Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Giving Children Room to Grow

One of the challenges of parenthood is giving or child the freedom to act on their own.  This is essential for their development, both spiritually and for their life in this world. When a child is very young we protect them carefully as they are not yet able to use their free will with any intelligence.  But as they grow there comes a time when we have to loosen the reigns a bit.

You do not want to make the mistake of over controlling them and forcing our will on them constantly as this will only drive the child away from you. But they still need to have quite a bit of supervision so as not to fall into grave trouble.

Elder Paisios uses the analogy with a garden to explain how this should work in a healthy relationship between child and parent. He writes:
Parents cannot help their children by force; they suffocate them...The can keep watch over their children to keep them in line, but without creating a distance between them. They should do what a good gardener does when he plants a small tree: He ties it gently to a strong stake to keep it from growing crooked and from being harmed when the wind blows a little to the right, a little to the left. He waters it regularly, taking care that its branches grow. He may also surround it with a fence so that goats will not eat it, for if the goats eat its branches and truncate it, the tree will be destroyed. A truncated tree cannot bear fruit; it can't provide any shade. Once the branches grow big and strong, then the gardener removes the fence, and the tree can bear fruit and comfort goats, sheep,and people with its shade.
To often parents will try and tie their children with "hard wire." What is proper is a gentle tying. There needs to be room for them to make their own choices little by little. As they learn the consequences of their actions you can reinforce their action with the teachings of the Gospel.  In this way they can learn how to use their free will in line with God's commandments.  They can learn how to choose in ways that will yield for them a good life based on Christ. As we do this we must remember to constantly pray for them asking God to guide them in their choices.

If we tied them too tightly like with wire and are always saying "no" the child may rebel and you will lose all your influence, in fact you will become a negative influence from their perspective. Our constraints have to be carefully chosen  and always based on our love and understanding of their need to grow.  A child will not always understand the love behind your"no" but when used judiciously it will have the right impact.

The worst thing is to treat the child as a friend. In most cases we do not reprimand friends and just accept them as they are.  We are not trying to develop them. But our children need our guidance to develop properly. We must be able to say  "no" when necessary without feeling the child will reject us.  This is why it is necessary to  always provide a little room for their own choice and allow them to make small mistakes so they can learn to make good choice on their own and experience the loving guidance you are giving them.

Include them in your prayers always and pray with them each day.  Daily prayer is essential for our spiritual growth as children and as adults. Its best when the family prays together daily.

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