“I bet our kids think we’re old!” I said to my friend Julie.
She agreed. “I knew Mom was ancient when she was our age.”
That night, as I tucked my eight-year-old son into bed, I asked him, “Do you think I’m old?”
“Yes,” he said casually.
Wait ‘til I tell Julie. “Why do you think I’m old?”
“Because you yell.”
My breath caught in my throat. “Oh . . . okay . . . well, get some sleep. I love you.”
I kissed his forehead and hurried out of his room before the tears could fall. Oh, how they fell. I curled up in bed and sobbed. Then and there I declared myself Worst Mother of the Year.
My son was clearly wrong about my being old, but not about the yelling. I rivaled my three young children in temper tantrums. If they yelled, I yelled louder. If they snapped, I snapped harder. I grimaced every time my rudeness echoed in my children’s voices, but it wasn’t until my son deemed me old “because I yell” that I realized how my sins were affecting the ones I loved most.
Fear gripped me. What if my children followed in my sinful footsteps? I remembered Moses’ words in Deuteronomy about God “visiting the sins of the fathers” on their children.
You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Deut. 5:9–10)
Does the same apply to a mother’s sins? Yelling wasn’t my worst transgression. Would God visit the sins of my college years on my children? Would they pay for the offenses I never speak of?
What does Deuteronomy 5:9–10 mean?
What “Visiting the Iniquity of the Fathers” Doesn’t Mean
We’ll look at what this passage means, but first, let’s look at what it doesn’t mean.
- It doesn’t mean your children will go to hell because of your sins. We’re all responsible for our own sinful choices (Rev. 20:12–13). We may pick up our parents’ ungodly habits, but it’s our own sins that make us fit for hell. But praise God, faith in Christ instantly sets sinners free from sin’s penalty and covers us in Christ’s righteousness (Isa. 61:10; Rom. 6:17–18; 8:2).
- It doesn’t mean our sins—or our ancestors’ sins—are responsible for our children’s sins. Adam and Eve’s rebellion in the Garden of Eden caused sin to become part of their spiritual DNA, which we inherit (Gen. 3; Rom. 5:12; Isa. 53:6). Your sin didn’t turn your “little angels” into sinners. They were born that way.
- It doesn’t mean freedom from sin’s power requires Christ plus confession and renunciation of our ancestors’ sins. We can’t blame our choices or evil desires on our ancestors or on Satan (James 1:14). The devil has power, but he’s limited by Christ, not the other way around. Jesus’ death and resurrection broke the power of darkness over believers. Freedom from sin comes when we humble ourselves before the Lord, confess and forsake our sins, and walk in obedience by faith in Christ (Rom. 3:23; 1 John 1:8–9).
What “Visiting the Iniquity of the Fathers” Means
The word “visiting” worried me. I feared it meant God would place my sins upon my children against their will. That even if they wanted to be holy, my sins would doom them to follow in my rebellious footsteps. Fortunately, I was wrong. Instead, God’s Word teaches these two important truths:
- God’s mercy far exceeds His wrath. Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 5:9–10 remind us that while God indeed judges all who worship anyone or anything other than Him, He is merciful. In His kind mercy, He sent His own Son to satisfy His wrath for the sins of the ungodly—us. In His grace, He shows steadfast love to “those who love Him and keep His commandments”—in other words, Christians.
- Parents pass on habits and traits—the good and the bad. We observe the daily choices our parents make and copy them. Parents who, as Moses said, “hate” God (non-Christians) are more likely to raise children who also reject Him and His Word.
Similarly, children raised by parents who scream at them often wind up screaming at their own children. Unless God steps in and they humble themselves before Him, they’ll likely take their parents’ ungodly habits with them into adulthood. In some cases, the sinful behaviors of parents become so deeply embedded into the mindset of children it can take generations to break the cycle.
Consider Abraham and Isaac. Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness. But he was still a sinner whose example taught his son Isaac the art of deception. Abraham feared that his wife Sarah’s beauty would lead the king of Egypt to kill him and take Sarah, so Abraham lied. He presented Sarah as his sister (Gen. 12:10; 20:1). Years later, Isaac pretended Rebekah was his sister, not his wife (Gen. 26:7). Isaac imitated his father, but his sin wasn’t Abraham’s fault. Isaac didn’t need to confess and renounce his father’s sin. He needed to confess and repent of his own sin.
Are you relieved to discover your past sins aren’t chains on your children that will drag them into hell? Our sins may drag them into therapy, but our sins won’t drag them into hell.
Five Ways to Succeed as a Christian Mom
Being a mom is a holy calling and heavy responsibility. God’s Word provides the help we need to best succeed.
1. Remember Who Is God
There’s only one God, and you’re not Him. God alone controls everything, including your children—and He loves them even more than you do. Whenever you recognize you’re moving away from trusting God or trying to manipulate or bypass Him for control, bow. Bow to the Lord and remember He alone is God (Isa. 46:9, John 17:3, Rev. 1:8, Rom. 1:21).
For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): “I am the LORD, and there is no other.” (Isa. 45:18)
2. Repent of Your Sins
While you’re down on your knees worshipping God as God, repent of your sins. Daily. If you’ve sinned against your children, confess to them and ask their forgiveness. Model what it looks like to turn from your sins and rely on His Spirit’s presence and power to enable you to walk in obedience to His Word. And then rest in His forgiveness with grateful joy.
It’s not repentance if we just feel guilty or sad about our sin but continue in it. And it’s not resting in grateful joy if we wallow in regret. Pride tells us we can keep sinning so long as we ask forgiveness. Pride also tells us we must earn forgiveness by confessing and punishing ourselves or by doing good works. His blood, not our wallowing or good works, paid for our sins. Rejoice in His grace and mercy, and humbly walk in godliness (Acts 3:19; Matt. 3:8; 2 Chron. 7:14).
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
3. Pray for Your Children
Boldly bring your children to the throne of grace and pray they’ll find mercy and salvation (Heb. 4:16). If your children are Christians, pray they’ll walk in a manner worthy of their calling every day of their lives—that they’ll hunger and thirst for righteousness, God’s Word, and the fellowship of other Christians. And pray for your grandchildren and their children. Pray for a godly heritage to continue until Christ returns.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Phil. 4:6)
4. Trust and Obey the Word of God
Commit to studying God’s Word every day—and obeying it. God works through His Word to give us the desire and power to obey Him (Phil. 2:13; Heb. 13:20–21). No matter the cost, walk in the truth by faith (Heb. 10:38). When you blow it—and you will—go back to point #2 and repent.
If you love me [Jesus], you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15)
5. Train Your Children to Know and Obey the Lord and His Word
Whether your children ever surrender to the Lord by faith is between them and God. Nevertheless, God calls us to train our children to know and obey Him and His Word. Lay a sound biblical foundation for your children by committing to these daily habits:
- Open God’s Word and point them to Christ, the One way to the Father.
- Remind them Christ is their perfect example—not you. As hard as we try, we won’t always model Christ well.
- Depending on their age and maturity, talk with your children about your struggles with sin. Make it easy for them to come to you with their challenges by modeling grace and repentance.
- Teach them how to pray and model patient faith in waiting for His answers.
- Explain the Scriptures and God’s powerful attributes and ways.
- Join a church that faithfully teaches the Bible with humble and steadfast conviction—and attend faithfully.
- Apologize to your children when you treat them wrongly—when you sin against them. Times of repentance allows you to model walking before the Lord in humble brokenness and joyful revival.
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Prov. 22:6)
The Glorious Conclusion: We May Fail, but God Never Does
If you feel like you’re in the running for “Worst Mother of the Year”—or at least “Worst Mother of the Day—let this glorious truth lift your heart: no matter how many times you fail, God never does.
The Lord didn’t fail when He chose you to be the mother of your kids, as imperfect as you are. He may actually use your sins and imperfections to draw your children to Himself. (This isn’t an invitation to sin, by the way.)
Our worst sins are no match for Christ’s grace and power. After all, He brings the dead back to life. He’s the Lord Almighty. We can’t impede or supersede His power—no matter how flawed (or old!) we become.