“Enjoy every moment. These years fly by, and before you know it, you’re an empty-nester.”

Every moment? Do you remember the little years? The tantrums, the carseat battles, the poopy diapers, the 5:30 wake-ups? Not enjoyable moments. Sanctifying and rewarding, yes, but enjoyable?

The years may fly by, but the days typically crawl.

I have a 2-year-old. Many of you are also in the little years, and you’ve heard “Enjoy every moment,” and you—like me—have swallowed your objections and thought, Oh man. They’re right. My kids are great. What’s wrong with me that I’m struggling to enjoy these years?

Enter the cloud of shame that follows us around as we simply try to endure the moment at hand—defusing the tantrum, winning the battle, changing the diaper.

And we wonder: How can I start enjoying my kids more?

A Parent’s Aim

This question isn’t bad or wrong. To enjoy our children is a good aim—they’re gifts from God—and, generally speaking, we do enjoy them. There are plenty of wonderful moments when we’re tending to boo-boos, cheering them on as they graduate to the big-kid slide, or watching the fruit of our training as “please” and “thank you” come more naturally to them.

In these moments, our heads are not down, but up. We’re able to get a big-picture view. We’re not just getting through; we’re enjoying.

But life is made up of dozens of little moments, many of which are not enjoyable. This is true in marriage and work and church life, and even during supposedly idyllic times like holidays and vacations. It’s certainly true of parenting in the little years. And maybe that’s okay.

Maybe it’s okay that we don’t always enjoy each moment—each runny nose and muddy footprint and crustless peanut-butter sandwich. Maybe that’s only to be expected. Where we have fallen into sinful discontent, we ought to confess it, of course. But when we place on ourselves the unrealistic burden of constantly enjoying our kids, our goal is misdirected, and our expectations are naïve.

A Parent’s Expectations

Children will never be the most enjoyable part of our lives. Yes, they are a heritage and a reward from God (Ps. 127:3), but he is the heritage, the reward, the goal. He is our truest and highest joy—not our kids. So when we’re feeling like failures because we’re not constantly enjoying them, we can remember that enjoying their every moment was never the goal.

But when our ambition is to enjoy Christ, our expectations for parenthood will be put in the right place. We will no longer feel like failures for encountering the hardship and toil that Scripture tells us to expect:

  • We should expect that our calling in parenthood has been cursed and frustrated by sin (Gen. 3:16–19) and that we entirely depend on God’s sustaining grace to persevere in this high but hard calling.
  • We should expect to live in a sin-saturated world full of suffering (Rom. 8:20–22), meaning we’re not surprised by trials within the heart or from this world.
  • We should expect that we, sinners-turned-saints saved by grace, will still fight a daily battle to put sin to death and put on the Holy Spirit (Rom. 7:21–25).
  • We should expect that we are parenting lost sinners who are blind to God’s truth and wisdom apart from his intervening, saving grace (Ps. 51:5).
  • We should expect to give Jesus all the glory and honor he deserves (Rev. 5:12) by not expecting our circumstances or children to be what only Jesus, our perfect Lord and all-satisfying Savior, can provide. We worship the one true God, not our kids.

A Parent’s Enjoyment

When we find our supreme enjoyment in Christ—and not in our kids—something surprising happens. Our joy multiplies and spills over, becoming something we delight to share with them. As we seek Christ in his Word and behold his beautiful character and work, we will worship, and this will affect our little moments—especially the unenjoyable ones.

When you are wronged

When your 3-year-old smacks you in the face because she isn’t getting her way, and you’re tempted to explode in anger, you can remember that the Spirit of him who endured crucifixion—for the joy set before him (Heb. 12:2)—lives in you and will empower you to increasingly respond in compassion and truth, rather than malice or spite.

When you are weary

As you go into your crying baby’s room for the umpteenth time and weariness threatens to crush your soul, you can rest not in your circumstances, but in a person. His goodness extends to you in this moment: “Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you” (Ps. 116:7). As Jesus faithfully, constantly serves you in heaven, so he gives you the desire and power to do everything—even repetitious comforting—in his name, for his honor. You are serving the Lord Christ (Col. 3:17, 24) even as you serve your child.

When you are tested

When your kid is seeking attention by being annoying, and you’re tempted to either blow up or shut down, you can rejoice that you are “being renewed in knowledge after the image of [your] Creator” (Col. 3:10). You can find joy in knowing that Jesus is at work, he is present, and he will supply what you need to parent right now. No temptation is unknown to him, and he sympathizes with your weakness (and your kid’s weakness), giving you strength to put off the flesh and put on the Spirit.

When you are wrong

As you yell at your kids and realize, by the Spirit’s conviction, that you’ve sinned against them and against God, you can revel in the unshakable confidence of forgiveness through Jesus Christ—that in his sight you are “justified by faith” and have “peace with God” (Rom. 5:1). You can enjoy the finished work of Christ that removes your sin and covers you in his spotless righteousness. Then you can say “I was wrong” to your children, share with them your own need for Jesus, and ask for forgiveness.

True enjoyment isn’t loving every moment with our kids—that’s impossible for sinners parenting sinners in a broken and cursed world. Instead, true enjoyment is found in Christ and is then shared with our kids. Even in the most unenjoyable circumstances.

[Post Credit: The Gospel Coalition]

Kristen Wetherell

Kristen Wetherell is a wife, mother, and writer. She is the author of multiple books including Humble Moms, Fight Your Fears, Help for the Hungry Soul, and the board book series For the Bible Tells Me So, and the co-author of the award-winning book Hope When It Hurts.