Advice from an Orthodox Priest on the Noble Task of Child-Rearing (Part 2)

Originally appeared at: Orthodox Christianity

Read Part 1 by clicking here 


Between “I want” and “I need”

Your child should be interested. But in any upbringing, there should be strictness when you need to force the child to do what he doesn’t really want or like to do... In this case you can exert a little pressure, but only when you understand that you definitely won’t break and offend him. Let’s say, in the morning your child says that he does not want to go to school or to church. You start to persuade him once, twice, and on the third time you still allow him to stay at home. Or you still insist on some things.

Children’s souls are usually open, and it is good to listen and discuss the gospel with children. In order for prayer to be joyful, let’s read them, “Our Father”, the Creed, or “Theotokos and Virgin, Rejoice.” Even small children enjoy reading these. You just need to sense the child. And in the case when upbringing turns into force, children turn their faces against faith. This should be avoided.

It seems that we need to gradually restructure parish life to solve this problem. Little has changed since the Soviet era. The entire parish life in Russia is organized and designed for elderly female parishioners. In addition, all children are different: there are those who can stand through the service upright, but there are those who cannot. So I believe that there should be rooms for mothers and children in all churches, including those under construction. In such rooms, services should be transmitted by audio, there should be an icon on the wall, with an icon lamp burning before it. There is a large playpen with a soft floor in the basement of our church where you can put your baby. There are drawing tables at which you can seat an older child, and there are books, benches and speakers. A mother can stand and pray there during the service, and an older child can go upstairs and pray. Take a large family where the eldest child is fifteen. No one will let him go to church on his own. It is hard for younger children to stand through the Liturgy if there is no such special room, so some compromise is needed. It can be a room where the younger ones go with their mother, while the older ones go upstairs with their father. The room should have a changing table where you can change the baby’s clothes, a curtain behind which you can feed the baby and hang its clothes. When a mother of many children comes to church, she can’t even enter it normally, put the stroller down and change the baby’s clothes. And everyone shushes her to boot. No one wants to understand how difficult it is for mothers with their babies in church.

    

We work with youth. Let’s divide the youth to whom we want to reveal the beauty of Christ’s faith. Missionaries should work in this field. It is very hard, the specifics of the work are complex, but there are young people who grew up in the Church and whom we will lose, whose memories of parish life are old women shushing them and some incomprehensible atmosphere, where it was hard to get through the service, where they couldn’t draw or sit down. We can just put up a screen, partitioning off the space. This will save many children for communication, and they will be happy there. The challenge is to find a balance.

On the edge of an abyss

Parents are often faced with problems of adolescence when their child might start drinking alcohol, using drugs, or nowadays, even thinking about changing his sex. Mothers wonder where it comes from and what they should do with it. The child is already different, estranged and is no longer in contact with his parents.

In this situation you need to work to restore this contact. There is not a single ministry in the Church for which the Lord does not give the charisma of the Holy Spirit if I offer my parenthood as a service to Him. This help of God can overcome any barriers. You must sit the child down in front of you and talk. Why drugs? Where did it come from? This is the result of a lack of communication. Unfortunately, many of us live with the awareness that we should feed and clothe the child, pay for his education, and that’s it. And then he should be grateful to us for this. Maybe he will be grateful, or maybe he will grumble that the parents gave him too little.

You need to be in contact with the child all the time starting from infancy. Let’s say that the father does not take the baby in his arms for the first year—he is afraid, avoids hugs and other tactile manifestations of tenderness and love. The child perceives parental love in a tactile way—it is important to him. For example, when the father returns from a business trip, the child runs up to him—he needs to sit on the father’s lap, hug him, and to be hugged. Having been calmed down, he runs away, “satiated” with love. But the father is ashamed of it. At times like these, the personal connection breaks down. A child who needs this sees that his father is like a stranger and it is hard to get through to him.

    

If the link is broken, then pray, ask for God’s help, take your child on a trip to an interesting cultural place and stay overnight. Go with him to a cafe, sit down and ask why he behaves this way. Fight for this bond!

Should children be punished, and how?

Many people say: “Don’t be afraid of punishing children. It is not penalty or violence. It is teaching. The goal of punishment is not to inflict pain, but to wean someone away from evil and teach good behavior.”

Now the word “punishment” has narrowed down to some measures taken by parents so their child can feel the destructiveness of his act or the direction of his development. I physically punished my older children in the same way that I had been punished as a child. Indeed, there are such children and such problems that require punishment—otherwise, the sin enters the child’s soul can ruin his entire life. But now I no longer punish my younger children physically. I understand that I applied corporal punishment from inexperience and impotence. Parental experience gives me the opportunity to avoid this now. When my older children grow up, I will honestly say that I am ashamed and I regret having done this. If I could return in those years, I wouldn’t punish them. I also realize that I punished in irritation, and this negates the effect of punishment. There was a lot of impotence, inexperience and inability. If you can avoid this, it is only for the better. I would use some other punishments: depriving the child of something, forbidding him to go somewhere, not giving him some game...

I see that very often parents punish their children for things that do not deserve punishment. Indeed, there are certain things that need to be stopped outright. These are rudeness, deliberate lies and gloating delight (I chose these three things). When someone begins to rejoice in causing pain to someone else (no matter whether it is a human being or an animal), this should not be tolerated.

It seems that if you pray when you are in an impasse and put aside your pride, some keys will appear in order to influence your child.

    

You need to interest the child—it should be interesting for him to spend time with his parents. You can sign him up for a club or an interest group so he will not have time and energy for some folly. For example, sambo1 forms the right male character. Children cease to be capricious and no longer need to prove their superiority anywhere. When they feel strength, they shy away from conflicts. And they succeed because it is not from cowardice, but from strength. They know what confrontation is like. They acquire the skill of fighting, which is absolutely necessary in the spiritual life when there is an opponent who wants to pin you down. Why are competitions between clubs so important? Because everything is clear in advance when you train with the same people every day, and during a fight on the carpet the opponent is like satan who hates you and strives to gain a victory over you. These skills are vital.

I don’t want to have children—I’m afraid I can’t cope with child raising”

I think that for a married woman, preventing childbearing is a sin. We must call on God’s help and it will be given, provided that we perceive what He gives us as a service to Him. We will be given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Much of what is needed for child raising is inherent in a mother from God. I know many families where parents grew up without a father or a mother, but they became wonderful parents. I came to the following conclusion: The main riches on earth are the people who love you. There aren’t many of them. A child appears who will love you all his life, comfort you in your old age and close your eyes when you die. This is the happiness that you mustn’t deprive yourself of out of fear.

It’s like saying: “I will not get baptized because the responsibility is greater.” But how is it greater? The Church is a place where gifts are bestowed on us. If you are married, rely on the Lord. Do not prevent conception, and if the Lord gives you a child, it will be the greatest joy. As Christ said: A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world (Jn. 16:21). Joy will cover everything, all sorrows: pregnancy, childbearing, and sleepless nights. When later your child comes and brings you tea or says: “Mommy, go to bed—I’ll wash the dishes”, you will be absolutely happy because your love for the child has returned to you a hundredfold.

    

My main conclusions are as follows: a child must be respected, even if he is very small and totally dependent on you. We must respect him as a person and respect his otherness. This is the foundation of your friendship with him, which will not stop when he grows up. You need to spend time with your child the way he likes to. In this context, teach him and convey important life truths to him. And have fun and joy because it passes very quickly. Yesterday you could toss him up in your arms, and now he is already standing and looking down at you. It happens very quickly and you can’t get it back. Childhood is the foundation on which the child relies all his life. If a person’s childhood was happy, joyful, respectful and interesting, it is much easier for him to live. So enjoy this opportunity. Undoubtedly having a child is hard, but it is a great luxury. Do not grumble, do not be discouraged—having a child is good.

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