When Cole was a baby, we were in a neighborhood play group. There were about a dozen kids, so it got pretty chaotic while the moms chatted and the kids rammed trucks into each other and banged pots on the play stove.

On one particular week, I was asking the other moms if they knew how to get a dog to stop barking. Our new puppy had developed the bad habit, and I was in the market for solutions. Somebody said, “Do they still make muzzles, like in Lady and the Tramp?” We didn’t know.

Just then, a baby shrieked in pain. It was the baby right next to Cole, and I knew. He had bitten again. The other baby’s mother and I both leaped up to survey the damage. I swatted Cole’s hand and said, “No, no! You hurt the baby!” And then I turned with mortified apologies to the other mom. She assured me that her baby would be ok, though his wailing testified that he was convinced otherwise.

Then, one of the other moms said with a laugh, “Maybe you should get a muzzle for Cole!”

I was horrified. I unsuccessfully fought back tears as I apologized once again to the crying baby and his mother, scooped up my diaper bag, and rushed my two kids out the door.

At home, I licked my mommy-wounds. How could she compare my baby to a dog needing a muzzle? And why wouldn’t Cole stop biting? I paced the floor, alternating between fiery determination to quit that play group (defensiveness), and deep guilt over my biting baby (defeat). Why did he do that? Why couldn’t I make him stop? I was an inept parent! The proof was in a bright red ring on another poor, innocent child’s arm!

Today, after over a decade of distancing, I still feel badly for those poor bitten babies, but I’ve learned to see the problem more clearly. As a newborn, Cole was placed into my arms with a very strong will (which I didn’t give him–God did). And at nine months old, Cole had learned that his teeth were powerful, and could produce results fast (which I didn’t teach him). He didn’t need a muzzle or a mortified mom; he needed parents who would train him to surrender his will and use his determination for good.

By God’s grace, Cole is now one of the most considerate middle schoolers you’ll ever meet, and his baby biting is ancient history. Even though I’ve been parenting for a while now, I find that when one of my kids does something embarrassingly hurtful or wrong, my initial reaction is still defensiveness or defeat. But, then I remember. My job, as their mom, is to help them surrender to the Lord. I am to represent Him well, not get my kids to represent me well. And it’s a process.

The best model for my parenting is the Lord God–who never defends or condones his child’s sinful behavior, but also never accepts defeat. He just keeps patiently inviting his people back to repentance and surrender–whether they’re the one biting, or they’re the one parenting the biter.

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