.
Point them to Jesus. This is the best parenting advice.
Don’t try to create “good kids”, but kids who love Jesus and know how much He loves them.
Jesus will never disappoint them. He will never fail them. They will never outgrow or out-need Jesus.
He’s the perfect example of perfect love. He’s the One who will comfort and direct them when we fall short.
Here are some practical ways we point our young children to Jesus to help grow their Christian faith.
- Ask them: what do you think Jesus thinks about __________ (whatever the situation)
- Read them Bible stories and books about Jesus’ life! Here’s a list of our favorites children’s Bibles, books and devotional resources for families!
- Help them memorize the Word of God
- Sing songs about Jesus.
- Pray with them and allow them to pray as they desire.
Keep directing your kids back to the love of Jesus Christ, the good Father that will never let them, and the leading of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
What would you tell your “newbie parent” self? Which of these stands out the most to you?