My kids think I’m great. I’m not saying I am; I’m just saying they think I am. It’s their default mode because I’m their parent. It’s the same reason they think their mom is incredible (the difference however is that she really is). Most children put their parents on pedestals whether they like it or not. I know it will probably change as my kids move into adolescence, but for now, my three young sons think their daddy rarely can do any wrong.
The only problem is that their daddy not only can do a little wrong but actually does more wrong than he would care to admit. As much as I’d like for it not to be true, I can royally blow it on how to love Jesus as a husband and father. Frankly, I can be downright selfish, impatient, and unbelievably wrongheaded in full view of my kids. And it’s in those times I’ve got a choice to make: either tuck tail and run from my responsibilities or look my kids in eyes and repent.
That’s right. Repent. I should tell my children that [insert sinful thought, word, or behavior I just did] was wrong and that their daddy is both grateful for the grace of forgiveness in Christ and the gift he has to obey next time.
This type of interaction shouldn’t be something that happens only when it’s a full moon but a regular pattern in my family. Martin Luther once wrote that all the Christian life is to be one of repentance. And why shouldn’t it be? If repentance, in essence, is turning from sinful ways to embrace those which glorify God, then healthy spiritual growth necessitates much repentance. Besides, repenting well in front of your children is a gift of grace unto itself. Repenting well tells your kids:
#1: Mommy and Daddy are sinners.
It’s one thing for kids to put their parents on a pedestal. It’s another thing to idolize them in such a way that their brokenness gets excused or, even worse, normalized and absorbed as behavior for your kids to reproduce as they grow up and have families of their own. Repenting before your kids tells them that not only is sin real but that it can get the best of anyone…even mommy and daddy. Your kids will still love you in spite of telling them where you blow it; indeed, they may even love you more for it in the long run.
#2 : Mommy and Daddy need grace.
Trying to be a perfect parent is not only exhausting, it’s impossible. As our kids mature they begin to realize that when it comes to your parental perfection, the emperor has no clothes. On the contrary, when parents act as if they’re completely self-sufficient and omni-competent they only set their kids up for failure. The illusion of self-justification gets larger in their minds and hearts while grace takes a backseat if it even gets on the bus in the first place. However, repenting well helps kids see that while mommy and daddy make great parents, only Jesus makes a great Savior. Repenting well puts everyone on equal ground at the foot of the Cross.
#3: Repenting is normal and expected.
Wouldn’t it be great if the topic of repentance came up and your children responded, “Repentance? Yeah, we do that all the time in my family.” It would tell everyone that you are a family of practicing Christians, followers of Jesus who are continually trying to grow their hearts and lives in a new and better Kingdom God provides. It would also set a pattern for your kids to follow when they grow up, get married, and have kids of their own.
Take some time to think through how you and your spouse can regularly, openly, and responsibly repent well before your kids. Believe me, you’ll have more than enough opportunities to do so. Remember, doing so is a grace to them. Indeed, I would argue that sometimes the greatest dents you leave in your kids for their growth in Jesus is not when you do things well but when you’ve done them horribly wrong and repented well. Give your kids the grace of repenting well.