My youngest son is 18 months old, and he has a sincere dislike of shopping carts. Actually, he hates them. Every time we go to the store, he summons all the strength in his tiny body to try and escape the seat strap. I, on the other hand, summon all the strength in my body to try and hold him down. If I succeed, he screams bloody murder the entire time.
Fortunately, the solution to this problem is simple. My husband and I discovered that the issue is not the cart, but the direction. Our son doesn’t like to ride backwards. If we turn the cart around, and push it from behind, he is perfectly content. As long as he can face forward, he doesn’t mind being strapped down. So, that’s what we do: whenever we go to the store, we stroll the aisles with a backwards facing cart.
And, not surprisingly, we feel ridiculous doing it. When I push my son around in a backwards cart, I want to stop every person I see, and explain the situation. If they could understand why, maybe they wouldn’t look at me like a weirdo.
On the spectrum of parenting humiliations, I know this one is small. However, I share this story because it captures a feeling most parents experience: the fear of being judged. Whether your child throws a tantrum, or bites another kid, or disappoints you in a public failure, it’s easy to feel as though their mistakes or misbehavior or eccentricities are all a reflection on you. And if those things are a reflection on you, then perhaps people are judging you for them.
This assumption is understandable and common, but here’s what I want you to know: you need to fight that impulse. You need to fight it, because underneath that fear is the belief that how your kids behave, or perform, or succeed, or fail, is fundamentally about you. And that belief makes for a toxic parenting dynamic.
Perhaps you’ve experienced this type of parenting firsthand. Maybe your mom was always preoccupied with your weight, or your parents were obsessed with your grades, or they were more concerned with you having the appearance of faith, than the substance of it. Whatever your experience, this kind of parenting places a tremendous burden on children. It forces them to withstand the weight of their parents’ insecurities, in addition to their own.
That’s why it is so important for parents to fight that temptation. We must resist the urge to treat our children as if they are a reflection on us. Otherwise, we risk creating a toxic parent-child relationship that hurts our kids and undermines their own security.
The question is, how? How do we avoid imposing our insecurities onto our kids?
I think there are a lot of answers to this question, such as remembering your identity in Christ, and clinging to it. However, there is another option we tend to overlook.
Most of us treat our insecurities like obstacles to overcome. We identify our insecurities and we fight them, and we teach our kids to do the same.
However, I have come to realize something about my insecurities, which is that they tell me something important about myself. Often, my insecurities point to false idols in my heart, like the idol of body image, the idol of perfection, or the idol of success. When I experience failure in any of these areas, my insecurities come roaring to the surface, and in the past, I simply tried to ignore them.
Now, I respond differently. Now, I embrace my insecurities. When humiliation kicks up my insecurity, I take a good look at it, and I see what I can learn. I sit with the insecurity, I feel the pain of it, and I let that pain loosen my grip on my pride. When I’m feeling insecure and small, I willingly step into that smallness and leave my ego behind.
When I do that, God does an important work in me: He makes me more like His Son.
As Christians, it’s easy to forget that humiliation preceded the cross. When we follow Jesus, we can expect to encounter everything he endured, including his being laid low. Humiliation comes in spiritual forms, but it comes through our insecurities too. In that moment when you feel insecure, your soul stands at a crossroads between lowering yourself, or raising yourself up. Most of the time, we choose to raise ourselves up. We speak truth over ourselves, we affirm ourselves, and we remember who we are in Christ. None of that is necessarily wrong.
But sometimes, God is calling us to humility. Sometimes, he is crucifying our pride, and that is a good work that we should welcome.
I can’t help but believe that is how we break the cycle of self-focused parenting. Until we can embrace the humiliations of parenting, big or small, I suspect we will respond to our kids as if it is their job to prop up our self-esteem. Until we can identify the insecurities stirred up by their shortcomings, and allow God to prune us of them, we will simply pass them on.
This is a hard lesson, especially when the humiliations are large. But I also suspect it’s essential to having a healthy relationship with our kids. Our children should know that our confidence and security comes not from their success, but from Christ. And, our kids should have the opportunity to observe the freedom of laying everything at the cross, including our pride.
I won’t pretend to have this down. I still cringe when I take my son to the store and flip the cart around, which is surely the tiniest of embarrassments. And yet, the very fact that I cringe means I still have room to grow. It points to a part of myself that still needs to die, and still needs to embrace this crucial truth: my parenting, and my kids, are not about me.