Table of Contents

Key takeaways

  • Struggles in parenting are normal, and provide us with opportunities to grow.
  • Parenting requires more than just practical skills; it often demands spiritual resilience.
  • Selfishness makes parenting harder because it keeps us focused on our own frustrations instead of the joy of loving and serving our kids.

Parenting is hard.

While we were in the process of foster-adopting our eldest daughter, our social worker let us know that there had been a delay with the legal proceedings and we would not hear any communication from the court for at least a year.

We would still have weekly visits from our social worker and would take care of our daughter, but we would not be able to finalize the adoption or even find out if that would be possible until the court reviewed the appeal. 

This news was discouraging and disappointing, but I (Michele) will never forget the conversation with the social worker regarding the selfless commitment that was needed to adopt a child.

She asked me if I was adopting for myself, because I wanted a child and to feel fulfilled as a mother, or was I wanting to give a child the love and care they needed for however long that may be.

She reminded me that a desire to parent should come from a desire to care for someone other than yourself. Of course, I said I agreed completely, it was for the child, but inside I felt a very strong and selfish pull to make it all about me.

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I remember crying in prayer to God about how unfair it was for me, how hard he had made it for me, and how no one should have to go through what I was experiencing. I also remember how God changed my heart by reminding me through the Scriptures of his unconditional love; I realized I had been given so much that I could give to my daughter without expecting anything in return.

We heard back from the courts a year later that we would be able to adopt our daughter, but the lesson of loving our children more than myself remains something I still work at to this day.  

Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you. 

1 Timothy 4:16 NLT

This scripture tells us that we need to keep a close watch on how we are living and what we are teaching so that when our children listen to us and see us, they can be inspired to seek God.

For many of us as parents, one of our greatest desires is to see our children grow to love God and to have a close relationship with him. Turning our selfishness into service can inspire our children to see God’s love for them and to grow to become selfless and loving with their family and friends.

Selfishness creates problems in parenting 

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Aren’t they caused by the selfish desires that fight to control you? 

James 4:1 GWT

All families experience conflict, strife and disagreements, but all too often we blame our children rather than looking at ourselves. Our selfish desires for comfort, control, validation, and praise can cause us to fight each other and make us use our children rather than love and serve them.  

Although most of us as parents want the best for our children, our selfishness can derail these efforts. Selfishness also isn’t always easy to see as a parent, perhaps because we have so much less “me-time” than we used to. Nevertheless, selfishness can still hide inside us and make life harder than it needs to be. 

There are many ways that our selfishness can make life harder for ourselves and our families. Here are a few we’ve seen in our home:

Selfishness competes with others

Everything they do is done for show and to be noticed by others. They want to be seen as holy…6 They crave the seats of highest honor at banquets and in their meeting places. 

Matthew 23:5-6  TPT

As a mother with a type-A personality and a love for competition, I have often seen the hurt my selfishness has caused my daughters by wanting them to look good for others to gain attention, praise, or approval.

After years of complaining about how hard homework was for me, I finally realized that I was pressuring my daughter who has learning difficulties to achieve success by keeping up with her classmates.

As some of my good friends helped me to see the ways I was competing with other parents, my perspective began to change. I started to see the challenges differently and see my daughter differently.

I began to see possibilities of what she could do and who God could help her become.  My selfish desire to look good was adding unneeded pressure to my daughter and our home, making life harder than it needed to be for all of us. 

Pause and reflect

  • Do you feel the desire to make your child look good to others?
  • Do you find yourself comparing your child to others, hoping he/she will excel?
  • How can you take the pressure off of your children by letting go of your own desire to look good?

Selfishness contains emotions

And fathers, don’t have unrealistic expectations for your children or else they may become discouraged.

Colossians 3:21 TPT

As a dad, I (Jason) can sometimes think selflessness means denying any negative emotions I have and just focusing on the positive. I have learned that it is selfish to be deceitful about my emotions. It places unrealistic expectations on my children to not express their emotions as well.

One time my parents were visiting from Florida, and when they left to go home, I began feeling sad because visits were rare and I was going to miss them. I wanted to act happy, keeping a smile on my face and sharing how great of a visit it was. 

Our oldest daughter, who was about 11 at the time, shared caringly, “Dad’s sad.”

Although I denied it, Michele and our daughters knew it was true. I then adamantly disagreed in order to contain any negative emotions that might escape. After their reassurance and encouragement, I admitted the truth.

Because I was selfishly trying to avoid my own negative emotions, I wasn’t letting my family come close to me or comfort me, and I was creating an unrealistic expectation for how to handle feelings of sadness.

The Bible says that when we are too hard on our children by nagging and scolding them, we can make them angry, resentful and want to give up.

I have also been selfish in trying to get our kids to suppress the truth of their own painful emotions. At those times, I didn’t want to feel their pain myself or to be selfless enough to help them work through it.

Trying to contain their feelings led to more stress, anxiety, and in some cases an eventual outburst and explosion.

I’m learning that I have made parenting more difficult by working harder to contain emotions than to help our children freely express them and turn to God and others for encouragement and strength.

Pause and reflect

  • What emotions do you find difficult to express to your family, and which emotions do you have a hard time listening to or discussing?
  • How can you make your home a place where emotions can be expressed and discussed to find connection and relief?

Selfishness controls  behavior

And now a word to you parents. Don’t keep on scolding and nagging your children, making them angry and resentful. Rather, bring them up with the loving discipline the Lord himself approves, with suggestions and godly advice.

Ephesians 6:4 TLB

The Bible says that when we are too hard on our children by nagging and scolding them, we can make them angry, resentful and want to give up. 

As we write this article, we are still experiencing the anxiety and stress of trying to stay safely at home during a deadly pandemic. There have been many times that our daughter has expressed frustration at our demands to stay on schedule, on task, and keep our house clean and tidy.

I can hear her middle schooler voice in my head right now saying, “Really, seriously, for real, who is even going to come over and see that my bed is made?”

Although there is much to be gained by a disciplined life, my lack of flexibility at times comes more from my selfish desire to control. I have learned that when I don’t turn to God by reading the Bible and praying, I think that I can bring about the peace I desire by controlling everyone and everything in the home.

It’s easy to deny our selfishness as moms because we are always busy taking care of our families. But sometimes we ignore our kids’ needs and make them feel that their martyr-m0ther is the only one working and struggling.

I am learning that I have made it harder to parent because of unrealistic expectations of myself and my daughters. By letting go of control, we all enjoy our home a lot more.  

Pause and reflect

  • Can you see ways that your selfishness is making you control things in your home and with your children?
  • How can you turn to prayer to gain peace and reassurance rather than pressuring your children to behave?

Selfishness complains about sacrifice

The whole point of what we’re urging is simply love—love uncontaminated by self-interest and counterfeit faith, a life open to God.

I Timothy 1:5 MSG

The Bible says that our love for others can be contaminated by our self-interest and our counterfeit faith. Counterfeit is defined as a fraudulent imitation of something.

When my faith isn’t real and rooted in the Bible, I can be acting like I believe that God is taking care of my children while down deep not trusting that he will work things out for the good.

As a mom, complaining can be a part of my daily vocabulary. I’m learning that in order to complain less, I need to believe more. It’s selfish to complain because it makes our kids feel responsible for our happiness or lack thereof. It pressures them to please us or just get away from us.

We have two new additions to our home, Bennie and Bernie, both guinea pigs. My older daughter had a guinea pig years ago, and I had hoped the days of caring for them were behind me but it seems they have started all over again.

This time around, I made a decision to not complain about the feeding and cleaning but rather to enjoy them. And I can say that they have brought joy and excitement to our home with their cuddling, running and popcorning (you can look that up if you like).  

Selfish complaining makes our homes a place no one wants to be, while finding joy in serving encourages everyone. 

Pause and reflect

  • Would your children say that you complain a lot in the home about taking care of them?
  • How can you build your faith through the Scriptures so that you will trust God is working in your child’s life?

Selfishness compromises convictions

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.

Matthew 23:25 NIV

It is easy to be hypocritical in parenting and not expect ourselves to be selfless and obedient to God, while we are demanding that of our children.

There are times when I (Jason) struggle with indulging in comfort rather than depending on God, my wife, and friends for strength to endure difficulties and overcome obstacles. The self-indulgences I turn to are overeating, eating sweets, not following a disciplined schedule, or just desiring the comfort of an easier life.

This selfishness has led me to compromise godly convictions when parenting our kids. I have given in and indulged them because I indulge myself. 

As a dad, I have given in to their wants for food that isn’t good for them, buying things they want, or letting them play too long on devices.  Because of my laziness and desire for ease, I give in to their selfish desires more readily when I am giving in to my own.  

Don’t be afraid to discipline your children while they’re still young enough to learn. Don’t indulge your children or be swayed by their protests.

Proverbs 19:18 TPT

By  compromising, I have hurt our daughters by making them more demanding and ungrateful at times. 

God wants me to build their character by being willing to say no and by giving them my time and energy to engage rather than things to try to occupy them quickly, hoping they won’t ask for other things in the future.  

Pause and reflect

  • What are ways that you indulge yourself when you are afraid, sad, or hurt?
  • What ways do you give in to your child’s protests and indulge them rather than saying no?

Love turns selfishness into service

Our love for others is our grateful response to the love God first demonstrated to us. 

1 John 4:19 TPT 

Because God loves us, we can love our children enough to serve them rather than serve ourselves.  

Reflecting on how much God has done for us changes our perspective to see that we can never give as much as God has already given to us. When we are satisfied with God’s love and fulfilled by his purpose for our lives, we can turn our selfishness into acts of love. 

What a person desires is unfailing love… 

Proverbs 19:22 NIV

What our children desire the most is our unfailing love and often they act out, misbehave, or make things challenging at home when they aren’t feeling this love. When we see our selfishness and start to change, we will find parenting easier and more encouraging.

Here are some ways we can turn our selfishness into serving. 

Serve by spending time together

Little children (believers, dear ones), let us not love [merely in theory] with word or with tongue [giving lip service to compassion], but in action and in truth [in practice and in sincerity, because practical acts of love are more than words].

I John 3.18 AMP

As a dad, I learned that our daughters value time spent with me more than anything else I can give them. It has created security for them and joy for me when I have focused on just being together.

When the kids were younger, playing at the park and playing games built trust and memories.  As my girls have gotten older, I have had to get more creative, seek more input, and find out from them what their interests are and how they want to spend time.

We have spent time going to breakfast, going on walks to talk, playing video games, and watching movies and documentaries together. Our relationship has grown and parenting has felt much easier as we have worked on setting aside quality time as a family.  

Pause and reflect

  • Do you have time planned daily to spend with your younger children?
  • Do you have a weekly time set to have undivided attention with your older kids like a breakfast, lunch, or walk?
  • Do you know what things they like to do, their interests, dreams and goals? 

Serve by teaching them to seek God 

“O Israel, listen: Jehovah is our God, Jehovah alone. 5 You must love him with all your heart, soul, and might. 6 And you must think constantly about these commandments I am giving you today. 7 You must teach them to your children and talk about them when you are at home or out for a walk; at bedtime and the first thing in the morning. 

Deuteronomy 6:4-7 TLB

The Bible tells us that we can serve our children by talking to them about God as well as teaching them about who he is from the Scriptures and our own life experiences.

We have had dinner devotionals with our girls, quiet times together reading the Bible and praying, and conversations about how we see God in the people and events around us. We have also spent time in nature to talk about what God has made and how we appreciate it.

Our daughters also know that mom and dad spend time daily with God and that inspires them to seek him. Years ago when I came back home early in the morning from a prayer walk, our daughter had woken up and said, “Thanks, Dad, for praying to God to protect us and take care of us.”

Pause and reflect

  • What are some things you could do in your personal walk with God that would in turn build security in your kids’ lives?
  • How can you inspire your children to seek God for themselves?

Serving means talking about everything

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 

Ephesians 4:15 NIV

Speaking the truth in love is an important part of relationships and helping each other grow into who God intends us to be.

Speaking the truth about our hearts isn’t always easy, but what helps me is knowing that God wants us to share with him in prayer everything that we are experiencing and everything that we feel, including our fears, worries, guilt, and desires.  

1 Peter 5:7 says to “cast all your anxiety on God because he cares for you.” When I am confident that God wants to listen to everything, it helps me have the courage and confidence to listen to everything my daughters are feeling as well.

Love joyfully celebrates honesty and finds no delight in what is wrong.  7 Love is a safe place of shelter,  for it never stops believing the best for others.  Love never takes failure as defeat, for it never gives up.

I Corinthians 13:6-7 TPT

I was adopted as a baby, and we adopted both of our girls. When our oldest became a teenager and was learning to talk about how she felt about being adopted, I avoided talking to her about that.

I wanted my wife, Michele, and other friends of hers to talk with her. However, God made it clear that he wanted me to do that because she needed help understanding her feelings.

We went on a long walk together, and I told her about how I feel insecure daily in relationships and have fears of being rejected in relationships because of being adopted.

I told her how God taught me to rely on Scriptures daily about his care for me. I shared how much Michele and friends reassured me about God’s care and their love too.

She thanked me and told me that she felt those same things and that my sharing with her about what I felt helped her to express what she felt. It helped her to get to know God better and look to him for security. 

What I believed was too hard to talk about was exactly what God wanted to use to show our daughter his love.

Pause and reflect

  • How can you begin to talk with your younger children about how you are doing every day?
  • Have you spent time talking with your older children about your teenage years to relate to them?
  • Do you talk to them about the experiences you face daily with work, relationships, and challenges in your life?

Serving means turning to friends for help 

Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck,write them on the tablet of your heart. 4 Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. 5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding… 

Proverbs 3.3-5 NIV

One of the decisions I have made in turning from selfishness is to ask others for help and not lean on my own understanding. My self-reliance has often made me feel that I knew what was best for our children when I really didn’t know and ended up hurting them or not meeting their needs.

I know that I can’t rely just on my own wisdom and knowledge for parenting.

When I ask friends for help and advice, I feel relieved and I’m able to gain a different perspective and spiritual focus. I can also inspire my daughters to build friendships when I am close to my friends and see my need for them rather than only trusting in myself.

Pause and reflect

  • Who are people in your life that you can ask for spiritual help and parenting advice?
  • What are 1-2 ways you can encourage your children to build friendships?

Serving means training our kids to do good

Train up a child in the way he should go [teaching him to seek God’s wisdom and will for his abilities and talents], Even when he is old he will not depart from it. 

Proverbs 22:6 AMP

One of the best ways to turn our selfishness into serving is by training our children to become adults who love God and others.

When we are selfless, our training will be inspiring and enjoyable for both ourselves and our children as we discover their abilities, talents, and ways God can use them to make a difference in the lives of others.

This verse in Proverbs 22 tells us to teach our kids to seek God’s wisdom and will for their abilities and talents. What gifts and talents do your kids have, and how can they use those talents to serve others? 

Setting an example by using your own abilities and talents to serve others will paint a picture for your kids of how inspiring it is to be selfless. How can you use your own God-given talents and abilities to change people’s lives for the better? 

God’s love for us can bring out the best in us as parents and also bring out the best in our children.  Although our selfish desires can make us try to contain and control our kids, our love for them can change our hearts so we can inspire them to seek God and share their thoughts and feelings.

As we enjoy our time spent together,  we can teach our kids that relationships with friends and family are the most valuable thing they have. By turning from selfishness to serving, we set an example for our children to be loving and show them God’s love through us. 

Explore more:
Parenting Is Hard. It’s Harder When It’s All About You 7

Jason Coulliette graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in architecture, and currently serves as a minister in the San Francisco Bay Area. He's happily married with two kids and loves working with families and in the community.

Parenting Is Hard. It’s Harder When It’s All About You 7

Jason Coulliette graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in architecture, and currently serves as a minister in the San Francisco Bay Area. He's happily married with two kids and loves working with families and in the community.

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