I slid behind the wheel and felt the familiar pang of spiritual conviction. As we began the short trip to school, I tried to ignore the tap on my shoulder, but I knew what I had to do.
Just twenty minutes earlier, I yelled at my children. This was not a loving, firm correction, but an explosion. They disobeyed, and I lashed out at them, trying to provoke feelings of guilt and shame and smallness. It was terrible and embarrassing. I needed to come clean.
I confessed my sin and asked my daughter for forgiveness, which she gave gladly. Her grace pointed me to the very goodness of God I needed to remember.
The following hours were busy, filled with meetings, classes, advising, and grading. And yet, that four-minute conversation was the most important part of my day.
Seek Their Forgiveness
For their spiritual health and yours, your children need to hear you say those three little words: Please forgive me.
I’ve resisted this, and you have too. I have thought my sin was not that bad, or it wasn’t the right time, or they didn’t notice. If we’re honest, it’s easy to find reasons not to confess your sins to your child. You’re big, they’re small, and they’re not the boss of you.
But these conversations are crucial, both for your child’s spiritual development and for the health of your relationship with them. They’re one of the best ways to spotlight Jesus and glory in the gospel. Each talk may be uncomfortable, but there are at least five reasons we should ask for forgiveness from our children.
- Because God commands it. In the Bible, God urges reconciliation and harmony in relationships. We are to forgive others as God in Christ has forgiven us (Eph 4:32, Col 3:13). Real forgiveness presupposes confession from the guilty party, so when you sin against someone else, you should ask for their forgiveness.1 This includes your children.
- Because obedience is for everyone. Parents make and enforce the rules at home, so children usually know their offenses. But they see your sin too, especially when you sin against them. Through confession you underline that you are not above the law. God’s standard applies to you, and you don’t measure up. Admitting your sin gives you the chance, as a fellow sinner, to point to Christ.
- Because it teaches them how to forgive and seek forgiveness. Give your children a model for these conversations. Confess your sins specifically, without excuses. Describe the pain you have caused. Express your grief over your sin and the relational rift you’ve created. Ask them to forgive you, and thank them when they do.
- Because it teaches them grace. You don’t deserve your child’s forgiveness, much less God’s. Remind your child that God forgives his enemies: us!
- Because it points to Jesus. God didn’t forgive by putting our sins off to the side; he faced them. He is enraged against sin, but Jesus felt God’s fury in our place. Forgiveness, even the peer-to-peer kind, is costly (see Matt 18), and talking about this cost naturally turns to the gospel.
The Importance of the Heart
When you talk to your children about sin—whether theirs or yours—emphasize the heart. Give your children categories and language to describe the most important part of their relationship to God.
For example, I yelled because I was angry. But I was angry because my child’s disobedience upset my comfort and peace. I reacted in a sinful way because my happiness was more important than honoring God and caring for my children.
Enlist your spouse in your efforts to keep short accounts with your children. They have a better sense of when you need to confess than you do, and they can see your relationships more objectively.
As these conversations become more a part of your family life, your children will trust you more. Hopefully, they will come to a greater awareness of their own sin and the forgiveness and grace that God offers. This is the great aim of parenting.