When it comes to parenting, the adage “More is caught than taught” rings true. None of us wants to send the message “Do as I say, not as I do” to our kids. We want to be sure they see us as trustworthy, and we want to be godly examples for them to follow. We want to make Christianity look attractive to our kids by the way we live.
But this good desire often creates pressure to perform. When we have to be perfect, we need to conceal or justify our shortcomings to our kids or just pretend they don’t see our failures.
But weakness is welcome in the kingdom of God! So we can’t operate on the premise of showing no weakness. If more is caught than taught, failing in front of your kids might be one of the most important opportunities for you to teach your children an essential skill in the Christian life. Your response to your shortcomings teaches your kids how to respond to their own with gospel humility.
Opportunities in Frail Failures
I took my five-year-old bowling for the first time recently. When asked if we wanted bumpers, I gave a resounding “Yes, please!” I didn’t realize the bumpers would only go up during my son’s turn. I went first, showing him how to hold the ball, where to aim, and the correct stance. To my delight, my first ball was a strike. Now my son would admire my bowling prowess. But I never threw another strike. Ball after ball landed in the gutter.
Initially, I felt frustrated and admittedly a little embarrassed. But I was conscious that this was an opportunity, a chance to model to him how to respond to failures. So, I laughed at myself, made silly faces, bowled between my legs—I wanted to show him that my identity is secure, that I bowled as someone who’s loved, and that there’s freedom in that.
After another gutter ball, I said, “You know, once, I would’ve probably cried about this. But now, I know I don’t have to worry about looking silly or not being the best. I know God loves me, so I feel secure enough to try things I might not be good at and even look silly doing them. As Christians, we don’t have to feel good or bad about ourselves based on what we’re good or bad at. We can always feel good about ourselves because of what God says about us. We’re made in his image and he loves us.”
He looked a little lighter throwing bumper balls after that, and I got a window into God’s parental heart for me, because I rejoiced over my son with zero thought of how many pins he knocked down. I hope he’ll know and rest in God’s parental love; I hope we’ll grow in that together.
Opportunities in Sinful Failures
We all throw gutter balls sometimes—we forget things, we oversleep, we trip and fall. But sometimes, the ways we fail in front of our kids have less to do with our God-given limits and more to do with our inherited-from-Adam sinful condition. We lose our tempers, we lash out in anger, we gossip in front of them. Sometimes we shame them or fly off the handle at them. It’s much easier to model humility when my boys’ little eyes look upon my human limitations than to be humbled before them by my own sin on display, especially when they are the victims of that sin. But these types of failures, while certainly more grievous, are also opportunities for us to train our children.
I sat under a pastor for a season who often said, “I’m not a baker; I’m just one beggar showing another beggar where to find bread.” This is the case with motherhood. As painful as it is for both parent and child when we sin in front of or against them, it creates an opportunity to demonstrate what I believe is the most important thing we can ever model to them: repentance and reconciliation. Because we are loved by God, we don’t have to hide our sin from him. We can run to him for forgiveness that covers our shame. We can turn to him for help instead of trying to muster up the strength to obey on our own. Then, we can turn and humble ourselves before our children, asking for their forgiveness and practicing repair.
Jesus is Enough
Self-justification, blame-shifting, and denial are responses to failures that come up short. When those are our knee-jerk reactions to our weakness or sinfulness on display, we essentially teach our children that Christ isn’t sufficient—that we need excuses, that we must save face, that we will not appear weak and cannot be wrong. But when Jesus is enough, when our hearts and identities are convinced of his sufficiency, we’re neither undone by our weakness nor surprised by our failures or sin. We’re ready to embrace our humanity with the humility of our incarnate Savior. We’re ready to repent because we know our need and are covered by his finished work.
I long for accolades like, “My mom never lost her temper,” but if all my kids can say about me when they look back is that their mama was a fast repenter, I’ll take it—and I pray it rubs off on them. May our children follow our frail, repentant footsteps straight to our faithful Savior.
Meet the Author
Abbey Wedgeworth is the author of the Training Young Hearts series and Held. She is passionate about discipleship and Bible literacy and loves to see the way that the gospel transforms how people think and live. Abbey lives on the South Carolina coast with her husband, David, and their three children.