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Parenting older children can be painful, not just because of present struggles and circumstances, but because only when our children are older are we able to look back on the path we’ve paved and survey the quality of our work.

Sometimes, what we see makes us smile. Other times, what we see makes us cringe. Casting a furtive glance in all directions to be sure no one has been watching, we back up and course correct before it’s too late.

Once in a while, though, what we see stops us in our tracks. Sure that the product of our mistakes will be and probably already has been noticed by passers-by, we hang our heads in embarrassment, convinced that the bright yellow paint of imprudent parenting we’ve spilled and splashed all over our children’s lives is indelible and will cause them to swerve, stumble, and stall forever.

This is where I find myself today, and it stinks.

You see, I did the one thing I swore I would never, ever do. I spoiled my kids. Only in some ways and only sometimes, but I did. Claiming grace, I gave too much. Arguing mercy, I melted, and now, bar God’s gracious intervention and their willingness to self-assess and course correct, things I often under-estimate, my kids will pay the price.

The line between love and indulgence is fine. Trust me. So, how do you know when you’ve crossed it? For what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve learned.

Devotion deteriorates into something detrimental when the way that you choose to parent does any or all of the following:

  • Stops, hinders, or discourages the normal progression or rate of spiritual, emotional, or social growth of your children.
  • Costs others that which they have not offered and what is rightfully theirs, including resources, time, security, peace of mind, dignity, etc.
  • Warps or skews their Biblical perspective of self in relationship to God, authority figures, and others.
  • Encourages self-glorification.
  • Excuses or rationalizes disobedience to the Truth of God’s Word.
  • Presumes upon the grace and mercy of others.
  • Fails to teach proper Biblical stewardship of talents, abilities, and/or resources.

To “spoil” is to ruin. While I’ve never known a parent who set out to ruin what God entrusted to their care, many, like me, have gotten so caught up in the pressure of the present that they’ve temporarily lost sight of the future, sacrificing what could and ought to be in favor of peace and quiet in the moment, praise, thanks, affection, or rest. It’s a cheap trade.

To those in the early stages of parenting or right in the thick of it, I urge you to learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before rather than using them as an excuse for your own poor choices. We make poor measuring sticks.

Show us up instead!

Keep your focus. Stay the course. Spare yourself regret by esteeming God’s purposes over self-preservation, and your children will thank you. Eventually.