How to let your children be the beautiful miracles God made them to be (And a free gift!)

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

“As it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” 

Philippians 1:20-21


Typical driveway decor. :). They said it’s the name of their “band.”

Left to their own, my thoughts dart around, raising my blood pressure and making me reach for another cup of coffee.  Pinballing from child to child, to overdue items on my To Do list, to unmet needs and forgotten homework, to sports and tutors and appointments and ideas I heard and meant to incorporate, to conversations I meant to have, and friends I want to see — my mind swirls with passions and dreams wriggled up with the needs of the day and the weariness of my bones.

The honest way I navigate these blessed and beautiful and broken days – the way I grow and straighten out a bit of my twisted up places – it happens drowned in grace and one day and a time and almost never linearly.  I experience breakthrough and setback, I remember truth and then I forget.  I’m soaring with passion and then crushed with discouragement.  And as I stumble through, I am ever in need of our unchanging, faithful God.

I wonder where you sit as you read these words, sweet mama.  I’m imagining all the ways that you laid your life down in service to your family today, and what might be swirling in your mind and heart.  I wonder if you are relishing in giggles or if you sit with a heaviness about your failures or disappointments.

If you hid in the bathroom for a moment of respite during the dinner hour, or if you had to check to see if the windows were open for that moment when everyone yelled things they didn’t mean…Sister, I am so with you.

I wonder if you are desperate to love this motherhood thing, but you haven’t slept in months, or you long for a nice dinner conversation, or defiance has you worn to the depths, or your child’s hardships have you tied in knots.  I wonder if you have a tangled mix of excitement and dread for the summer ahead.

Maybe your mama’s heart beats deep today for a child grappling through school, a newly discovered learning disability, a troubling change in behavior, or a diagnosis that feels like a shattered dream.  Maybe you haven’t felt connected, you don’t understand what makes them tick.

I wonder if you’ve had expectations, like I have — about ease in sleep or growth or health or school or friendships,  that your children might love the things you love, or naturally connect with you the way you connect with others, that they would claim faith as their own at a young age, or behave in the way you’ve taught.

I wonder if you’ve found yourself- like I have – sometimes needing a bit too much from them, expecting to have a bit more control than reality allows.

In my last post, I shared about how my wrong expectations of myself and motherhood have sometimes chained up my joy.  You can read more about how I’m finding that as I begin to release my expectations, and trust in God’s sovereignty, I discover a road of beautiful adventure and freedom with God.

But even more…the thing that makes my eyes blur and my soul quake… the thing that really makes me want to fight for truth is the way my unrealistic expectations can chain up my children, hurt our relationship and keep them from living in the joy and freedom they were made for.

Several years ago, it hit me like a ton of bricks that there was a fabric being woven by a million tiny interactions that I didn’t mean to have, weaving together a pattern and life and relationship designed by unfair expectations and too little grace.  I was overwhelmed by my life and the house that needed cleaning and the baby that needed feeding and all the things I felt like I should be doing, and so I’m plopped my needs right down on the tiny shoulders of my children.
I found creeping into the corners of my heart this silent need for my children to fit in the metaphorical box I had made for them, taking up the exact amount of space that I had to give, which was sometimes infinitesimal…

The evidence was in my subtle disapproval over clothing choices because I didn’t want them to be teased the way I was, my quiet repulsion over table manners that I didn’t have the fortitude to endure with grace, forgetting to offer tenderness and back scratches when I felt like I was running on empty, too many words of correction and instruction and too few words of encouragement and blessing, unintentionally guiding my children to the activities with which I was comfortable, talking too much and listening too little, expecting my elder children to mature in accordance with my need.

As my capacity shrunk with each child we added to the mix, or each time daddy’s work schedule ramped up, I was shrinking the space for needs and moods and unpredictability that my children were allowed to have in our home.

I tried to fit my children’s needs into my life in predictable and methodical ways.  I wanted their growth to be linear.  I wanted their behavior to be ever-improving, their independence to be ever-increasing, their knowledge and understanding to be visibly multiplying.  I wanted to know how much of me mothering was going to take today.  I wanted the chores to be done because I had a plan, and I implemented it, and I needed it to work.

You and I both know, it doesn’t go that way.

We get them sleeping and then they stop.  We get that behavior worked out, and then there’s a new one.  They get over their separation anxiety and then it springs up tenfold.  Friendships are working for them, and then they suddenly aren’t.  We had big plans for the day and then a fever.  They usually bounce out the door for school, but today they don’t want to go. You dreamed of football and he wants to dance.  You imagined dresses and hair bows and she wants sneakers and t-shirts.  Today he’s not sure about all this God stuff.  Yesterday that joke was funny, but today it hurt.  Family time feels impossible because someone is always punching someone.   Reading just hasn’t clicked.  It’s hard for him to make friends.  Or maybe you’re a mama who just longs for the “normal” struggles because you can’t take a single day or milestone for granted with your child’s health or special needs.

Our children and their circumstances and their days are beautifully tragically humanly predictably unpredictable.

But with painful clarity, I began to see that my wrong perspective left no space for my children’s development to be messy and erratic and rarely linear, like mine.

High standards for our children can be a blessing that calls them into the fullness of their potential.  But needing them to meet those standards for our sense of well-being is a dangerous game. 

As I began to look beneath my constant barrage of corrections and frustration, what I saw in myself was fear:  lack of trust that my children’s stories were the Lord’s, fear that there would not be enough of me to go around, fear that their behavior and performance reflected my failure, fear that they were not going to live up to their full potential, and it would be my fault.  I think the struggle to extend grace seems to coincide with the place where our fear and shame rests — where we can’t let go.

I’m finding that at the core of most of the “needs” I have of my children, there is a lack of faith.

Though many parents share it, the need to control our children isn’t just a quirky part of motherhood to expect – at the heart, it’s a sickness of unbelief.  Our earthly expectations become our comfort.  When we try to stand on them, we aren’t believing God can walk our children through their own hardship and unknowns.

Our assumptions are not solid ground on which to stand, but there is a kind of expectation that is secure…

We can surely expect that God will never leave or forsake us (or our children). 

We should expect that God gives us (and our children) ultimate victory. 

We should hope with absolutely certainty that God is making all things new, in our lives and the lives of our children.

We should expect that any momentary affliction is preparing for us (and for our children) an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

We can expect that God has good plans for us, and for our children — that he works all things for our good.

Though everything else is uncertain, our expectations and our hope rest securely in Christ.   His promises are for our children, too.   God sees them directly— not just through our eyes, but through His own Adoring Father’s eyes.

In this light, we are free to guide them warmly through change and failure.  We are free to trust God’s handiwork on them, and believe He can handle their trials.  We are free to shed our expectations, and begin to explore and discover them.  We can stop striving, and we can look up into God’s heart, the One who knit them together and knows every hair on their heads, and apprehend His delight in them.  We can step into the beautiful adventure of mothering one or a few of God’s people.

I have a renewed sense, the way I did when each of my children were newborn strangers that I long to study them, see God’s creative originality on them.  I want to be introduced to the parts of them that scare me, to break them out of the comfortable box I put them in, and trek into the uncharted territory of their unique spirits and characters.

I’m still at the very beginning of this parenting journey — bigger failures, tougher decisions, higher stakes are ahead.  But as I stand today, I am trying to loosen my grip on my plan, and let the far more creative and ravishing story God is writing for my children begin to unfold.

Trust in God’s covering is fortifying me, allowing me to be a more stable mom —to become a rock for my children to bounce off of through all of their volatile stages.  I can be less emotional about the failures and surprises, and simply take the hand of my child and one step at a time, as God’s Word and Spirit lights our path.

If you need some ideas for breaking free from unfair expectations of your children, here are a fewThese are some habits that are helping me loosen my grip on control, helping me walk in freedom to allow my children to be the mysterious and unique and beautiful unknown miracles they were made to be.

Here’s your gift! Click to download your free printable.

Revelation 21: 5, 1 Corinthians 15:54-58, Philippians 1:20-21, Jeremiah 29:11, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18



How to move your “heart mountains” when unbelief has you stuck


Friends, this motherhood thing…it stretches every part of you. Your very skin stretches over this tiny person growing from within. Your heart stretches to the new heights of love. Your strength stretches when you have to smile through deep pain or worry. Your mind stretches to hold all the things at once, because every mama knows that your people never really leave your mind, you just stretch to fit them all. You stretch with wider boundaries and new trust as your child grows.  And your faith…

Mamas, this thing requires the stretchiest kind of faith.

That’s the stretching I never knew to expect. It’s the kind that breaks chains and let’s me run free through these days that press in on me from every side. This stretching of my faith is what is making me nimble…my soul bending with the winds but never breaking, my spirit twisting with the million things but never left in a knot. I feel the heat turning ever hotter in motherhood, but my faith is stretching as armor over the whole of me.  On the good days, anyway…er, the good hours…er, minutes…

On the other days, those in-your-face hard days, I usually find that this one thing keeps me stuck. The thing that makes me believe it’s all on my shoulders. There is this thing that makes me feel like God chose wrong when He made me their mama.  This thing convinces me that if I don’t do it ALL right, my children are doomed.  This thing ties me up in knots about all the decisions – how far to let them explore, how many cookies, which babysitters, whether they need more time with me, need a bottle, need a diaper change, need a doctor, need a counselor, need a vacation, need a tutor, need a nap.

This thing: Unbelief.

As I reflect back on my years being a mama, there have been seasons when I feel like my boots are stuck in the mud. My steps are labored, and no matter how hard I work, at the end of the day, I’m still in the mud puddle. You know the days when you wake up determined to do it differently, but it just feels like the same old battles, the same old things that push your buttons, the same cycles of spewing ugly words or facial expressions at your children when you hit the same old wall you hit yesterday.


A couple years ago, I found myself in one of these stuck places.   I woke up in a cycle of criticizing and lecturing and nagging my eldest daughter.  It’s not that I was criticizing her character or person, but a growing number of my words were corrections…about chewing with her mouth closed and being nicer to her siblings and remembering her homework and wearing clothes that match and acting her age and cleaning up after herself and sitting up straight and holding still while I brush her hair and paying attention when I speak to her and using her table manners and setting a good example for her siblings and doing what she’s supposed to without being asked, and being the BIG KID that I expected her to be.

Meanwhile, I could have burst with pride over her.  I knew how amazing she was – what a blessing she was. I was just so dang stuck in the pattern.

My heart wrenched at the thought that I was overly critical of her – of that ugly spirit shaping our relationship. So every time the words came out, I would beat myself up. The thoughts would roll over and over in my head. I’m too hard on her. What’s wrong with me? And when did this small person stop being allowed to be a child? Where’s the grace for this one? And when did she gain a responsibility for helping me raise my other children and setting our family culture? The more siblings we give her, the faster I expect her to grow up.  She’s going to hate me.  And her story will be one of “I was never good enough for my mom.” And it’s all over.

Then I would remember that she was 6 years old, and Lord-willing, we had some time to work it out.

And then a week would go by without breaking the cycle, and the thoughts would storm, and perpetuate the cycle.

I’d love to tell you that I figured out a way to stop my buttons from being pushed. I’d love to tell you I have a system for changing the feelings that creep up on me, and make me feel the crazies about to spew out of me. I didn’t. But I did uncover a great mystery about where all of this criticism and anxiety was rooted.


That’s right…Unbelief.


Underneath my desperate need to control my daughter was the fear that I was going to fail as a mom by not holding her accountable.  Or a fear that she would be teased at school like I was.  Or that she wouldn’t turn out right. Or that if even my oldest wasn’t “under control,” then my house would spin out of control. And though I needed practical things like learning how to breathe in the moments, the real solution was to let my faith stretch to allow my home to be shared by an independent, unpredictable, mysterious human being – ever changing and never what I plan or expect.

Because it all comes down to this…

If God is who he says he is, I can handle some unpredictability and lack of control since all the days ordained for us were written in his book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139).

If God is who he says he is, we ought to be anxious for nothing (Philippians 4), but bring everything to his feet.

If God is who he says he is, the pressure is off, because He is writing the stories of my children, and he chose me to be their mama.

If He is who he says he is, I didn’t do anything to earn my place in His family, and my children won’t have to either (Ephesians 1).

If God is who He says he is, he made you and me, and called us very good (Genesis 1). He planted us here on earth simply to show the world how awesome He is (Isaiah 61). And when Jesus went to the cross, He said “It is finished,” so all the work I think is so critical, just isn’t (John 19).

If I believe that God is who He says He is, then the earth will keep spinning when I stop scrambling and striving, and there IS time for the one thing that is needed, for sitting at the feet of Jesus. And it will not be taken away from me (Luke 10).


The road of letting my eldest daughter be her mysteriously unique self was the far more terrifying than trying to mold her into who I wanted her to be. It was a frightening step of faith – but even from the start, I knew it was also far more joy-filled. Rather than bringing a spirit of “here’s what I need you to be,” I can bring a spirit of “tell me about wonderful you!” I can bring a spirit of joyful exploration and discovery of God’s creativity on her. I can believe that God sees us, and has good plans for us, and will cover us in our mess.

And the strange, beautiful thing is: when I believe God’s goodness over us, the shame and fear dissipate, and the critical spirit goes right along with it.

As I allowed my faith to stretch, my spirit burned with the hope of no longer seeking to mold my daughter into my comfortable liking, and rather starting the scary, exciting journey of figuring out how to love her, with her unique spirit and character.  I didn’t have to be afraid of volatility or unpredictability in my children.  If I could, in faith, remain unshaken as they bounced and stumbled and slopped through these years, our home maintained peace. In faith, I could be, by God’s grace, a boundary line for them and for our home, rather than another pinball. They had a culture to join, rather than a mess to try to sort through, or a moving target to try to hit. I believe we hold this boundary line not by doing it all right, but simply by believing God is who he says he is. We find stability by falling into the arms of God, and letting him hold us.

We move mountains of anger by believing that our children’s behavior and performance does not determine our worth.  We can believe that we are offered grace, so that we have grace to offer to our children.

We move mountains of guilt and shame by believing that God knew we would fail, and Jesus finished the work on the cross.

We move mountains of fear by believing that God holds the future. He’s not blind to all of the things that threaten our children and families. He sees. He knows. He is not afraid.

We move mountains of too-much-ness by believing that God is bigger than our pile of laundry, our ‘to do’ list, our fatigue – by believing that he made us limited beings, on purpose.

Sister, when we feel stuck, let’s work the muscles of our spirits into that deep stretch of faith. We can sit in the discomfort of believing what we cannot see. We can develop an elasticity that allows us to move and flex with the wacky, unpredictability of these days with littles because God is stable, faithful, unchanging.  We can choose to believe God is who he says he is.


And the mountains of our hearts are thrown into the sea…