Tell Your Kids You Don’t Love Them…

December 12, 2011

Parents will do just about anything to make Christmas memorable for the kids.

Some parents search relentlessly for the gift that the kids will remember forever.

Others try to get the spiritual meaning of Christmas across to their kids…which can be difficult when the kids are hopped up on candy canes and the ecstasy of unbridled consumerism.

And some parents try to use Christmas to blackmail their children into good behavior.  Some parents trot out the old myth that Santa can always see you.  Others employ modern inventions like the “elf on the shelf,” who is basically Santa’s spy, a ruse crafted for savvy post-911, Patriot Act children.

If you want my advice on how your kids can have the most meaningful, memorable Christmas ever, it doesn’t take any extra trips to the mall or stories about Santa and elves.

Just tell your kids you don’t love them…

Still with me?  No?  Let me clarify.

Child Idols

When a kid was born a century ago, childhood was way different than today.  Kids found themselves trying to catch up with a family on the move.  It was a lot like trying to jump onto a moving train.  Kids were expected to pull their weight, keep up, or get dysentery and stop burdening the family with their presence.  Most babies were born, washed off, nursed, and then given a shovel and sent to the coal mines.  Childhood can’t last forever, right?

How things have changed.  Today, a baby is born and the world of Mom and Dad stops.  Their world shrinks to the size of a nursery.  Kids grow up at the center of their own little universe with Mom and Dad orbiting around them, and kids know it.  Kids know that they are the most important thing in Mom and Dad’s lives, and it’s reinforced every time Mom and Dad give up date night to shuffle them to another pointless, forgettable activity.  People think good parenting is putting your kids first, which is why so many people get divorced after the kids move out.

You Are Not the Favorite

And that’s why so many kids act like they deserve to be worshipped.  Because at home, they are worshipped.  Mom and Dad lay down everything in sacrifice on the altar of childhood.  If you tell your kid that you love them more than anything else, then you are worshipping them.

I will tell you one memory that is seared into my mind forever.  My family was on our way home from church.  And my parents told my brother and I all the time how much they loved us and were proud of us.  And I don’t know how the subject came up, but my mother ended up telling us that she did not love us most in the whole wide world.  My brother and I took second place to Jesus.

I sat in rather stunned silence.  It felt as if my mom was telling me she didn’t love us.  She wasn’t, of course.  She only told us she didn’t love us as much as I thought she did.  I stopped being the center of the universe.  There was nothing I could do to regain it.

Why Being An Only Child was Great

I got to be an only child for just two years.  To the best of my recollection, it was awesome.  Things were never quite the same when my brother came along.  Suddenly, I had to share the center of the universe with another, lesser being.

Kids don’t like sharing the center of the universe with siblings.  Siblings represent competition for the love and affection of parents.  We reveled when our siblings feel from grace, while we temporarily believed we were the “favorite.”

Parents tell their kids all the time that none of them are the “favorites,” but kids still try to be the “secret favorite.”  Well if you want your kids to have a memorable Christmas, (and end the “favorite” debate), do this.  Get up on Christmas.  Open gifts.  Then while you’re sitting the glow of the most special day of the year, tell your kids once again that you love them equally, that none of them are your favorites…because the child represented on Christmas is your favorite.  Tell them there is nothing they can do to make you love them more than Jesus.

If you really want to make it memorable, tell your kids that, yes, if God told you to sacrifice them like He did with Abraham, you’d do it.  That’ll make the memory last.

But it’s not enough to tell kids that they are second place to Jesus.  You have to make them believe it.  Stop idolizing your kids.  Actually put them in second place.  It’ll be the best gift you give them.

Did your parents ever tell you that you weren’t the favorite?  Have you told your kids?  How did they react?

This post is sponsored by Ministry Matters.

26 responses to Tell Your Kids You Don’t Love Them…

  1. Hi Matt,

    Say what you will about King Herod, but the man did have a way with children.


  2. I was wondering what spin you might have with that title but I found encouraged by it. As an educator, I see parents ruining their children by centering their universe around them. These parents are trying to do the right thing but are a) being unfair to their children because they aren’t the most important person in the world, b) making a rod for their own back and c) making a rod for the community’s back. Imagine 30 centres of the universe in one classroom…

  3. I was talking about this subject at at after-service church meeting yesterday, when I suggested that a parent who tends to his/her own spirituality first (through worship, since that was the topic of the meeting)will ultimately be a better parent.

    I said this in response to a parent who was protesting that by offering a children’s church (having pre-K to 4th grade kids go to a “mini-service” until after the sermon) would undermine his progress in getting his 2nd and 3rd grade children to take notes during the sermon. I didn’t ask him how much of any sermon he could focus on if he was monitoring note-taking (and our pastor’s sermons are not easy to follow, even for some adults), but I was thinking it.

    The professional, suburban (and largely white) community where I live is entirely built around the worship of children. I have two nearly grown kids and I constantly have to guard myself against the pressure to “worship” my children.

    Thank you for broaching the subject.

  4. You’re going to be a great parent, Matt! I wonder how our now-grown kids would rate their parents on this.

  5. So true Matt. You wrote “But it’s not enough to tell kids that they are second place to Jesus. You have to make them believe it. Stop idolizing your kids. Actually put them in second place.”

    That is where it all starts. Kids see right through lip service. You can tell them all day long that Jesus is number one but if treat Him like Number 2 they know it.

  6. Excellent observation. “Not only do I love Jesus more than you, I love your mother more than you so if you ever mess with her the wrath of Brian will come upon you.” My kids are in third place. Bronze medal!

  7. I was thinking that you were going to tell us to give our Christmas bonus to needy kids.

    My kids know that I love and follow the Lord. They have been with me when God prompted me to do something that halted our plans for at least a few minutes. In fact, they have learned to do it to some extent too. I couldn’t be more proud of them for their commitment to following the Holy Spirit.

    I still tell them all they are my favorite. It gets some strange looks from by standers and I have even been corrected by nosy mothers telling me that I can call my kid the favorite in front of the others.

    I love my kids as best as I can, and because I am trying to/did raise adults, they have chores, and opportunities to make their own money. I give out lots of hugs, I dragged them to church, I sent them on mission trips and I took them for a walk through some dicey slums. In fact, I am taking my 8-year-old to the soup kitchen in the next few weeks. I was their biggest cheerleader, and for the good and godly choices, I still am.

    My parents were a bad example, so we’ll discount that. Had they lived long enough, they too, might have grown up.

    Around here it Jesus, my wife, my family, my work and then my ministry if I still have time.

  8. Nicole at modern reject wrote something similar about kids being born into the center of mom and dad universe…and that should not be the case…

    A baby is born into the parents lives…NOT the other way around…the parents are aren’t born into the babies life!…

    she said this on the importance of the relationship with spouse…but like you but it here…it’s also good for our relationship with Christ!…

    i can’t tell the number of times we didn’t go to church cause of something the kids had to do or did…or something to do with them…

    and it souldn’t be like that…

    good one matt…

  9. I’m an only child, and I remember when some family friends got divorced after their only child left for college. “They focused more on him than each other,” my parents told me. “Well, we won’t have that problem here!” I replied. They laughed, but sure enough, every time I called home from college, it was like I was interrupting their laughter and activities together. They still have a more active social life than my husband and I do!

    (I know your point is making Jesus #1, but giving your marriage priority is an important one too. With two tiny kids at home myself, these are both challenges for me!)

  10. Love the post. Here are a couple of ways to make sure you are not making your kids the center of the universe: make them help clean the house–not just pick up but clean bathrooms, kitchen, whatever–and make sure to practice random acts of unfairness, which will be aided by memory lapses. When you have them clean, don’t accept whatever they do, make sure they get everything actually clean to the best of their ability, age-wise, but praise them when they do a good job.

  11. When I was growing up, my mom had let me know that all of us kids were #2 after her relationship to Dad.

    I had heard the principle explained as being something like when you get those emergency exit instructions on airplanes–you’re supposed to put your own mask before your kid’s mask. It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s because you can’t help your kid if you’ve passed out. Similarly, if you’ve got a crappy, neglected marriage at the center of your household, you’re actually not doing your kid any favors.

    My kid is still quite little, but I’ve tried to at least imply that his Dad takes priority over him.

    As far as making Jesus #1 over everyone else, however, I have to honestly say that I fail miserably at that. Repeatedly. And, to be quite honest, if God were to pull an Abraham on me I would very likely tell Him “Thanks, but no thanks.”

  12. I checked out your blog after you retweeted me. I apologize it took so long. You are a phenomenal writer. This post is amazing. Thanks for your talent and sharing it. I may actually try this – my girls have been raised on sarcasm and Scripture. They may follow along…

  13. I REALLY pulled the rug out from under my daughters. I not only told them I loved Jesus more than anybody…I told them my hierarchy was Jesus, then daddy, then them. (In my defense, I waited for them to be older. I didn’t say this to them at their 4th birthday parties or anything).

    When I told them this, they learned to understand that God is the center of my marriage to their dad. They get that God is first, then our Christ-centered marriage is next, then them. And I explained that to them in such a way so they’d understand that if the first 2 relationships weren’t in place, my relationship with them wouldn’t work at all.

  14. Wow, I was all prepared to go on a rant. “How dare you tell your kids that you don’t love them, I’m calling social services.” But you pulled it out in the end and I totally agree with your point. Children are often worshipped, coddled, and overly sheltered by their parents in the name of “good parenting”. More often than not the child hits a point in their life when they realize that they are not gods gift to humanity and they have an identity crisis. Hopefully they have that crisis in high school and are involved in a solid youth group with a youth pastor that can walk them through it. But more often than not I see them having this crisis in their freshman year at college. Usually the damage is much more catastrophic. CODDLING YOUR KIDS ONLY HURTS THEM IN THE LONG HAUL!!!!!!!!

  15. I’ve been so busy all the good comments are already said,I too immediately thought of the airplane oxygen masks- nothing new under the sun I suppose:) However I’m Glad to see my raising was not unique. I also got the I love your dad more than you and I love all three of you equally, but differently lessons. Of course now that my brother and sister and I are all grown we tease each other about who is the favorite- it changes all the time. My sister and I say my brother is the favorite, my brother and sister say I am the favorite etc. Currently I call each of my 2 nephews my favorite nephew, they are 3 and 5 so I get away with it :)
    As a teacher in an elementary school I see coddled children all the time, but hopefully parents will grow out of it before they hit the teenage years! Little kids are the center of their universe anyway, simply by maturation. As they are exposed to new ideas and new places- like school, they learn to care about others feelings and ideas. That’s the plan anyway :)

  16. you guys are all sick