I understand the feeling of wanting to give it all for my children because I’ve seen the temporary look of elation on their faces when they’re holding out for sprinkle-covered donuts. For a moment, it seems the power of the domestic universe resides in a box of fried, sugary dough. The key to bribery, kind words, joyful children, and mommy-worship is in my hands. I understand what it feels like to pass out the second or third round of treats, feeling proud satisfaction because I made my children happy (and quiet), all with an inexpensive sugary delight. But soon after, the bribe betrays me as those quiet, frosting covered mouths inevitably turn sour. My efforts are in vain. I have given a good gift, but I have not given enough to fill their endless chasm of want.
The Give it All Myth
You see, when I give everything I have for my children, there are some temporal rewards and immediate pleasures. When I offer my gifts, service, time, effort, money, and love on the altar of parenthood, for a moment, there is peace. The smiles abound. The laughter increases. Satisfaction appears to be secured. In a good scenario, I occasionally hear “Thank you, Mommy!” and even better, the spontaneous “I love you.” But it’s never enough for them, or for me. Ultimately, my children’s desires are an ungrateful taskmaster, asking me to keep bleeding out with the false promise of reward.
Doesn’t this type of parental sacrifice seem rational? Because we love our children, we should also give it all for them, right? This is certainly a popular idea in our culture as evidenced by our social norms. Our children’s birthdays and holidays abound with monumental traditions and heaps of presents. They are rarely without entertainment, activity, socialization, and internet-capable devices. We think our children are deserving of only the finest athletic and academic training. They take our sleep at will, our nerves over time, our public acclaim in an instant, and our rational minds when we’re not looking. But we don’t notice, because we’re busy handing out donuts. We’re just doing our best to give it all for their sake.
If You Want to Love Well, Give it All for Jesus
The thing is, Jesus doesn’t tell us to give it all for our children. In fact, he wants just the opposite. He says that we are to give it all to him, and hate everyone else in comparison to how much we love and treasure him (Luke 14:26). We must die to sin so we can be free from the tyranny of little greedy hands and actually possess the ability to love them. As long as we are worshiping the law of “give-it-all parenting,” all we can see are the ways we’re failing our children. But when we say to our idols, “No more. Jesus sits on this throne and he is the only one to whom I will give my all,” an epic temper tantrum can take place, while we walk away as free moms and dads.
What does our freedom enable us to do? To ignore their needs, feed them unhealthy foods, give them terrible gifts, and neglect all responsibility for various types of training? Absolutely not. Giving our all to Jesus motivates us to love our children in a radical way and produces fruitful disciples (Lord willing). Giving it all for our children will kill us, maybe not literally, but figuratively, when they fail to give us adequate affection, gratitude, obedience, and achievements. We might give all for our children, but they will never repay our efforts. But there is a person who outdoes our efforts. A man who goes before us, who gave it all for our salvation, and who holds our eternal reward secure.
Fellow parents, stop giving it all for your children. Stop striving on their behalf. The culture is telling you that if you just do enough, if you just give enough, and if you just get it right enough, then you will reap a due reward for your good parenting. But this is ultimately a lie. If you want to give really good, eternally significant gifts to your children, become poor in spirit, take up your cross, walk in freedom from sin, and be willing to do whatever Jesus asks of you in this life. He will undoubtedly ask you to love unselfishly with a long-suffering heart and a desire to do what is best for those in your care. He will ask you to provide for your little flock, nurture their hearts, and give them grace that points to the Redeemer.
For future reference, if you catch me giving my kids donuts, it’s not primarily so I can obtain their praise. It’s because I’m teaching them the value of enjoying all things for God’s glory out of a heart that is ultimately allegiant to Jesus. Oh, and it’s because I’m free to give them too much sugar (at least sometimes).