Principles for dealing with sins against your kids
“Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” (Proverbs 19:11)
While I was out shopping recently, I noticed a woman wearing a shirt stamped with the words “MAMA BEAR” in all caps. Under that, in smaller text, it said something like, “If you mess with my kids, I’ll tear you to shreds.” That certainly caught my attention. It’s not the kind of threat I normally encounter in the produce section.
The shirt was probably meant to be a bit tongue-in-cheek, but the fact is that moms can be downright fierce when it comes to defending our kids. But is that mama-bear impulse the right one? It’s a fallen world, and sins will be committed against our kids at some point—even in a Christian school. In most cases, the sins will be minor. In rare cases the sin may be serious. But in either case, we must respond in a way that honors God.
Our kids do need to know that they can rely on us to listen to their concerns and defend them against genuine wrongs. But angry she-bears are rarely God’s agents of justice in the world. (Except for that one time when those young punks were badmouthing the prophet Elisha—in which case she-bears were, in fact, the agents of justice. But I digress.) The point is, we are called to be slow to anger. And in our anger we must not sin (Ephesians 4:26).
Maintaining self control, however, doesn’t mean giving sin a pass. It means giving sin the response it requires. So when your little girl comes home complaining of mean cliques at recess or your teenage son asserts that his teacher is punishing students unfairly, what’s a mom to do?
When it comes to sins against us or our kids, there are only three legitimate responses: cover it, confront it, or confess it. Which of those three responses is the right one depends on the severity and the truth of the accusation.
A minor offense (i.e., “She cut in line in front of me!”) is the kind of complaint that most likely needs to be covered by love. You don’t need to subpoena multiple witnesses or call the school administration to establish whether a first-grader is guilty of cutting in line. Even if the accused is guilty as charged, this kind of sin is just an opportunity for your child to learn to overlook an offense. The Bible says that to do so is glory. If it happens repeatedly or maliciously, however, it may be time to say something.
This is when things can get complicated. If the accusation is more serious and cannot be overlooked, then confrontation is required. And in my experience, it’s best to get dad involved at this point—especially if your mama-bear emotions are running high. Matthew 18 provides a helpful template for what confrontation should look like under ordinary circumstances: first one-on-one, then bringing a witness, then going to the authorities.
Depending on the severity of the situation and the maturity of your child, your kid may be the one who needs to go to the person who wronged him and do the confrontation himself. In other cases, your child may need a parent to go with him or to contact another adult or authority figure on his behalf.
Confrontation isn’t fun (and if it is, you’re in mama-bear mode and need to back off until your self control is restored). Most moms I know prefer to avoid confrontation. But if you can’t cover the sin, this isn’t an option. We must either let the offense go wholeheartedly, or we must deal with it directly.
What we emphatically must not do is stew in our bitterness, or lie awake thinking of stinging comebacks, or gossip about the story to everybody butthe offending party. Forgiveness and restoration can never come that way.
This third option is what must happen when, after doing a little digging, it turns out that your child is actually the one in the wrong. Easy, mama bear. Don’t forget that your little sweetie is a sinner, too. There are two sides to most stories.This is why the Bible forbids convicting a person on the testimony of one witness. “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” (Proverbs 18:17)
Once, as I watched preschool-aged kids playing, one kid smacked the other, and the one who committed the violence came running to his mom, crying, “He hurt my haaaand!” It was hilarious, but even adults are capable of the same impulse to blame shift. Sometimes the girls on the playground really are mean—but sometimes they’re excluding your child because she cheats at all the games. Sometimes a teacher is genuinely harsh and unreasonable. But sometimes your teenage boy repeatedly ignores instructions and resents the consequences. Don’t shy away from seeking the truth, even if it might make your kid—or you as a mom—look bad.
As Christian parents, we should want our kids to be called out when they sin so that we can deal with it before it does long-term damage. It’s not a blessing to go through life with an accumulation of unconfessed guilt, so give thanks for opportunities for your child to experience the freedom of seeking forgiveness honestly.
Put Away the Claws
Sin happens, even between Christians in a Christian school. Help your kids learn to cover what ought to be covered, confront what needs to be confronted, and confess what needs to be confessed. And let’s not become mama bears who “bite and devour one another” (Galatians 5:15) but instead guide our kids in the pursuit of true justice and reconciliation according to God’s Word.
is an ACCS alumna and the mother of 5 sons, including one
cancer survivor. She lives in northern Idaho where, in addition to
managing her family’s full schedule, she works as a writer and
graphic designer. She is the author of numerous articles and of
the book The Clouds Ye So Much Dread (Canon Press, 2017).