After becoming a parent, I was hit with a barrage of what it meant to be a good parent and to raise good kids.

Some of this came from my own preconceived notions of what I was going to be like as a parent … you’ve probably seen the meme: “I was the perfect parent … until I had kids.” But even without that, the lists of shoulds and shouldn’ts, dos and don’ts overwhelmed me.

As time went on, I realized I had an internal checklist going in my mind. If I met the mark, it was a good day. If I didn’t or another item was added to the list via a Facebook post, a comment from a well-meaning person, or an article I’d read, I felt like a terrible parent.

In condensed form, it looked something like this:

What I thought it meant to be a good parent

But there is one major problem with this equation: me

I realized this after watching a video by a mom encouraging other moms to “stop feeling guilty.” I was relieved at first (Yes! I’m not the only mom feeling this way!) but the guilt kept creeping back.

I don’t remember when, but God eventually showed me the reason. The guilt was real. What I was blaming it on wasn’t.

Instead of dealing with the real problem, me, I was seeking refuge in my checklist. On the one hand, the checklist could justify me … I may not do x, y, z but at least I do ___. On the other, it could condemn me in a way that gave me control … I wouldn’t feel this way, if I just did x, y, z. Okay, I’ll try harder then.

The Pharisees did the same thing. Rather than follow God’s Law, they added to it, and made up their own code for what it meant to be a “good Jew.”

The sad thing is, our checklist is self-defeating. In the end, we either burn ourselves out trying to reach an unattainable goal or we delude ourselves into thinking we’ve arrived. We then bully other parents who don’t meet our standards — because if they don’t feel bad about not measuring up, we might begin to think we didn’t actually need to try so hard.

Worst still, we fall short of the real goal. Our kids either become just like us … inventing unattainable goals or bullying others for not having the same ones … or they run from us because we’ve held them to impossible standards and probably bullied them in the process. Or both.

Don’t organize the fridge, throw out the meat

So what’s the solution? If you have a checklist like me, you know it isn’t easy to just throw it off. Maybe you’ve even tried the “just don’t feel guilty” trick too. But that’s like organizing your fridge to get rid of a bad smell. Sure, you might feel better that your fridge looks good, but if you don’t get rid of the rotting meat, the stench is going to kick you in the face the next time you open the door.

The problem isn’t necessarily our lists. In fact, they probably have some very good things on them. The primary problem is us!

Our own commandments

When Saul was king, he decided it was okay to not follow God’s command.

To punish the Amalekites, God commanded Saul to utterly destroy them and leave none of them alive. “But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.” (1 Samuel 15:9)

Like Saul, we make exceptions to God’s commands.

When we set up standards for ourselves (and others) to follow, we’re making our own set of commandments. In other words, we’re making ourselves like God. But God has commanded us not to have any other god before Him. We can’t worship Him as the Only God and hold on to our own standards. We must utterly destroy them.

However, if we’ve set ourselves up to be like God, we may not like this uncompromising directive. Perhaps, like Saul, we’re tempted to keep “the best” things on our checklists.

We organize the fridge but don’t throw out the rotting flesh … our disobedient hearts. Just like the smell will give us away, Saul couldn’t hide his disobedience.

Excuses or obedience

When Samuel came and heard the sheep bleating, he asked Saul why he had disobeyed. Saul excuses the people and blames them at the same time … they kept the sheep to sacrifice to God!

Sheep grazing in the field

How often do we justify our checklists for “religious” reasons? “I’m just keeping my children safe and God wants us to do that.”

The same response that Samuel gave to Saul applies to us:

Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
As in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams. (1 Samuel 15:22)

More than the safety of our children (or in truth, the pride of our good parenting), God cares about His own glory and our obedience. And that’s good news for us! When our King is glorified and we worship Him only, His will is being done on earth as it is in Heaven. That means we get to experience His kingdom here and now.

A kingdom which shall not be moved (Hebrews 12:28), a priceless treasure (Matthew 13),

an everlasting dominion,
Which shall not pass away,
And His kingdom the one
Which shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:14)

In other words, a kingdom far better than you or I could create … even with all the checklists on Pinterest.

What if I don’t?

Samuel asked Saul twice why he had disobeyed God, and neither time did Saul express any repentance.

I hope this isn’t us.

God is a jealous God and the consequences for sin are severe:

For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft,
And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
He also has rejected you from being king. (1 Samuel 15:23)

What is our kingship that we’ve been entrusted with? The raising and instruction of our children!

That’s right, the very thing we’re striving for – good parenting and good children – can be taken from us in a moment. And not by the things we’re trying to protect our children from … but by God because of our disobedience.

What God requires

If we utterly destroy our checklists, what’s left? What does God require?

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart—
These, O God, You will not despise. (Psalm 51:7)

Rather than fortifying our “good parenting” with checklists and standards, we need to recognize our utter dependence on God to do the work He’s called us to.

You and I and our disobedience hearts are the things our children need protection from. You and I and our attempts to be God are the hindrances to “good parenting.”

We need to stop measuring ourselves by our own and others’ standards and repent of falling short of God’s. God alone is the One who blesses our efforts and produces “good” children (by His standards).

We will fall and break under our standards … or we will bear the consequences of them.

Instead, let us fall and be broken before Jesus Christ to whom the kingdom of God had been given. His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

Blessed is the one
who trusts in the Lord,
who does not look to the proud,
to those who turn aside to false gods. (Psalm 40:4)