Comparison wars in parenting are brutal and leave nothing but destruction in their paths.
My wife and I have already learned how tempting it is to unnecessarily compare your children to others. Instagram pictures of our kids’ development plastered in creative fonts on a chalkboard leads us to stand our little ones side by side to see how they compare. It inevitably causes us to question parenting decisions we have made. Guilt and shame often prevail in our comparison discussions.
“Oh, your son started walking at 11 months? Well, mine started walking at 10.”
“That’s cute your five year-old just learned to swim. Mine has been swimming since she was one.”
“Your son played a great game in the rec league. We would play there too if my boy wasn’t already committed to his elite travel team.”
The worst version of comparison is directed at children themselves. Prolonged childhood trauma is produced from parents who have scolded or even punished children for not performing academically or athletically in comparison to their peers. Children who are constantly trying to earn approval from their parents develop a habit that will continue into adulthood. Children who stress over impressing their parents will struggle to find security in future relationships.
It happens when we are upset with our children’s performance in school or sports because they fall short of their classmates. It happens when our pride in our kids skyrockets when they outperform others, yet plummets when they don’t.
It takes many forms, but the temptation to measure our children up against their peers is pervasive.
Such comparison is dangerous for both parents and children. We will be tempted to try to boost our children’s confidence by showing them how they are superior to others in academics, sports, or physical characteristics. However, when we compare our children to others, we teach them their identity and value is found where they stand in relation to their friends. We also may unintentionally teach them that our our love for them and joy in them is conditionally based on their performance.
Gospel-centered parenting shatters our comparisons.
- The gospel teaches us that we are loved unconditionally based on God’s grace, not our performance.
- The gospel pushes us to compare ourselves to the perfection of Christ and then cling to him as the only basis for our righteousness.
- The gospel compels us to love others selflessly.
- The gospel helps us walk humbly, and to see ourselves as worse, not better, than others.
- The gospel gives us a new identity rooted in the historic and eternal person and work of Jesus.
How does the gospel inform our parenting in light of the temptation to compare?
1. The gospel helps us show our children their worth and identity are not rooted in their performance.
Our children are special simply because God created them in his image and because they belong to us. While their performance and development fluctuates in comparison to others, their God-given identity never changes.
2. The gospel helps us show our children their need for a Savior.
When we compare our kids to others, we either demean their worth, or more commonly, we boost their confidence in themselves and their own abilities. If we teach our kids they are awesome based on their performance, we are leading away from the cross.
3. The gospel helps us love our kids no matter what.
The gospel is the good news that God has loved us in Christ not because of our goodness, but in spite of our badness. God loves us because he chose to love us. It is an unconditional love that we cannot lose. Since we have received such unconditional love, we should parent our children in such a way that there is no doubt our love for them is rooted in who they are as our children, not what they do in their lives. Such unconditional love is counter cultural and will require diligent inner fighting against the desires of the flesh.
Because of who we now are in Christ, we have both an example in him and power through him to parent our children free from the chains of comparison. Don’t teach your kids to live their lives looking at what others are doing to see how they measure up. Instead, teach them to see their inherent worth as image-bearers, your children, and point their eyes to Christ as their only hope to save them from themselves.
Resolve to teach your kids in both word and deed that their security and identity is not found in what they do, but in who they are. This is the essence of gospel-centered parenting as it will till the soil of our children’s hearts for the gospel to be planted and grow. My hope for your children and mine is that God’s love for them in Christ will not surprise them because they have learned similar unconditional love from their parents.
Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.