Identity Parenting (a Problem That is So Hard to See)

Identity parenting roughly defined is when you are attempting to gain and shape your identity through your child, for good or for bad. I know, you would never knowingly do this. But this is an all-too-easy trap to fall into.

Here are some scenarios:

  • You are in the grocery store and your kid is having a meltdown. You feel the other people in the store eyeing you and doubting your parenting.
  • Your child is on a team sport and you’ve worked with him/her on a skill. Yet when it came to game time, there was a fail on the field. Your kid looks at you with shame and you hang your head also.
  • You have friends with children who come over for dinner–with their children. And their children are the children you wish you had. They seem so responsive and respectful. And not to your surprise, your kids continue to be their usual behavior but compared to your guests’ kids you envy and feel like a #parentfail.
  • In your small group you brave up enough to share that your teen is in trouble. For a moment you felt like the bravery to share was worth it but ever since you can’t stop worrying about what will those people think about me.
  • Your kid won the science fair. When your child wins the award, you are surprised how good you feel about it.
  • Your teen gets into a good school, full-ride scholarship. You feel fulfilled, your mind is swimming with your accomplishments.

These are all parent fails, even the ones that would seem good. Hence the trap that identity parenting is. Your child acting up in the grocery store is not good. But if your child’s behavior in the grocery store is the primary source of your identity, something is wrong. There is nothing wrong with pride in your child’s performance, but if your child’s performance becomes your primary place for you to find your worth and value, this is bad for you and your kid. 

“If you are not resting as a parent in your identity in Christ, you will look for your identity in your children.” –Paul David Tripp, Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family

This is a miserable place to find your identity. Because your kid can’t give you this because he/she is your kid. He/she is broken like you are. And you both leak. You both cannot obtain that life of perfection. Your identity is found in Christ. And your child’s identity is also found in Christ. When we live out our identity as a child of God, we don’t try to get our identity from our children.

How do you know if you are trying to get your identity from your child? From the book I love and put in my store, Parenting, start with this list.

  1. Too much focus on success.
  2. Too much concern about reputation. Another post-it note quote from this book:  “God didn’t give you your children to build your reputation but to publicly proclaim Him.”
  3. Too great a desire for control.
  4. Too much emphasis on doing rather than being.
  5. Too much temptation to make it personal.

If you want more on this eye-opening thought, here is a sermon from my brother’s church. http://flatironschurch.com/fi-messages/parentfail-identity-parenting/ Start the video at 13:27.

Do you know my story, at least a little bit of it? Being a parent was never an identity I thought I would have—and I was okay with that. Until through a wonderful story God gave me (and eventually John) these four wonderful boys, now grown men. They made me a parent. It has been the best and most painful decision of my life. Until I learned (like when I first heard the sermon mentioned above), I didn’t recognize how much of my identity I was creating around being a parent to these boys of mine. I could excuse it as a good thing since our story is such a God story but… But my identity is first in Christ which is how I knew I was able to step into this God story. Then with revelation I noticed how I had changed. My favored identity was being a parent to these boys—and that was not giving me a whole lot of peace. It was a lot of hustle.

We are all on this broken road of faith learning our identity in Christ. But this I have learned–my life has more peace in it when I recognize Who I belong to first. I am an image bearer of God himself which means I have him (or her) to lean into as I live my life. I’m not alone on this journey of hustle because first I know I was created and wanted.

I value you as parents. You are parenting a gift—a gift to this world. There will be bumps and bruises—and some hustle—but also know that God has you. You are his choice as a parent to your tween/teen. Out of the overflow of being God’s choice to be created and wanted, you will train your child in the way he/she should grow which is an identity of also being God’s choice. Now to walk that in-between road of everyday reality and the goal of your child knowing his/her identity in Christ. It is a broken road of faith, isn’t it?!

Need some more encouragement? Take this written prayer to be yours, The Morning Prayer of the One Who Already Feels Behind. Read this prayer daily and see if you feel some hope from the overwhelmedness.