On a whim the other day, I asked my three-year-old daughter, “What does mommy say a lot?” I hoped her answer would be something like, “I love you,” or “You are my precious treasure,” or even better, some profound Gospel truth.
Her blue-gray eyes gazed at mine while she pondered my odd question, then she answered matter-of-factly, “I’m sorry.”
She returned to her plastic tea set while I wrestled with her response. I can’t believe she thinks what I say most is an apology! A wave of shame hit, realizing her short-term memory was referencing a conversation we had earlier that morning when I lost my patience at her sluggish motions while getting dressed. Yet before I could wallow in my guilt too long, the Holy Spirit breathed in a sigh of relief—a feeling of freedom—into my heart. My daughter knew I needed to apologize to her every day (multiple times a day), yet she still loved me! She didn’t expect me to be perfect. She wasn’t upset that her mommy made mistakes. Instead, she remembered that when her mommy did make mistakes, her mommy repented.
In that moment, I remembered a quote from Matt Chandler on family discipleship, “Show me parents who don’t ask for forgiveness from their kids, and I’ll show you parents who don’t understand the Gospel.”
I wasn’t failing my daughter with my habitual apologies. I was displaying the hope of the Gospel, providing opportunities for us both to be sanctified, and relieving myself from the burden of perfectionism. Instead of pridefully ignoring or excusing my sins, I demonstrated that even (and especially) mommy needs grace.
Proverbs reminds us, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (28:13). If we attempt to hide our failures in motherhood and pretend we are without fault, we deny ourselves the chance to receive and to give mercy in our homes. How will our children respond to their sins if we do not model repentance for them? How will they glimpse the grace of God if we do not display his grace in our own lives?
Confession is a powerful tool of discipleship, especially in the home. Here are three reasons that encourage me to regularly say, “I’m sorry,” to my children.
1. It displays the hope of the Gospel.
Every time I confess my sin against my children, I have a divine opportunity to proclaim Gospel truth. I teach them that rather than hiding in shame like Adam and Eve did in the garden, we can confidently come before God’s throne of grace to receive mercy and help (Hebrews 4:16). Like David, I model the hope of confession, the forgiveness of my sins, “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin” (Psalm 32:5).
Elyse Fitzpatrick teaches in her book, Give them Grace, that as mothers, we need to remember that we are fellow sinners with our children, grabbing their little hands as we run to Jesus for grace together. My children better understand their need for the hope of the Gospel when they see me put my hope in the Gospel every day.
2. It sanctifies you and your children.
Every time that I drop to my knees, look my daughter in the eye, and apologize for yelling at her, the Spirit is sanctifying me. He is replacing my heart of anger with the Father’s heart of steadfast love. God uses our confession of sin to one another (even our children) to heal us from the presence of sin in our lives. James commanded believers to “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16). Spiritual healing can only come through confession.
This confession is not only good for your own sanctification, but for your children. Paul David Tripp writes in his book Parenting, that “God hasn’t just sent you to do his work in the lives of your children; he will use the lives of your children to advance his work in you.” By outwardly declaring the internal work of the Spirit in your life, your children get a front row seat to God’s sanctifying grace.
3. It relieves the burden of perfection.
Confession cures my struggle with perfectionism. John writes that, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). When I pretend I have it all together—when I deny and cover up my weaknesses and failures—then I am lying. I am preventing myself from walking in the freedom of forgiveness. Instead, when I humbly confess my sins to God and to others (whether that be my children, my husband, or my friends), I am opening myself up to a deeper dependance on God and a deeper experience of his grace.
I’m often tempted towards shame after a long, hard day of parenting. As my weary body falls into bed and my eyelids close, a movie begins to play in my mind. The resentful attitude when my son’s waking cries interrupted my quiet time. The harsh word I spoke to my children while rushing out the door. The moments spent scrolling my phone instead of listening to my daughter’s story.
Yet in those moments, the Spirit reminds me of a favorite hymn, “When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within, upward I look and see him there, who made an end of all my sin” (Charitie Lees Smith, “Before the Throne of God Above”).
Instead of replaying my imperfections again and again in my head, I lay them at my Savior’s feet and gaze on his perfection. I confess my sins, trust in his faithful and just forgiveness, then fall asleep resting in the cleansing grace of Christ. And I pray that one day, my children might confess their hope in Jesus as well.