Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Can I love my child too much?

A number of years ago, as a homeschool mother, I sat with some ladies offering comfort and encouragement to another mom we knew who wanted to homeschool, but whose husband was against it. She would not go against his wishes, but it was hard for her.  This woman was certain that her life as a mother was doomed to failure unless she homeschooled.  An older and wiser woman commented saying, "Be careful that you don't let homeschooling become an idol."

This was not something I had really considered before.  As I thought more and more about it in the ensuing weeks, I did see how homeschooling could become an idol. Furthermore, as time went on, I began to see that our children, themselves, can become idols in our hearts.  This is not an attempt at an indepth discussion of the topic; that is beyond the scope of any one blog post.  I do want to share, though, some thoughts about the reality that our children can become idols.

Idolatry is a sin; we know that.  The first two of the Ten Commandments make this clear (Exodus 20:2-7). In Exodus 32 when Aaron and company proceeded to make an idol of gold, God's anger burned against them.  We are not to worship anything but God.  Our lives are driven by what we worship; if it is not God, it is surely something else.  For some, it might be success; for others, it is money and possessions; some are driven by the praise of men, or even something as inconsequential as having an home that looks like something out of a magazine.  And yes, for some, it can be their own children.  The point is, something rules in our hearts, and unless it is God, it is an idol.

We love our children.  We sacrifice for them.  We stay up late with them while they are sick, tend to them and nurture them.  We have inexpressible joy in them.  Normally sedate women will become ferocious lionesses when someone wants to hurt their children.  There is spiritual blessing in having children.  It is not wrong to love our children.  However, sometimes, as we love them, it is difficult to see when we have crossed the line and begun to love them more than God.   Ultimately what happens is that their happiness and our good relationship with them becomes more important to us than our righteousness, our obedience, and our relationship with God.  The result is sin as we seek to serve our child who has become more important to us than our God.

When our children are more important to us than God, authority in the home is affected.  Unless a husband shares his wife's tendency, there will be inevitable conflict between husband and wife.  It also creates an unhealthy relationship between child and parent.  A child needs love, teaching, and discipline from his mother and father, not worship.  Aside from the obvious assault on God's holiness, idolizing a child can poison a family's relationship.  In the end, a child will not thank you for setting him up an idol; he will resent you.  No human being can take the pressure of being the centre of someone else's worship.

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.

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.

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 like their anger.  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.

You try to shield them from mistakes.  As they get older, you interfere with giving them freedom to try and fail at things. You jump in and fix things before they have to deal with the consequences.  This may take the form of constantly intervening with people to whom your children are responsible, like a teacher or a leader.  Instead of letting them take responsibility for something, you micromanage how they handle it so that you don't have to see them fall.

You struggle to let them go.  Now, I realize that 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 begins to infiltrate other areas of our lives, and incapacitates 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.  Our hearts were meant for one God, and one God alone.  If our children replace Him, we are putting ourselves at risk, and putting them on a pedestal.  When they fall, which they inevitably will, it will devastate us.  We are not called to neglect our children, but to love them.  That, however, does not include loving them above God Himself.

Perhaps this notion seems ridiculous to you.  After all, can we ever love our children too much?  Perhaps you can't believe that anyone would do such a sinful thing.  All I can say to that is, "been there, done that."  Perhaps I am the only one foolish enough to get caught up in such a business.  I suspect not, though.  I am not unique by any stretch of the imagination.  As painful as this revelation was to me, and as difficult as the fallout was, I learned so much about God's grace; more than I'd ever seen before. And it takes God's grace for us to love our children as we should.


  1. "You try to shield them from mistakes."

    This one can be rather subtle. (One area in particular comes to mind.) We don't want our kids to make any mistakes or bad decisions. We don't want them to struggle, so we decide for them but they don't gain wisdom by having to wrestle and think through the situation. But are we really fostering the idea of sinless perfection which is counter to the gospel?

    Lots of good food for thought, Kim.

  2. "A child needs love, teaching, and discipline from his mother and father, not worship." True-to-the-that!

    I think you hit on a good point of idolizing some of the choices we make in our parenting, such as their education as well. Their Christian identity is not at stake if they are not homeschooled. Another example is stay-at-home moms. I have a Christian friend who works outside of the home, but wants to stay at home. Her loving husband does not think they are financially able to at this time. But she cannot let it go, or be patient, and it has made her manipulatively contentious.

  3. Thanks for tackling this. This is an area of temptation for me, and it's so easy to slide down the slippery slope from love to idolatry with my two kiddos. I think this is a key area where I benefit greatly from the counsel and wisdom of older women who have a different perspective. Thanks for these convicting words.

  4. Aimee, I would say that if a parent sets up educational methods as the idol, at the heart, it's still the child. There are any number of consequences from that mistake. It's a trickle down effect in all its ugliness.

  5. So very well said! Shielding from mistakes is huge for me. I am such a perfectionist myself, and I fight that tendency when helping my daughter with schoolwork. Thank you for giving us all some good food for thought.

  6. Hi Kim,

    I happened to see your article referenced by Tim Challies.

    I had trouble following the reasoning of your points from a strong biblical perspective. I'd like to see more biblical texts to support your points. Except for the last point, it's hard for me to see any of your points as inherent idolatry of children. I see these issues as possibly reflecting other parental problems as well. For example, shielding your children constantly from mistakes in my mind could just be a general lack of wisdom. Could it be a reflection of a lack of knowledge and experience? I think so. Is it a problem that needs addressed? Yes, but I'm not sure that's necessarily idolatry.

    I think there is some confusion about parenting in popular Christian culture right now. I have heard from numerous people about the dangers of worshiping our children, but I haven't heard a really good biblical case to support that thesis.

    God's Word commands us to raise our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, something which I'm certain we all agree on. This requires a massive amount of teaching and discipline. To be honest I don't see most Christian parents in danger of idolizing their children. I see them dumping their kids off in public schools, dumping them off in nursery, dumping them off in children's church--dumping them off far more often than they should. They don't take children's training and discipline seriously as their own responsibility. That's what I see in my Christian circles anyway. I understand that may not be the case for yourself.

    Thanks for allowing me to share my alternative perspective. May God be glorified.

    1. Seth,
      I see the same thing happening in the culture of the church but had not seen it as a lack of willingness to be raise their kids in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Your post opens up many avenues to contemplate. Thank you.

  7. Thank you for these words. Ive been asking myself the same question as 3 kids have left the nest with one left trying her wings.

  8. Great article. I've been thinking about this lately also, especially in light of Luke 14:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple."

    If we set our children up as idols, we will also be at great risk for neglecting the great commission in our lives. Children make a great excuse- "we don't have the time," "we don't want them to be negatively influenced," "we can't afford to give to missions- we have x-number of children," or "we need to keep our kids safe."

    Of course, there's truth in those statements and we could all find validity in those excuses. But God calls us to love Him more than our children, and to trust Him with them as we seek His Kingdom.

    I've been thinking about two key realizations to this lately.

    1)Our kids belong to God more than they belong to us. (see my blog post "Why Children?"

    2) Our own children are not more valuable to God than other people's children are- and if that's true we should labor not only for our own children's salvation and well being, but for others also.

    Thanks for your helpful thoughts,
    Charlene Nelson

  9. Thanks, everyone for your comments!

  10. "there will be inevitable conflict between husband and wife."

    I think this is the reason why so many marriages fall apart when the kids leave home. A child centered home falls out of God's order and everyone suffers for it. I try to imagine myself in a nursing home with my husband gone and my kids not around. What would I have left to bring me comfort and contentment? These lessons are better learned sooner than later I think.

    Good thoughts Kim.

    1. That is a very good point, Diane. Imagining yourself alone in a nursing home is a wise thing. My husband's grandmother spent a great deal of time as a widow and without her children around her. But she took the ultimate comfort in the Lord, and she was such a wonderful testimony.

  11. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

    Love never fails.

    But the author says that love does fail, when given in abundance.

    The author is confusing other factors, things other than love, that can lead to the break-down in the parent-child relationship. Love does not lead to sin. If it did, the house would be divided and it would fall.

    Rather, the things NOT of God lead to idolatry: pride, envy, selfish desires, etc. The things of God can not lead to sin.

  12. All children go through stages of social development. An infant or very young child will play alone happily. -Steven C. Wyer