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.

Monday, July 15, 2013

How to Deal With a Child who Goes Astray

One of our biggest worries and sources of anguish as parents is when our children leave home and then fall away from the teachings of the Church. This is true especially in regards to sexual behaviors. Let's assume for this discussion that the parents have provided a loving relationship for the child and have joined with them in daily prayer and regular participation in the sacramental life of the Church. In other words, the parents have done everything "right" in the child's Orthodox upbringing. Even in such a case, when a child leaves home, he or she is now, often for the first time, under the guidance of their own free will. It is not unusual that your child will misuse this God-given gift, just as you surely have in your younger years.

What is a parent to do when they find out their child has gone astray?

Elder Paisios has a surprising answer.
Even the most serious fall of the children shouldn't make parents desperate, for sin has become fashionable in our time. They should always keep in mind the following: Now days, young people will be granted certain "extenuating circumstances" and will be judged with leniency for their transgressions. Today a grade of "seven" for conduct is the equivalent to the "ten" - "excellent" of our schooldays. Of course, parents will always try to help their children, but they mustn't be overly anxious. Children will get more sensible and experienced with time. Right now they may not understand what is good because their mind has not yet matured. Their mind is cloudy and it lacks clarity to discern the danger that lies ahead and the irreparable damage they can suffer.
Realizing that today's culture is much more difficult than the one we as parents were raised in, how are we to react to the misadventures of our children. Are we to get upset and confront them?  Should we try to constraint them in any way? Should we disassociate ourselves from them as long as they engage in sinful activities?  What are we to do?

Elder Paisios says,
It would be good if the parents indicated to the child that they do not get upset over unacceptable behavior; but they mustn't become overbearing; and of course, they should continue to pray. Prayers, spoken with pain, are effective. If the child does something very serious, the parents must intervene appropriately. If it is not so serious, they they can overlook it a little, so as not to provoke the child and make the situation worse by causing the child to distance himself from them. They must pray to Christ and Panagia to protect their child.
He is saying that we need to let them know that we are understanding of the difficult condition that they now face and our love for them is unconditional. We want them to know that they can continue to confide in us and we will try and offer loving advice that will be helpful to them as they mature and struggle to overcome the difficulties of life lived out of their own free will. We can share with them our own struggles. And most importantly we must offer fervent prayers in their behalf.

The Elder tells a story:
When I was at the Skete of Iveron, a young man came by chance and found me. He was wandering in Chalkidiki, found some group of pilgrims coming to the Holy Mountain and came with them to the kellion. My goodness, he was an atheist, blasphemous, most imprudent! He had a devilish cleverness  and believed in nothing. He swore at all the other pilgrims, young and old. With patience and a little effort, I brought him to some reckoning; I gave him a haircut, too, because he had very long hair. "Look", I told him, "may your mother be well, for it was certainly her prayers that brought you here." "You are right, Father," he told me. "I was wandering in Chalkidiki, and I don't even know how I got here." "If your mother finds out that you have come here to the Holy Mountain and sees you with your hair cut, she will feel such joy for you!" "How did you know that, Father? My mother will truly be overjoyed to see me so changed!" he responded. God turned him this way and that way and guided him to the ... master! How much prayer his mother must have poured out for him!

Reference: Elder Paisios of Mount Athos Spiritual Counsels IV: Family Life, pp 112-113

Resources on Orthodox Prayer

Monday, July 8, 2013

More on Raising Children and Making Time for Prayer

Today we lead such busy lives that many say, "I don't even have time for prayer.  At the end of the say I am so tired. With Children and the trend of both parents working this is a common problem these days. The only solution is to make sure you have the right priorities in your life.  To lead a balanced life you need to struggle to simplify it.  First examine why it is necessary for a mother to work while the children are living at home.  Is this a necessity or is it just to gain material things.  

Elder Paisios advises: 
It's better for a mother to be involved with the nurturing of her children... A mother [if she is not working a full time job] can speak to her children about Christ; she can read the Lives of the Saints to them. Thus, at the same time she will be occupying herself dusting off her own soul so that it will be spiritually shiny. The mother's spiritual life will then quietly help the souls of her children. Thus, her children will live happily, and she will be joyful because she will have Christ within her.  If a mother doesn't find the time to say even the Trisagion, how can she expect he children to be sanctified?
When she does her housework, can't she pray at the same time?  It was my mother who taught me to way the Jesus Prayer. When we were children and had done some mischief, and my mother was about to get angry with us, I remembering her saying, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me." When she put the bread in the oven, she would  say, "In the name of the Christ and Panaghia."  And whenever kneading, or cooking, again, she constantly said the Jesus Prayer. In this manner, she herself was blessed, as were the bread and the food whe was preparing, and so were those who partook of it later.
I wonder if in today's world we appreciate the significance of a spiritual upbringing.  The elders of our Church tell us the mother's traditional role is a most important one. Elder Paisios says, "The mother's devotion has great significance. If the mother has humility and fear of God, then family life is smooth." The challenge today with its materialistic orientation is to seek to simplify life so one parent can dedicate themselves to the nurturing of their children both physically and spiritually. Children are geared to learn by observation.  You are the models they will begin their life with. Make that model as close to the image of God as is possible.

A good friend told me a story of his early child raising days.  He had the habit of not going to Church each Sunday, but he instead stayed in bed and then getting up after his wife and children had gone to church to read the Sunday paper in peace. One day, is young son made the comment to his Mom,  "I cant wait until I get as old as Dad.  Then I won't have to get up and go to Church each Sunday.  I can stay home and read the paper and relax." He over heard his son saying this and this woke him up.  He realized he was setting a bad example for his son.  From that day on he never missed a day in Church.

Reference: Elder Paisios of Mount Athos Spiritual Counsels IV: Family Life,  pp 95-96

Monday, July 1, 2013

Nurturing the Spiritual Growth of Children

As parents, one of our greatest responsibilities is the upbringing of our children so that they, like ourselves, will develop a love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We have hopes that they will grow up to live according to the commandments, to become good teachers and maybe even a priest. Further we hope they too will have children and able to nurture them in their faith. Any good parent asks, "What can I to do to nurture the spiritual growth of my child?"

Our task of parenting begins while the child is still in the womb. If we live a good spiritual life during this time of formation, pray daily, participate in the Sacraments, living a good Orthodox life, our child will be born sanctified. This is also important in our task of upbringing after birth as well. We help our children grow based on how we practice our faith. If we lead spiritual lives, the our children will be more disposed to live a similar life and grow to help others in society by their service in the church and other good works that they may do.

If our children do not see us praying daily, or find we do not attend church regularly, or take them for communion but do not partake ourselves, when they grow up they will likely have the same habits or even worse. Children learn by the example we set.  We pass on our values through our actions. There is no Sunday School that will be able to overcome the bad habits of parents.

This is the same advice given by Elder Paisios who says, 
"Everyone should help the children, each person in their own way, with their good example, so that the children may be regenerated, live peacefully in the life and ultimately go to Paradise."
But what do we do when they rebel and disobey, even though we are setting a good example?  Elder Paisios reminds us that "children are helped chiefly by the example we set and not by force".  

The love parents show for each other effects the love the children have for their parents and others. Elder Paisios says, 
"When children see their parents have love and respect for one another, behaving with prudence, praying, and so on, then these positive images are imprinted on their soul. This is why I say that the best inheritance the parents can bestow upon their children in their own spiritual devotion."
Children need lots of love as well as much guidance. They need to know that their parents are willing to listen to them and care about their troubles, so they will willingly sit by their parents side to share their problems knowing they will be loved and receive affection as well as guidance.

Isn't it a problem these days that life is so busy that we often do not have the time to listen and give this attentive love that is so needed by our children? Do not our modern day work schedules often leave our children alone to fend for themselves, leaving them immersed in video games and other pastimes. It seems there is too often not sufficient time for parents and children to receive parental love and guidance.  I know many families who no longer eat their meals together.  As I was growing up eating together was always the daily routine. I must admit that I myself had a busy work schedule during the week but my wife was fortunate to be a stay-at-home mom. We always ate dinner together even though it may have been a bit late. We used to say jokingly, "I guess we are eating with the rich people again". I tried to keep my weekends open for family activities. In reflection I am not confident that I gave what I should have to the well being of my children thinking that my success at work was what was most important for them, but in reality this may have been putting material well being ahead of spiritual well being. It's important to have quality time with them each evening and especially when they come home from school or any other event.  We need to have a well paced life where our time returning home is not one where we are exhausted and stressed looking for recovery. When we arrive home worn out we do not have the tenderness needed to nurture our children.

Remember this thought from Elder Paisios
"Children imitate their parents even from the cradle. They pick up everything they see adults doing and record it on the empty "cassette tape". This is why parents should struggle to cut away their passions. I doesn't matter if some of these passions were inherited by them from heir own parents; they will still have to give an accounting to God, not only for not struggling to rid themselves of them, but also for being responsible in transmitting them to they children."

Reference: Elder Paisios of Mount Athos Spiritual Counsels IV, pp 99-107