Sacrificial Parenting

This is something I’ve been turning-over in my head since Evelyne was a few months old.  What role should sacrifice play in our relationship with our children and in our parenting?  What are those spiritual realities for us as parents?  Have we lost sight of imitating Christ even in these seemingly small ways?

The first few months of Evelyne’s life were pretty much hell for Clay and me.  She was not an easy baby, and we hadn’t been emotionally prepared for that.  Although we loved her dearly, we would have conversations about how we missed our old life, how much easier it had been, and why did we think having a baby now was such a great idea?  She sucked the life out of us.  Now I can see that as a crash course in learning what it means to be a parent.

As all three of us grew, I started to chill-out a little and really look at my life with Evelyne in a new way.  It started ocurring to me that most of what I had heard and read up to that point about parenting was mostly about how to manage your baby.  Whether about feeding, sleeping, discipline, spoiling, etc…  it all boiled-down to me getting her to accomodate us.  How can I control her little life to make sure she is as convenient as possible.  I was expecting myself to create a world where Evelyne functioned as a little robot…quiet, sleeping through the night, not too demanding of a nurser, not demanding of my attention or energy—aka, a “good baby.”  When she didn’t live-up to that, my gut reaction, as well as some well-meaning advice from others, was nothing short of how we could go about “fixing” her.

I’ve learned since then that having a mindset of infant management rather than parental sacrifice isn’t the model God gives us.  I started looking at passages in the Bible like Philippians 2, which describes Jesus as the Suffering Servant who poured-out His life for us, as actually applying not only to my relationship with adults, but my relationship with Evelyne.  I started listening to my heart and what it was saying in those moments when she cried in the middle of the night, cried when I walked more than 7 feet away from her, and cried when she wanted to be picked-up instead of playing by herself.  My heart was saying, “I’m so tiiiiired! I deserve to be asleep. I deserve to be able to do something in another room without you crying. I deserve to have a baby who will happily entertain herself for long periods of time with minimum interaction from me. How can I change her to acomodate me?”  I think it’s natural that our first reaction when our kids need us in a very inconvenient way is to feel some major self-centeredness.  I’m still conscious every day when I feel myself getting frustrated if Evelyne is fussy or demanding my attention when I’m in the middle of something. 

But this is not how God calls us, as believers, to live.  We are fully aware of that when it comes to our relationships with others.  There are marriage seminars on how we should sacrifice for our spouse, we encourage one another on how to be selfless in our jobs and friendships.  Very rarely have I heard it taught that we should apply these same things with our kids.  But how do I walk the sacrificial road of a suffering Christ without imitating Him in my parenting? 

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely  look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.  Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:3-8

These are the words that I try to remind myself of when I’m so annoyed that Evelyne’s screaming at me, and oh my gosh, I’d so much rather be on the Internet.  When she woke-up in the middle of the night (thankfully that’s over with, but it lasted a loooong time!) crying and I deliriously made my way to her room to rock her, I tried to open my heart to what God was wanting to show me in the way of sacrifice.  I fail more than I succeed at this, but my goal is to live the words of the Paul, that I would consider her as more important than myself (not just in the grand scheme of things, but in the little moments of life), that my every day choices would reflect a heart that looks to her needs above mine, and when the two conflict, I’ll choose hers.  All of these are the ways God is inviting us as parents to enter into a deeper experience… one that is not just about managing our children and our household, but invites change and growth–from us, not our kids!    We can think of sacrificing ourselves for our children in terms of big things like paying for college and throwing ourselves in front of a car for them…. but I think it’s the little ways we acknowledge and honor their souls and place their needs above ours on a daily basis, that really shapes us into the image of Christ.

Gary Thomas in Sacred Parenting says this: “If you look at the cross with the bored detachment of someone viewing a still-life painting, one of two realities are probably true: You’re not a believer; or you’re a believer who has never sacrificed on behalf of God. You’ve never truly taken up your cross and denied yourself to follow him. Without sacrificing ourselves, we can’t really appreciate Christ’s sacrifice–which means that children, with all the demands they place on us, usher us into a deeper understanding of and even an astonishment at what God has done on our behalf.”

There’s a way in which we identify with Christ through suffering and sacrifice, an intimacy that comes from knowing that we are walking His road and following in His footsteps. I know there are innumerable sacrifices ahead of me in my parenting journey, and I hope I can face them with more of a willing heart than I’ve demonstrated so far. I expect that I will fail pretty often. But I’m thankful that God uses those whom I love as catalysts in my growth, and I welcome the experience.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” (Ephesians 5:1)

See also Being Our Kids’ Savior

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5 responses to “Sacrificial Parenting

  1. emily,

    i don’t know you, but read about your blog from courtnee murphree. i must say that i am touched by your above reflection of sacrifice. i have an 8 month old and i too suffered from post-partum (as you mentioned in an earlier blog) for a few months after my son was born. i was not ready for the shock that comes w/ the 24/7 demands of a baby, but have begun to grasp the sheer joy and priviledge of raising a child. As my husband speaks over my son often “you are a true gift from God.” Sometimes in the chaos of my day, I forget to look at him in such a way. Your words about sacrifice are so true…so often throughout my day, I find myself frustrated or irritated that Braden won’t play by himself for two minutes and let me run into the other room or eat lunch since I didn’t even get to finish breakfast b/c I was attending to his needs. But your conviction about us as believers taking steps of sacrifice is so true. Christ gave up EVERYTHING for me and if I choose to live like Him which I commited to so many years ago than I need to deny myself in all areas of my life…even parenting. We won’t always have our babies so close and as a friend often reminds me, there will come a day when our houses are clean, the toys are put up, dinner is on the table and the house is quiet…too quiet…as all of our babies are grown. That time will come all too quickly. So once again I attempt to make that commitment to find joy in sitting on the floor and playing blocks and endless games of peek-a-boo and realize that this time is precious as my child and yours is a “gift from (the Almighty) God.” Wow…what a blessing.

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  2. Can you believe I waited all day to comment on this?

    Of course, I agree with every word. What an opportunity to lay down our lives and take up our cross! If there is one thing I am thankful for in this past year, it’s the painful work God has done in chipping away at my selfishness. Honestly, I thought I was a pretty nice, giving person before MCM! I am thankful that God loves me enough to give me the opportunity to become more like him. THAT is what I want from motherhood – not perfect children or a perfect home – but to lay down my life for my children and end up with a heart like his.

    Fantastic thoughts, Em.

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  3. What an awesome word, Emily…and so encouraging to me in a very crazy and overwhelming week. Just what I need to read and to reminded of.

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  4. thank you again for the wonderful words. it’s 2am and i’m up with sarah jane who prefers at two to be up in the middle of the night as i search for pappies(pacis) to get her back to sleep. you are so right- russ and i joke that we must have been really super selfish for the Lord to bless us with pregnancy within the first 5 months of marriage. we needed some serious maturing and learning to depend on God to make life work. being a mom of any number is rewarding, but really hard (post-partum issues don’t help either!) so thrilled that He wanted me to be a part of training little souls in righteousness for His glory. love you!

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  5. Being a mommy-to-be (5 weeks or so) there are so many questions and doubts about being a parent. There’s such a large amount of online support is awesome! My favorite right now is http://www.ourbabysteps.com because it is not only focused on moms but also on dads so you get two different perspectives. My husband loves this site as well!

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