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Expecting Perfection or Explaining Grace?

November 22, 2017

“You expect perfection.” My mom’s well-timed words stung, but I knew she was right. I stood on the brink of “losing it” with my oldest daughter at the local fast food joint. I was struggling to maintain a calm exterior. Inside I was screaming.

My mom’s words melt deeper into my heart, while the whispers of the Holy Spirit grow louder, telling me that my desire for perfect children is not only misguided, but also harmful.

See, what my perfectionist heart really wants is control. I proudly take these pieces of clay into my hands, thinking I am the potter. I believe that if I can bend, shape, press, and turn my children enough, then I can rescue them from their own sinfulness. I work from the outside, expecting my fiery pressure to change them on the inside.

But the Word of God from Isaiah reminds me:

But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. (Isaiah 64:8)

Don’t Expect Perfection.

Yes, I have high standards for my kids. I expect them to show respect, kindness, and obedience to the house rules, etc. But, having standards is not the same as having expectations. And, no expectation I hold over them should include their perfection. Such impossible expectation leaves me frustrated, and them hurt. I run the risk of rejecting the warning in Ephesians while neglecting its parental plan.

Fathers [mothers] do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)

Thankfully, my gracious Lord calls me to raised hands rather than raised expectations for my kids. I am slowly learning to pursue a new set of expectations, one that reflects the gracious heart of the Lord Jesus.

My children are sinners.

In young families, milk will spill and voices will often be louder than necessary. Children are not born knowing how to manage every impulse of their tiny, spontaneous bodies. Instead, they are defined by their energy and their need—for direction, instruction, and discipline. I expect obedience and respect, but I should also expect them to lose control and act like children, as they are.

When we set realistic expectations, we’re likely to face a whole lot less disappointment. The reality is, my children are sinners. So, I should not be surprised when they sin.

Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. (Ecclesiastes 7:20)

I’m a sinner too.

Raising children is like looking in a mirror. While parenting, my own sinful tendencies are on full display in the reflection of my girls.

I wonder why they are so selfish while I make decisions that make my life easier at their expense. I tell them they need to have a good attitude when I won’t control the scowl on my own face. When I see one lose her temper over a tiny toddler heartbreak, I remember my reaction when my husband loaded the dishwasher the “wrong” way.

They are sinners. So am I.

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

Ordained Opportunities

In God’s grace, He gives me plenty of opportunities to train my girls while I learn to reframe the way I look at their mistakes. Rather than inconveniences or embarrassments, these moments of their disobedience and childishness are opportunities to teach, redirect, share the gospel, and point my children to Jesus.

“You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul…You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 11:18-20)

In his miraculous plan for parenting, God ordained these imperfect moments as gifts to point little eyes towards the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus that meets us right where we are. God offers eternal forgiveness and grace for my anger and for my girls’ disobedience. He draws them to relationship with him and reminds me of the relationship I have with him regardless of my own imperfection and sin.

Explain Grace

I can’t convict my children of their sin, only the Holy Spirit can do that. However, when they mess up, I can tell them that Jesus was perfect because they couldn’t be. I can remind them that God wants nothing more than to forgive them of their sins. And I can tell them that in his great grace, God delights in everyone who comes to him in repentance.

This great grace is not only for my children, but also for this perfectionist parent learning to let go of my sinful expectations. The Lord tells me to anticipate their sin and repent of my own, seeing each one as an opportunity to shine a triumphant light towards the redemption offered through Jesus Christ at the cross.

[Photo Credit: Lightstock]

The Author
Amy Dunham

Amy Dunham is a stay-at-home mom with three little girls, one strong husband, and a quirky schnoodle. She is author of Soul Rest: A Journey with Jesus (RBP, May 2017). While she navigates motherhood, Amy shares how the gospel of Jesus Christ ministers to moms and changes families as they trudge through the ordinary trenches of extraordinary motherhood. Follow her blog at

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