My husband and I have three sons. They love Risk, backyard baseball, anything with a screen, and their daddy. They aren’t crazy about lima beans or black-eyed peas. They’re bursting with energy. (Why, yes, we do have a trampoline in our living room.) And, as you might imagine, my boys also regularly sin. I won’t pretend they don’t. But I’m not going to tell you about it, either.
I do talk about my kids. I often tell other parents stories about the day they made a cage out of bricks, in case they ever catch a bird, and the time they all ate jalapeños at the dinner table just to prove they could. I can remember the childhood pleasure of hearing my parents tell stories about me, and I hope that by telling stories about my kids, my children know that I love them and find them fascinating.
And when my child is ensnared in a sin, I sometimes get counsel. Several times, I lacked wisdom about how to address a sin pattern in my child’s life, and I privately sought wisdom from another godly person. When I quietly tell my child’s sins for the purpose of his rescue, I do well.
Not Public Property
But I want to caution fellow parents against telling us your children’s sins as if those stories are community property. The prevalence of this kind of sharing may have lulled us to believe it’s not a big deal. But it is.
Perhaps one of the most popular examples of telling children’s sin is the viral Tumblr “Reasons My Son Is Crying.” The site was launched by Greg Pembroke, who posted photos of his children in distress because of seemingly insignificant events. The captions describe tantrum-inducing moments like “I broke his cheese in half” and “the neighbor’s dog wasn’t outside.” Parents from all over the world resonated with the scenarios, and they began submitting photos of their own complaining children. Six months since its launch, the site has become so popular that Pembroke has included his favorite submissions in a book, recently released in the UK—with a U.S. edition scheduled for publication in the spring.
Christian parents might feel above this kind of crass oversharing, but, often, we are not. From blogs to Bible studies—wherever parents gather—stories of children’s misbehavior flow freely. It’s not unusual for a mother to walk in to a gathering of Christian women, sullen child in tow, and proceed to tell everyone about her young child’s last hour of disobedience. Frequently, the women of the group will listen, roll their eyes, and groan in sympathy. Most parents have been in a similar situation, and perhaps we have told some of the stories ourselves.
Parents announce their children’s sins for a variety of reasons. Being a parent is a lonely job, and we can wrongly use our children’s sinful antics to build camaraderie with other parents. We can also be personally frustrated by our children’s actions and leverage the telling of their sins to justify our own impatience and anger. And, particularly online, we sometimes tell our children’s sins as a way to establish our family’s authentic credentials as “real” and “broken” people.
None of these is a good reason to forget that our children are also our biblical neighbors. I may have authority over my children, but I don’t own them or their stories. My children are neither my possessions nor extensions of myself. They are image-bearing individuals with souls that will last forever. And one of my first obligations to my children is to treat them with kindness and dignity as my neighbors. I am obligated to look out for their interests (Phil. 2:4), and I must treat my children as I desire to be treated (Matt. 7:12). Even when it comes to their sin.
But my silence is about more than merely kindness. It’s about my children’s perception of the gospel. This is serious. Telling my children’s sins publicly can misrepresent the gospel I otherwise work so hard to communicate to them.
When parents retell our children’s sins, we often leave the impression that we are the ones who have been wronged. This is not the attitude of Scripture. David’s confession in Psalm 51 makes it clear that sin is primarily rebellion against God himself. We parents may have been disrespected or disobeyed by our children, but we are not the chief offended party. We distract our children from the real significance of their sin—and the real sweetness of their Savior—when we make it sound like their sin is about us rather than about God.
In broadcasting our children’s sins, they may begin to think that sin is not so serious. The wry chuckles and eye-rolling of parents can make children believe their sin is funny, or at least something expected. This attitude only serves to make Christ and his sacrifice seem unnecessary. If sin is not so bad, our Savior is not so important either.
Finally, and perhaps worst, is the possibility that our children will believe their sinful condition is hopeless. Parental exasperation—throwing up our hands at one more instance of misbehavior—can communicate to our children that their sin is so far gone as to be beyond hope. Retelling and broadcasting our children’s sin can magnify it to an unsolvable proportion and thus push Jesus and his sin-covering blood out of the grasp of tiny fingers.
God dealt with our sins individually and personally, and, likewise, parents do best when they whisper the gospel into the ears of the little rebels on our laps—whose cookie-snatching, wall-decorating, and tantrum-throwing was specifically and lovingly atoned for on the cross.
So, no, I won’t tell you why my son is crying. That’s between him and the Savior of small sinners.
Megan Hill lives in Mississippi. She is a member of St. Paul Presbyterian Church (PCA) and writes about ministry life at Sunday Women.