Will it mess up my kids?

As we’ve added to our family and as our family has grown older, I’ve discovered that my parenting toolbox is pretty limited. I’ve tried to add to that toolbox by doing some reading on parenting.

Many of the resources I’ve read have offered helpful tools to add to my toolbox. For that, I am grateful. But almost all have come with a healthy unhealthy helping of guilt.

Do it our way, they say, or you’ll mess up your kids.

You’ll mess up your kids if you spank. You’ll mess up your kids if you spare the rod. You’ll mess up your kids if you do time-outs. You’ll mess up your kids if you do star charts. You’ll mess up your kids if you don’t teach them to sleep on their own. You’ll mess up your kids if you let them cry it out.

And every time I read these books, I wonder if I’ve been doing it all wrong. In particular, they make me wonder if the specific parenting choices I’ve made at one time or another are wrong.

Are my children going to struggle for the rest of their lives because I sleep-trained them?

Are they going to struggle to connect with others because I sent them to their room to be punished instead of bringing them close for a cuddle instead?

Are they going to internalize the idea that they’re bad people because I’ve spanked them?

The doubts rise and then I push back. Yes, there is a such thing as abusive parenting. There are better parenting techniques and worse ones. But I reject the premise that every problem in our adult lives is a result of our parents’ doing (or not doing) x.

And then I realize that the real problem with the guilt the books are giving rise to, the real problem with feeling guilty over sleep training or time-outs or spanking – the real problem is that I’m letting the debate over technique distract me from the real issue in parenting.

The real issue, nine times out of ten, is my own heart.

The issue is that I am unloving, impatient, lacking in self-control. It is that I am vengeful, irritable, and selfish. It is that I am ungrateful and unforgiving.

And this issue cannot be solved by just snuggling my kids more or by resolving to not put my kids in time-out. This problem cannot be solved by healing the hurts of my past or by psychoanalyzing my parents.

This issue can only be resolved through repentance and reliance upon God to change my heart.

Rachel Jancovich’s Loving the Little Years is serving as a helpful tool to pull me away from these side issues and to bring me back to my own heart.

“As you deal with your children,” she writes, “deal with yourself always and first.”

I’ve summarized her thought in a single word that I’m reminding myself of frequently (and attempting to put into practice):


Because the issue isn’t whether I’m going to mess my children up. The issue is my heart.

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