Shame-Free Parenting

I recently read a booklet, written by a well-known Christian mom, entitled “Everything You Need to Know About How to Get Your Babies to Sleep Through the Night.” She listed 10 strategies that she’s implemented and have worked well for her kids. One morning, while guzzling my 3rd cup of coffee (after a particularly horrific night of poor sleep with my wonderfully fussy twin infants), I opened the booklet, hopeful that this mom’s advice could help me.

The problem was, she used words like “always” and “never” and “without exception” when describing what you should and shouldn’t do to ensure a good night’s sleep for you and your baby. At first, I began to chuckle, recalling the years of sleep deprivation that I’ve endured (and am still enduring) while raising my 4 kids. I rolled my eyes as I realized that I had, over the years, tried to implement each and every one of her suggestions, and yet, very few of them ever proved helpful to me or to my babies. But, here she was, claiming that these strategies WILL work, and implying that, if they don’t work, you are doing something wrong. I grimaced. An ugly aroma had entered the room. It was the stench of shame.

I’d smelled that disgusting odor many times before, after reading well-meaning parenting books who explained, in detail, the ways in which you should handle certain parenting situations (such as sleep-training, potty-training, baby-feeding, etc.). I’ve spent countless hours trying to implement these strategies with my own kids, but guess what? Very few of the strategies have worked exactly the way the book-writers have said they should, if they even worked for my kids at all! And after I read them, I’d smell that stench arise and fill my house.

Please don’t hear me say that I’m against parenting books. I am actually so grateful for the knowledge and wisdom that others offer through such books, and they’ve often given me hope and direction! But, what I don’t like is when authors, pastors, friends, other moms, and bloggers use words like “always,” “never,” and “without exception,” because such absolutes leave no room for individual preferences, personalities, environments, ability levels, and specific temperaments of mother and child.

Saying that “there is only one way to do things” is as preposterous as saying that God only makes one kind of person.

Have you ever eaten at a Mexican food restaurant, and you can still smell the scent of fajitas in your hair and on your clothing after you return home? The problem with scents is that they can follow you. I’ve often carried that shame-stench with me after learning how other parents raise their kids, and feeling like I’ve missed the mark because I (a.) wasn’t able to implement their strategies because I am not good at doing things their way, or (b.) their strategies didn’t work for my kids for one reason or another. Either way, it’s so easy to feel ashamed.

So, as I read that booklet, a righteous indignation rose up in me. I wasn’t angry at the author, I was angry at the stench of shame that affects so many of my mom-sisters. We are trying so hard to be good parents, but when parenting tips are presented to us as absolutes—through books, through blogs, and through friends—and when those tips don’t work for us, shame is heaped upon our heads. And that literally stinks.

Shame stinks. And it makes us reek. And I sure don’t want to be around someone who smells bad. Which is exactly the point. I believe there is a real battle, for parents, over this issue of shame.

The Bible has other ideas of how God has created us to smell.

2 Corinthians 2:14-15

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.

Whoa, jump back! Did that really say that I am the FRAGRANCE OF CHRIST!? Then, why do I let myself smell like poop? (and I’m not referring to the countless times that a baby has pooped on me—that is, sadly, unavoidable).

Shame keeps me from one of my ultimate callings—smelling so good that I’m attractive to those who are perishing and helping them find the only true way to be saved.

So, what do I do now? How do I wash away the scent of shame, and have a shame-free approach to parenting? You’re probably not interested in reading a 100 page blog entry, so here are a few of my initial, not-very-well-developed thoughts.

  1. I must always remember—each kid is different, and every parent is different. I must be free to be ME and let my kids be free to be THEMSELVES. If I am trying to be just like another mom, my world is hopeless. I will never be just like her. I will always fail.
  1. In order to know how to be myself, I must KNOW MYSELF. I love to take personality tests and to learn as much as I can about my strengths and weaknesses. One of my favorites is the “StrengthFider’s Test.” ( It’s up to me to figure out what I’m best at, to capitalize on my strengths, and to be humble and accept God’s help in my weaknesses. (2 Corin. 12:9—“my power is made perfect in weakness.”) Most importantly, though, I need to know who God says that I am. That means, I must learn to listen to His voice above the voices of the authors of parenting books.
  1. In order to help my kids be themselves, I must KNOW MY KIDS. I must put down my phone and my lap-top and really pay attention to them. I like to ask teachers and other friends what they see in my kids. What are their strengths and weaknesses? It’s also important for me to spend time asking God to show me who He has created my kid to be— the deepest part of who he or she is. Then, I can keep that in mind when I’m having a particularly trying time with him or her. I can call him or her up higher. I can remind myself of the gold within each kid.
  1. I’m at my best when I’m SPIRIT-LED. Every kid is different. Every mom is different. I believe we aren’t born with all of the answers because God wants so badly for us to be in relationship with Him. If I could figure it all out on my own, I wouldn’t need Him. I operate at my best when I listen to what He is saying about me, about my kids’ needs, and about each difficult situation. (for more about this, see my blog about this: )

I guess my options are clear—I can smell like Christ, or I can stink like shame.

I guess it’s up to me.



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