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As parents, are we developing character traits or setting performance goals?

By: stephanie walters

I love being a mom, well, most days anyway. Ranging from ages 8 to 21, my precious kids and stepkids often make me so proud with their accomplishments academically, athletically, and in all of the activities they are involved in. If you are anything like me, you enjoy celebrating and recognizing your kids’ achievements. For example, my husband and I are both teachers so we place a high value on academics in our home and set the expectation that our kids perform well in the classroom. Each quarter that the kids make honor roll, we take them out for a banana split at the local ice cream shop, and they usually get a card in the mail from grandma with a little cash for those A’s. It is a simple way to show them that we value and recognize their hard work and accomplishments.

Recently though, I have been thinking, what if I set a similar level of expectation and approval when I see my son exercise patience as he teaches his younger sister the rules of a new board game rather than grumbling and giving up in frustration? What if I broke out the ice cream cones to celebrate the fact that he has improved in the area of kindness? So often it is only their performance, or in other words their “doing of good things” that I celebrate outloud and on social media. What message is this sending to my kids?

As a Christian, I want to raise my kids to be followers of Christ and to have godly character, but that sincere desire must be followed by a reality check: Do my parenting words and actions really support that? Am I cheering them on to be successful in the world’s view or according to what God values?

Am I cheering them on to be successful in the world’s view or according to what God values?

Of course, celebrating our children’s successes and setting high expectations for them in school, sports, activities, and relationships is appropriate, but solely praising and pushing performance will not only fuel pride within us, it could also encourage unhealthy and ungodly traits within them. Selfish ambition, self-centeredness, jealousy, or envy are some of the traits that Paul refers to in Galatians 5:16-20 when he describes traits of the flesh that are in direct conflict with traits of the Spirit. The last thing I want to do as a mom is to build up those kinds of traits in my kids by focusing too much on performance.

I have to confess that I often get stuck in performance mode myself which makes it only natural for me to project those same expectations onto my kids. I am a full-blooded people pleaser, and it is exhausting when I get caught up in that cycle. I forget that God is more concerned about who I am on the inside than what I am accomplishing on the outside. In 1 Samuel 16:7, as  Samuel was picking out a king for Israel, the Lord said, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."  

As followers of Christ, we are called to live in freedom and not under the weight of sin or the world’s expectations of who we should be. Romans 12:2 says “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” This verse calls us to think and act differently as we speak words of encouragement, celebration, and even discipline to our children. Galatians 5:22-23 says “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”  This verse gives us a clear list of the character traits that the Holy Spirit wants to grow in us and in our kids, and as parents, we can either help or hinder that process.

As a mom, I am all about practical advice, so here are a few ways we can refocus our expectations and celebration on what God values within our kids rather that what the world says is acceptable:

  1. Celebrate Intentionally!  Let’s be more intentional about looking and listening for the traits that God values and is already growing in our kids! Every seemingly small display of kindness, gentleness, self-control, and love that our children display to others is an opportunity for us to celebrate and show our kids how much we value that in them!
  2. Use God’s words over our own. Sometimes I have a hard time knowing what to say to my kids, and maybe you feel that way too. I don’t want to be the “because I say so” parent. I want to be able to point them to what God has to say about things. I’m so thankful that each week in KidSpring and Fuse, kids at our church hear about Jesus and learn how to follow Him on their level. This is something we, as parents, can use in our conversations with our kids throughout the rest of the week to help us (and them) continue to focus on following God in all that they do.
  3. Walk with Jesus! There is nothing more valuable in parenting than a personal relationship with Jesus. Growing in my own faith and relationship with Him is vital to everything that I do as a mom. As I grow closer to Him, His character of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and so on, are more clearly evident in my words and actions towards them and others. As Jesus continues to change me, my kids see it, and I can talk to them about it.
  4. We don’t have to choose between celebrating our children’s achievements or celebrating godly character. We can use our words and actions as moms and dads to celebrate both. God’s Word, not the world’s expectations of success and performance should be our guide. To all the moms and dads out there learning and living this lesson along with me, press on!  

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