My Son is Not a Good Boy: Parenting Amid the Self-Esteem Movement

Let me start by saying that my son, for the most part, is a well-behaved child. While our family has certainly had our fair share of dinners disrupted by screaming and tears, my son is generally rather obedient. He’s usually quick to share his toys and snacks, says “please” and “thank you,” and more often than not is a joy to be around. My husband and I have tried our best throughout our son’s two-and-a-half years of life to consistently train and discipline him according to God’s Word, and that has caused him to learn over time that disobedience leads to consequences.

While I pray that one day his obedience will come from a desire to please the Lord, right now it’s clear that he obeys (many times reluctantly) in order to satisfy his parents or to stay out of trouble. But behaving for the sake of pleasing your parents or to avoid discipline doesn’t make you righteous. My son is made in the image of God, which gives him tremendous value, but it doesn’t give him righteousness.

My son is not a good boy. None of us are good (Psalm 14:3). My child is a sinner and he has been since conception (Psalm 51:5). He’s not good. But I love him. And it is because I love him that I want him to see his sinfulness and his need of a Savior.

It seems that everywhere we turn in America today we’re bombarded with books about boosting our child’s self-esteem and self-image, and articles flood the internet telling us that we should constantly compliment and build-up our children so they don’t grow up to be depressed as adults. Every child gets a trophy just for participating in the local soccer league, and parents bend over backwards to give their children whatever will make them happy (many times to the detriment of the family). This Self-Esteem Movement has completely saturated our culture and has greatly influenced how people parent their children today.

But building up my son’s confidence and telling him how great he is isn’t going to cause him to fall on his knees in humble adoration of Christ. It saddens me that many Christian parents today are so quick to tell their children how wonderful they are, yet at church on Sundays these same kids are told that they are sinners who need to repent and trust in Christ. Why would any young girl believe she needs a Savior if she is already wonderful and fabulous and such a “good girl”? In reality, the most loving thing we can do for our children is to tenderly show them that they are sinners in desperate need of a Redeemer and to pray that God will reveal Himself to them and will grant them repentance and saving faith (2 Timothy 2:25).

In a world screaming for us to tell our children that they are enough, I want my son to know that he’s not enough. Left to himself he will choose sin every time. He’s not righteous (Romans 3:10). His “heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). Even his best deeds are as filthy rags before the Lord (Isaiah 64:6). In fact, anything he does that “does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).

I’m not saying that I don’t compliment my son or tell him he did a great job when he does something well. It’s not bad for him to have tenacity and determination – I certainly don’t want him walking around with his head down all the time. But my goal, as his mother, is not to build up my son, but to build up my Lord in the eyes of my son. I don’t want my child’s confidence to come from within himself; rather, I want something better for him: I want his confidence to come from Someone greater than himself. I pray that his confidence comes from God. If he trusts in Christ and lives a life of humility, striving for holiness, he won’t need confidence in himself. Like the Apostle Paul, his confidence will come from God and he will know no boundaries. He will have no limits (2 Corinthians 4:7-18). He will not fear what man can do to him (Hebrews 13:6). Christ is the only one that can bring lasting confidence and satisfaction; not confidence or satisfaction that’s rooted in ourselves, but that’s rooted in Him.

We must be willing to tell our kids the truth, and the truth is that they are sinners. But even more importantly than that, we must admit that we, their parents, are sinners too. We are sinners in desperate need of God’s grace. “If you don’t teach them that Christians sometimes fail, then they’ll conclude Christianity has failed. But by the grace of God they’ll add to the numbers of bitter adults who grew up in the church and rail against its destructive influence. Yet when they see us fail, repent, and ask God’s forgiveness, they’ll see in action the most glorious truth of all, that God himself took on flesh and walked among us, failures all, so we might walk with him in heaven forevermore. They’ll know that when they fail, too, God’s grace abounds to even the chief of sinners” (Collin Hansen).

I want my son to grasp the reality that if his confidence is in himself he will have no one to turn to when he makes a mess of things. (And we all make a mess of things!) I want to show him through my own mistakes that he can lean wholly on the Lord in good times and in bad. He can rest in God’s grace, even if he royally screws up. And as his mother I want to consistently strive for holy living, not because holy living will earn God’s love (it won’t), but because God loves me and gave Himself for me (Ephesians 5:2). The love of Christ should control me (2 Corinthians 5:14) and should change the way I live. Rather than complain to my son or respond to him in anger, as I often do, I should live a life of gratitude, with a thankful heart, knowing that Christ saved me in the midst of my sinfulness. “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure” (Psalm 40:2).

In a world that says you must look within to find meaning and purpose, I want my son to look outside of himself for meaning and purpose – I pray that he might look to Christ. I read the other day that the best gift we can give to our children is a high self-esteem. But I believe the best gift we can give to them is the truth of the Gospel, which is the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).

My son is not a good boy, but my Lord is a good Savior. He shed his blood on the cross and rose again on the third day, defeating death and hell for wretched sinners who trust in Him by God’s grace. May we all look to Christ and find true and lasting confidence in Him whose perfect righteousness leads to eternal life (Romans 5:21).


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