by Stacie Van de Weghe
Sometimes God uses irony to get our attention. I recently survived one of my worst parenting days ever. Pretty much the whole day, I felt like a cross between an angry drill sergeant and a volcano. The tell-tale vein on the side of my forehead was in overdrive. Can you relate? Then, in divinely ironic timing, just as my forehead vein settled down for the evening, I received a text message. “Could you write an article entitled ‘5 Tips for Stay-at-Home Parents?’” I laughed. I felt like the one who needed the tips—not the one who should be giving them!
Why am I telling you this? Because I want you to read the following tips knowing they are written by someone right alongside you in the trenches. These are not simple strategies to make your day flow smoother. Instead, these are hardwon truths I’m holding onto for dear life. Each one causes a subtle perspective shift that profoundly impacts our ability not only to parent, but to be parented by our Good Father. There are plenty of valuable articles on how to manage meal prep, laundry, tantrums, and whining. But I want to take it a step further because if you nail the housework and the child rearing but miss out on the riches of intimacy with Jesus in the middle of it, you’ve missed the whole point. If, like me, being a stay-at-home parent has brought you to the end of yourself, and you don’t like what you’ve found there, then keep reading. These five tips are for you.
1. Purge the Pursuit of Perfection
God did not give you children because He expected you to be a perfect parent. He has already filled that role himself! When He entrusted your child(ren) to you, He did so with full knowledge of your limitations and shortcomings. He knew you would mess up—that you would fail. You are, after all, human. The reality is your kids don’t need you to be a perfect parent. Rather, they need you to show them what to do with imperfection. They are, after all, human too. When you blow it, you get the chance to put the gospel on full display in your home.
When my kids were really little, in order to help them understand the gospel, we talked about sin as something that made our hearts dirty and about Jesus as the only one who can clean them. Whenever there was an altercation between siblings, we had a two-step process for making it right. First, ask Jesus to clean your heart. Second, go ask forgiveness from the sibling(s). Then enjoy a fresh start.
Though you and I are adults, the gospel is still just as straightforward. When we fail as parents, we don’t need to beat ourselves up, make excuses, or simply try harder. Like little children, we first need Jesus to clean our hearts. Second, we ask forgiveness from our kiddos. Then enjoy a fresh start.
When we try to be perfect, we eclipse the glory of God in the gospel. Not only that, we stress ourselves out and send very confusing messages to our kids. At the risk of being redundant, I’ll say it one more time: Your kids don’t need you to be perfect. They need you to show them what to do with imperfection. Be brave enough to apply the gospel to yourself today. Because of Jesus, we have an unlimited supply of fresh starts.
2. Remember That Your Kids Are Kids
Once we stop trying to be perfect, we can also stop expecting our kids to be perfect. I find that a significant amount of the frustration I feel toward my kids is a result of forgetting their youth. I set the bar too high, as if I’m raising tiny grown-ups.
Toothpaste is the easiest example. I don’t know why toothpaste is so hard for kids. At my house, even with an illustrated how-to-brush-your-teeth guide taped by the bathroom mirror, there is always a gooey glob of sparkly blue pasted to the bottom of the sink. It shows up the night after I clean the bathrooms. Every. Time. The sticky blobs drove me crazy until I learned to
recalibrate. If my goal is to have a clean bathroom, then my kids and their toothpaste spitting habits are the problem. In that case, I end up either having a pity party or lashing out at them. But if my goal is to teach my kids how to be responsible for their own oral health, then that is going to require spitting in the clean sink. And since they are young, they are going to do it like kids. One of these days, I’ll teach them to clean sinks. And you know what? They will do that like kids too.
When we keep in mind the ages of our children, it is so much easier to stay sane throughout the day. Proverbs tells us that foolishness is bound up in their hearts (Proverbs 22:15) and our job is to train them up in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6). Since they are children, they will need lots of explicit teaching, and practice, and reminders, and warnings, and help. Our Heavenly Father is so patient and gentle with us, let’s be patient and gentle with them.
On a practical note, two strategies we have found helpful at our house are posting expectations and practice. For example, I have a sign posted at kid-height on my interior garage door that says “STOP! Are your shoes on the shelf?” It’s not fancy (I scribbled it out with Crayola markers one day), but it does include a simple picture for my youngest one who can’t read yet. The sign alone isn’t enough to change their behavior, but it is a helpful visual cue to remind them of the expectation. The second strategy is practice. Don’t be afraid to do some super cheesy practice drills with your kids. This will keep things light and fun while helping them begin to develop good habits. We do “Light Parades'' at our house. I have them line up and march in and out of every room, turning the light on as they enter and off as they exit. Eventually they will build enough muscle memory to do it without thinking. It isn’t a magic solution, but it’s much more effective than nagging or yelling at them all the time!
3. Quit Comparing
The quickest way to drain parenting of all its inherent wonder and joy is to take your eyes off Jesus, off what is happening right in front of you, and look around. Comparison mars our perception of what we’ve been given. Once we fall into the comparison trap we’re caught either feeling discontent and inferior, or prideful and pretentious. We compare our spouses, our homes, our kids, our bodies, our jobs, our meals, our hobbies, our vacations, our wardrobes, our social lives . . . you get the idea. Nothing is exempt. The more we do it, the worse we feel—and the more distracted we become.
A stay-at-home parent’s day is an action-packed monotony of chores, child rearing, and self sacrifice. Yet nestled between all of that are countless moments worth savoring. Moments when our children blossom and grow in front of our eyes. Moments when we discover God’s faithfulness to see us and sustain us when no one else does. I wonder how often we miss what is worth savoring because we are too busy scrolling through other people’s highlights.
Let me encourage you to do just one thing: curate your social media. Hide the people who post things that tempt you to hold your life up to theirs. Instead, choose people and groups to follow who inspire you. Nearly all of your favorite authors, musicians, artists, passions, and hobbies have pages you can follow. Seeing their posts will do much more for your daily outlook than seeing what your acquaintances did this weekend.
Once we free up our brainwaves of futile comparisons, our capacity to love God and love others grows. Our Father certainly does not check how we measure up to other people. The only standard He measures us against is one everyone has already failed (see first point), yet His steady love is unchanging. Jesus finished all the work necessary to redeem us and has promised to complete the remaining work of making us like Him. In the meantime, God delights in us. No need to look around. Let’s fix our eyes on Him instead.
4. Trade Being Fun for Having Fun
We all have a mental image of the kind of parent we want to be and the childhood memories we want to give our kids. Often the discrepancy between those ideals and reality is enough to crush us with discouragement. Here is a personal example. The other day, I was all caught up in trying to be the Fun Mom. I was aiming for memory making with Pinterest-level execution and Disney Princess poise. As you can imagine, I was coming up very short. And stressed. Suddenly, a question dropped into my mind. What if I stop trying to be the Fun Mom and just have fun being a mom? So I scrapped both the Pinterest project and the Princess poise, went outside, and got my rear end kicked in a game of Mom-Against-Kids Laser Tag.
Now before you go online to order a laser tag set, realize that this is individual. We are all different, designed by God with particular interests and skills. He has hand-selected our unique children and given them to us. When I shared this with a friend of mine, she applied it by spending an afternoon playing dolls with her daughters. The point is not to pattern your day after mine (see last section). The point is to find something you and your kids both enjoy, and then enjoy them while you do it!
There is a temptation for stay-at-home parents to go above and beyond. We want to prove our worth and the worthiness of this calling. If we are going to be home all day, investing in our kids, we want it to be Instagram worthy. Yet, more than the manufactured moments we carefully construct, our kids will remember how we viewed them. Did we see them as annoying interruptions or did we love being with them? They will carry these perceptions with them into adulthood. Kids are weird and funny. Before we know it, they’ll have flown the nest. Let’s stop trying to impress them and enjoy them instead.
5. Stay Connected to Jesus
All of the above tips are worthless if we try to implement them in our own strength. Trust me, I’ve tried. Parenting is messy. It is hard. Without Jesus empowering us by the Holy Spirit, we are just sinful people staying home every day attempting to raise sinful kids into righteous adults. It’s ludicrous—unless He gives us His supernatural help. That’s why His Word urges us to stay connected to Him like branches on a vine. To Jesus, it’s important enough to say twice in a row. “Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, neither can you unless you remain in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.” (John 15:4-5 CSB)
The world will tell you that you are strong and brave and smart. That if you have a strong enough self-care routine and plenty of positive thinking, you will be enough. Deep down we all know it simply isn’t true. Being honest about our insufficiency frees us. We stop looking to ourselves and find our strength in Him. Even the apostle Paul recognized this about his ministry. He said, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5 ESV). Paul knew that branches on their own shrivel up and die. But branches connected to the vine have the life of the vine surging through them. They bear fruit.
For a long time, I stopped right there. My goal was to live a fruitful life. Therefore, I did my best to stay connected to the Vine, letting my sufficiency come from Him. But, friends, that is such a shallow view of what He is really after. Go read John 15 for yourself. Yes, Jesus wants fruit. But more than that, He wants our hearts. He wants an intimate relationship with us and to fill us with His joy! As parents, we invest so much of our time, thoughts, and money, in our kids because we want them to thrive. We want them to become the people they were made to be because we love them so deeply. How much more is our Good Father invested in us! He is not up in heaven barking down commands and irritated when we don’t measure up. Rather, He is longing to interact with us throughout the day—not as a checklist, but as a Dad. When we stay connected to Him as we move laundry from the washer to the dryer, clean up lunch dishes, and coach our kids through their never-ending squabbles, He will give us more than fruit. He will give us Himself.
He is With You
The empty-nesters always say, “The days are long, the years are short.” I know that is true, but it isn’t exactly helpful. I pray these truths will sink into your core and allow you to continue putting one foot in front of the other, perhaps even put a bit of a spring in your step. May God’s deep love for you set you free from the pursuit of perfection and the comparison trap. May His lavish grace enable you to see your kids the way He sees them. May His presence in the long days fill them with joy and peace.
Below you will find a few of my favorite resources. These are ones I come back to again and again.
-For help finding God in the middle minutes of your day: Unseen—the Gift of Being Hidden in a World that Loves to be Noticed by Sara Hagerty:
-For help to keep the gospel front and center when your kids misbehave For the Love of Discipline—Where the Gospel Meets Tantrums and Timeouts by Sara Wallace
-For help to to share the Word with your kids around a huge variety of topics: Parenting With Scripture—a Topical Guide for Teachable Moments by Kara Durbin
-For help understanding how your kid thinks: 8 Great Smarts—Discover and Nurture your Child’s Intelligence by Kathy Koch