(I originally wrote this a few years ago when I had someone in poopy diapers but the sentiment still fits.)

This weekend Trent and I were able to join over 1,000 adoptive and foster parents at the Refresh conference near Seattle.  It was a great weekend, spending time together with no kids and connecting with other adoptive parents  We also attended several great seminars and sessions full of practical suggestions and encouragement in our parenting journey.

One of the biggest concepts I brought home from the entire weekend actually has little to do with adoption.  And I can’t stop thinking about it.  The question was proposed:  how do you measure your success as a parent?  

Will you take a moment to answer that question?  Like, honestly.  When do you feel like “I’m nailing this!” or when do you feel like a failure?  What will success look like when your child is 22 and out of the house?

For me, my brutally honest answer revolved around who my children turn out to be, whether or not they love and serve Jesus, if they are respectful and hard working, can do their own laundry, etc, etc.  In other words, I feel like MY success as a parent is entirely based on the behaviors and actions of my children.  It’s about the results.  And this is not a ridiculous concept.  Of course my parenting has a direct relation to how my kids behave.

But, what if I do everything “right” and my kid doesn’t turn out the way I had hoped?  What if I give my absolute best, day in and day out, and my young adult chooses a bad path?  Does that mean I’m a failure as a parent?  That it was all for naught?

Or, let’s make this less big picture and more real life.  What if my 9 year old gets sent to the principal’s office for bad behavior?  What if my 6 year old has such a sassy mouth that it makes my jaw drop?  What if I’m out in public with my 4 year old and he is so wild and out of control that we draw stares and unsolicited advice from perfect strangers?  Do these things mean that I am a bad parent?  That I have not “succeeded” in parenting?  Or does it just mean I’m a failure for THAT particular day?

I’m hoping that you are thinking “No, of course not!” because those kind of things happen to me all the stinking time.  Using the results of my kids’ behavior as my measure of parenting success is a recipe for failure.  They are hopelessly flawed, just like their mama.  This is especially dangerous for those of us who are parenting kids who have any kind of trauma in their background, or those parenting a child with any unique behavioral or emotional needs.

And throughout this weekend, I just kept sitting in this thought:

What if this parenting journey is so much less about how I am molding my kids, and WAY more about how Jesus is molding me?    

2020 Tompkins family
No one in diapers, but still being refined.

MIND. BLOWN.  Maybe you’re way ahead of me and have thought this for years, but it is just now sinking in for me.  All this time, over the last 10 years, I’ve had it backwards.  I’ve been working under the theory that I’m doing this for THEM.  That God gave them to me because He has big plans for them, and somehow he wants to use my imperfections to do a miraculous work in them and make them into world changers for Jesus.

And, oh, how I still pray that is true!  Lord, use my imperfections to make them into world changers for Jesus!  But guess what?  He could make them whatever He wants them to be, with or without my help.  Now I’m realizing that maybe he gave them to me, because he also has big plans and wants to do a miraculous work in ME!  What if he is refining my imperfections to make ME into a world changer for Jesus?

What if every massive tantrum, every exhausting and never-ending argument, every moment spent crying in the bathroom with the door locked is not a detour from my plan to churn out perfect little Tompkins, but RIGHT SMACK DAB in the center of God’s plan to chisel me down into a beautiful work of art that He created me to be?

The fancy theological word that keeps coming to mind is “sanctification.”  It’s the process of becoming holy.  And it’s not supposed to be easy.  To become holy is to become more like God.  Parenting is the ultimate process of sanctification–or at least, it CAN be, if we let it.  Nothing in my life has dug up my ugliness and brought it to the surface like parenting.  Nothing has broken me like parenting.   But how can God cleanse me if I’m hiding the ugly?  How can he truly seep into me until I’m broken?

The more I surrender to this idea, the more it makes sense.  Our God is a perfect parent, full of love and understanding.  He is doing a work in me that is so far from completion, and I want my ultimate goal not to be about my kids’ results, but about my heart.  As I keep my kids accountable, I need to keep myself accountable.  Asking: do I show love and understanding?  Is the fruit of the spirit seen in my life…not just when I’m at church on my best behavior, but when I’m behind closed doors with my people?  Am I relying on my own knowledge and wisdom, or am I going to the SOURCE of knowledge and wisdom?

I will never, EVER give up fighting for my children, teaching them, disciplining them and praying for God to make them into the best versions of themselves.  But as I endeavor to develop their character, may I first endeavor to develop my own character.   I will celebrate victories when I see them behaving with love and respect, but I will also celebrate my own victories of daily dying to myself, receiving and showing grace.  As my friend Missy says, I’m a sinner raising a sinner.  Thank God for his grace.

I have a feeling that my measure of parenting success will be ever-changing.  But I also have a feeling that the more I have my eyes fixed on Jesus and how I allow this parenting thing to make me more like Him, the better we’ll all be in the end.