Is it possible to love our children too much? Idolatry is a sin; we know that. The first two of the Ten Commandments make this clear (Exodus 20:2–7). While we are aware that things like money, success, and possessions can become idols, how can something good, like loving our children, become an idol?
When we become parents, our children become the focus of our lives. We sacrifice for them. We stay up late with them while they are sick, tend to them, and nurture them. Children are a gift from God. However, sometimes, as we love them, their happiness and our good relationship with them becomes more important to us than our own obedience to God. The results can be disastrous. A child needs our love, but he also needs parents whose ultimate loyalty is in Christ.
How do you know when this is happening? What are some signs that we may be making an idol of our children? This is not an exhaustive list, but here are a few thoughts based on my own experience.
You excuse your child’s bad behaviour
It’s always someone else’s fault. You excuse their sin instead of addressing it. You don’t believe your child would ever lie to you or do what that person said he did. You blame the youth group for not teaching them better or their teachers for polluting their minds. Proverbs 22:15 reminds us that when children disobey, correction is needed, not excuses.
You can’t bear it when they are angry with your discipline
When you do impose consequences and boundaries, and they react badly, you try to appease them because you don’t want them to be angry with you. You don’t like the conflict. You will go out of our way to avoid it, even if it means neglecting to impose a godly standard. Parents are exhorted to raise their children with discipline (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:20–21). God himself disciplines those he loves (Heb. 12:5-11), and so must earthly fathers and mothers.
You try to shield them from mistakes
As they get older, you interfere with giving them the freedom to fail. You jump in and fix things before they have to deal with the consequences. You may intervene with people to whom your children are responsible, like a teacher or a leader. Instead of letting them take responsibility for something, you micromanage things to prevent having to see them fall. It is not easy to watch our children make mistakes, but when we prevent them from going through those times, we deny them the opportunity to work through difficult circumstances that mean they must turn to God for his help. Little struggles are the training ground for the later struggles.
You struggle to let them go
Releasing our children to be independent is hard. I’ve done it three times now, and it was hard every time. However, when the grief infiltrates other areas of our lives, incapacitating us, we’re in trouble. If God cannot fill the spaces they’ve left with their absence, we have to wonder where our true worship lies.
In all of these situations, the root of the problem is that we are looking to our children to fill what God is meant to fill. If our children replace Him, not only do we risk our hearts, but theirs as well by putting them on a pedestal. When they fall, as they inevitably will, it will devastate us. We are called to love our children, but not above God himself.
Perhaps this notion seems ridiculous to you; maybe it’s offensive. But anything can replace God in our hearts because our hearts are idol factories by nature. I have been in that position, and I suspect I am not unique. It was a difficult realization, but a needed one, for it taught me much about God’s grace. And we need that grace if we’re going to parent as we should.
Originally published at Out of the Ordinary in a similar form