As my daughter grows into toddlerhood, it continues to amaze me how she’s picked up on things I wouldn’t think she’s paying attention to. She recently started pretending to spit into the sink after I’ve brushed her teeth. I never told or taught her to do that, but she’s started mimicking what I do after seeing how I brush my teeth.
As I’ve heard other parents say, this copycat behavior can be incredibly amusing and also convicting, as we realize our little ones are watching and picking up our habits – the good ones with the bad. (If you ever see her binge-watching Netflix, eating popcorn for dinner, or being mean and sarcastic to her dad, uh, I don’t know where she learned that…) This reality that she is soaking in everything I do terrifies me at times, but because of grace, it can also be a comfort.
Obviously, I don’t want my daughter to pick up my horrible habits. I think we all want our kids to adopt and improve upon the very best parts of us. Unfortunately, sin gets in the way and oftentimes the most enduring legacies we leave for our children are continued generational cycles of brokenness – anger, gossip, laziness, anxiety, vanity, and a host of others. Where do they learn this? Not because we patiently teach them these things or try to instill these behaviors. They learn it by observing how we live our life and treat others, and mostly in the minutiae. How I interact with strangers, how I love my husband in the day-to-day, how I treat “the least of these,” how I speak (or do not speak) about others who have wounded me, how I worry (or do not worry) about the trials of life, how I spend my leisure time, how I drive, how I dress, how I shop, how I clean…all of these (and more) are establishing a baseline in my daughter’s mind for her “how to do life” manual. Yikes! And these are often a product of what we learned from our parents!
So yes, it absolutely scares me to think of what my daughter is picking up just from watching and copying me. And I think to some extent, it should. We should think soberly about how we are living our lives, knowing that our children are learning how to do life by watching us and doing the same. If it weren’t for grace, this could drive me into a paralyzing and fearful perfectionism, obsessed with trying to be the perfect parent, to provide my child with the Pinterest-perfect life, to idolize the happiness and success of my child above all else. And this would ultimately lead me to despair and heartbreak because I am NOT perfect and would continue to fail despite my best efforts, and because all the striving in the world doesn’t guarantee the type of adult we all want our kids to be.
Enter grace. Because of grace and the gospel I can be grateful for the immense opportunities that are afforded because my kid is watching me. I can have a sober appreciation for the weight of responsibility as my kid learns from how I live my life, yet not live in fearful anxiety that I will mess them up forever because of my failures. Because of grace, there is a way to transform my sins into teaching moments, humbly confessing my shortcomings to my child and teaching them that God grants forgiveness through Christ and the strength to repent and fight our flesh. And because of grace, I don’t have to live the wearisome and frantic life of a “perfect parent.” I don’t have to have some perfect 10-step program figured out to make sure my daughter learns the zillion things I want her to. I can, by God’s grace, just live faithfully – failings and all, knowing that Christ is already woven into my life in the big things and in the mundane.
So in the end, the goal is actually not to model perfect or even stereotypically “Christian” parenthood. The goal is to love Christ more and more, and to let Him saturate my life in every area. That way, all I have to do is live my “normal life,” and my daughter will see a mommy whose sins are openly confessed yet covered by God’s grace in Christ, and a mommy whose “normal life” is through and through devoted to and founded upon God and what He’s done. And in the end, whether she becomes the Christ-loving woman I want her to be or not, this is the task entrusted to me. I pray earnestly that I can be this grace-filled and Christ-loving mommy to a little girl who is watching and learning from everything I do.