Need vs Want

How one word can change parenting habits

I plopped down on the couch with a friend and lamented about my latest parenting challenge. “I just need to learn to calmly follow through with a clear consequence. I keep getting in this nagging cycle. I need to stop it!”

My statement was similar to a hundred others I’d made or have heard other parents make about parenting such as…

  • “I need to be more patient.”
  • “I need to learn to stand my ground when my kids start whining.”
  • “I need to not let them push my buttons so much!”

My friend looked at me with a sly grin. “You need to learn that? Or do you want to learn that?”

“Huh? I dunno. I guess I want to,” dutifully picking the apparent right answer from her little multiple choice question. She relieved my obvious confusion by explaining that when we tell ourselves we need to change, it is rooted in anxiety and a shame-based belief: “I’m not okay as I am, so if I don’t change, I’ve failed.” This kind of thinking is a burden on our souls, weighed down by every new instance of failure that proves our defects.

When we shift our perspective from “I need to, or should change,” to “I want to change,” this lifts the burden of a mandate, giving freedom to change the habit with joy and celebrate small successes.

Jesus went to the cross not because he said, “I need to do this.”  In the midst of his torment he knew he wanted to do it. “…for the joy set before him, (he) endured the cross…” (Hebrews 12:2) He kept his focus on the joy of sitting down next to his Father, having rescued their beloved children.

The underpinning of this beautiful, sacrificial “want to” was his own sense of calling and identity as he faced the cross. “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” (John 12:27) Jesus knew who he was, what he came to do, and the joy and blessing that would be the fruit of his perseverance.  

The most powerful shaper of our behavior is our identity. If we believe we are an inadequate, impatient parent, we’ll act like one. When we know who we are and what our purpose is as a parent, we can focus on the blessing of God’s purposes in a situation and patience will come much more easily.  

You can choose and embrace several truths about your identity that will be the fertile soil for change. For example:

As we walk in our true identity in Christ, we learn to parent out of fullness, not shame and “need to.” God gives us encouraging “want to’s”: I want to parent wisely. I want to embody God’s grace for my kids. I want to equip and encourage my kids to make wiser choices. I want to focus on whatever they’re doing well….

Learning to walk in my identity in Christ was the most significant shift I made as a parent. The sense of calling that came with it guided me to focus on God’s purposes in each challenge. I learned to enter “kiddie chaos” with the quick prayer, “Lord, what’s the opportunity here?” Making the goal to find God’s purposes in the messes of our family life was a game changer.

“Need to” became “want to.” It was often even a bit of a treasure hunt for growth in all of us. 

So when you feel stuck:

  • What helpful God-given identity could you embrace to encourage you?
  • What do you really want to change? How would that be a blessing to you and to others?

This coming year, we invite you to set down the burden of “I just need to change!!” Take hold of the truth about you that sets you free, inspires you to connect with your kids, and spreads the wonderful aroma of Christ in your home!  


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