“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant.“
There are countless ways which this text could be applied to life in general, and almost as many toward parenting, specifically. Condensed, it seems these few words are addressing pride and envy.
Parenting Is Not About Me
Parenting is not about me. Yet, it is appropriate and right to enjoy our children and the journey of parenting (Psalm 127, Proverbs 17:6). When we parent with the goal to exalt ourselves, we are robbing ourselves of the joy of nurturing our children.
A non-envious and non-boastful love for our children not only benefits our children, but it gives to us the freedom to enjoy the journey together. Rather than always trying to measure up, we are instead striving for authentic love. Rather than wondering how to make ourselves look better in the eyes of others, we are instead pursuing the best for our specific family in our unique situation. Parenting as a me-focused endeavor is bound to lead to frustration and discouragement.
Envy Is Subtle.
What may exist as a helpful guide or godly example for one family can easily become a source of envy for another. In fact, it can exist as both to just one person, because the problem of envy rests within our own hearts. (That’s not to say external influences cannot be faulted for placing burdens and binding consciences, but that is a different discussion.)
At one time or another, most of us who are parents have caught ourselves doing things in parenting for the sole purpose of pleasing others, though we might blush to phrase it so. We want so much to be respected. We want our genuine hard work of parenting to get noticed by others.
Envy leads us to demand and construct unobtainable parenting standards, both of ourselves and our children. It’s a fuel that powers the rocket ship of tiger moms. But the fuel runs out, and we burn out. Self-pity sets in, and things start to spiral out of control.
But love doesn’t parent for the purpose of boasting in our own ability. Love focuses on the object of its affection, in this case our children. Love seeks to understand their needs, and respond accordingly.
Envy Clothes Itself in Self-Pity
Because we think we must achieve an unobtainable standard, we find ourselves bemoaning anything and everything that may cause us to fall short. This helps us feel better, but does little to help us do better.
Envy causes our parenting to exist outside the present and apart from reality. We find ourselves thinking, “if only…,” and we give up hope on the present all together. It is possible to simultaneously accept the sovereignty of God without accepting the status quo. We can use God’s wisdom, written and observable, to move toward change (where it is possible).
Envy pits the parent against the child, rather than viewing the family as a team moving along a trajectory together.
Love Does Not Boast. It is Not Arrogant.
Arrogant parenting boasts in its perceived power saying “I will win! I am the parent, and I am the boss!” While it is true that God has placed parents in a position of authority, we must be careful not to wield this authority with harsh and domineering arrogance. That’s not love. Paradoxically, such an attitude may disguise a position of cowardice — the fear that we have to play the power card in order to succeed as a parent.
Instead, can we gently come alongside our children time and time again, and nurture and love them into the person God has designed them to become? Christians often love to say, “Evangelism is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” This sounds humble, but do we actually approach our children in this same posture of humility when we seek to show them the Gospel day in and day out?
Is it arrogant share with others advice and ideas that have helped us love our own children? Certainly we can, and should in a spirit of gracious humility. Yet, we must be careful that our success (or seeming lack thereof) as parents does not become our identity.
One of the most refreshing things about 1 Corinthians 13 for moms is this: It frees us to love.
This isn’t a parenting manual; it’s a primer on loving others, including our children. We are free to love regardless of the anxiety over outcomes. Loving our children is a rather radical move in the world, which often considers children as lesser people. We are free to love, regardless of how it makes us feel. We are free to love regardless of what the parenting book says we have to do. We are free to love, regardless of what others think of us. We are free to love, regardless of the temper tantrums that erupt, the crayons stains that don’t wash out, and our failure to teach our two-year-old to read Greek.
When we love in the uninhibited and unfettered way that Scripture enjoins, envy and boastfulness tend to melt away. And, even when there are difficult seasons, we’re free to love the job of parenting, rough patches and all.