Many Orthodox parents are facing a major crisis in their lives. This is none other than the relationship with their own children. Parents are shocked and dismayed when they experience their children being belligerent and disrespectful. Many children feel that their parents do not understand or listen to their problems. Positive discourse has broken down in many Christian families. This disconnect between parents and children has reached pandemic proportions. Why is this happening? Who is to blame for the collapse of communication within the family? As William Shakespeare famously stated, “The fault lies not in the stars, but in ourselves.” We, as parents, must bear the brunt of responsibility for this crisis.
In modern society, the way of thinking and making decisions has become more secular. Most families have moved away from a religious perspective on life. This is especially true in the way we raise our children. We are often too busy making a “comfortable” life for our family and ignore our children’s true needs. We want to provide everything to our children in order to compensate for opportunities and material things we never had. We send our kids to the best schools, provide expensive tutors, and go on expensive vacations. We are in constant competition with our neighbors to make sure that our children have the same toys and experiences their kids have. Our plan for our children’s future focuses on their professional success and prosperity. What we gravely ignore, however, is their spiritual upbringing and education.
One of the greatest pedagogues of all time, Saint John Chrysostom, states, “The downfall of society stems from a disregard for children. Many seek the preservation of their estates but not the preservation of the souls in their care.” It amazes me how relevant this statement is today. We are so obsessed on becoming wealthy and successful that we ignore the great responsibility we have in making our children better Christians. The world does not lack wealthy businessmen or educated “successful” people. It does lack moral, ethical, virtuous men and women. The fountainhead of these virtues is our Lord Jesus Christ. It is imperative that we instill Christ into the lives of our children from the beginning. The older they get without a Christian upbringing and education, the harder it will be to bring them back to the church. In order to initiate this Christian education, we must first change the paradigm of communication between ourselves and our children. We first must learn to listen to our children.
As parents, we are often dismissive to the problems and issues our children face. How often have we told our children, “What problems can you possibly Have? You have everything! When I was growing up, I had nothing.” One thing that over thirty years as an educator has taught me is that children have real problems. They are constantly bombarded with negative stimuli. Television, laptops, cellphones, and social media constantly espouse immorality, materialism, and negative family values. You are in a constant battle for your child’s attention. I suggest that when your child approaches you about a problem, do not make light of it. Listen attentively. This will convey that you care about their troubles and issues. I believe that this will help solidify the bond between you and your child. Children need to feel that they can trust their parents enough to be able to approach them about any difficulty they may encounter. For this loving relationship to exist, parents must make Christ the focal point in the lives of their families.
Without Christ it is impossible to experience true love. We cannot become good and loving on our own. Our Lord is the source of goodness and love. We must make him a priority in our lives. In their book, Blueprints for the little Church, Creating an Orthodox Home, Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker outline healthy patterns that need to exist in an Orthodox home. These are regular church attendance, prayer, fasting, and charitable giving. Bringing the entire family to church is vital to establishing an Orthodox routine. Going to church must become a perfunctory exercise where the least amount of effort is needed. Even though many parishioners have a problem understanding the liturgy, exposing the entire family to the hymns, liturgy, and sermons of the church creates an Orthodox identity within us, especially young children.
Creating a life of prayer and fasting is also imperative to our well-being. We must insert Christ in our daily lives through prayer. When we get up in the morning, say a prayer. Say a short prayer before every meal. Say a prayer before driving. Say a prayer before bed. Short little prayers throughout the day will keep our mind focused on our Lord Jesus Christ. It will set an excellent example to our children that Christ is present in their everyday lives. Introducing fasting is also very important to the development of our spiritual life. Although it may be daunting at first, fasting will prepare your family for the joy and spiritual benefits of sacrifice, abstinence, and repentance.
We must also help those who are less fortunate than ourselves. Donating is a selfless act which makes us worthy of Christ’s love. In the book, Blueprints for the little Church, it states, “Regular giving to charity is a sign of a healthy understanding of money and its use as a tool. People who give regularly are overall happier, healthier, and less prone to depression and fear when it comes to money.” This is an essential characteristic in the development of our soul’s consciousness.
As you can see, parents must set the example for children to emulate. Today’s children are very bright. They see the hypocrisy in their parents when they act a certain way in church and differently in their daily lives. How can we expect our children to be good Christians when we as parents do not act like good Christians? Children witness their parents lying, judging, gossiping, cursing, and other unchristian like behavior. This hypocritical behavior is perceived by children at a very young age. We must stop appeasing our children by giving them rewards and gifts in order to produce positive behavior. Appeasement did not work as a political policy before World War II, and it does not help in the development of our children’s souls.
A nurturing, loving, Christian family is attainable to everyone. Parents can slowly implement Christian behavior and virtues in the life of their family. Saint John Chrysostom states that, “The souls of children are soft and delicate like wax. If right teachings are impressed upon them from the beginning then, with time, these impressions harden as in the case of a waxen seal. None will be able to undo this good impression.” Parents are the role models for their children. We must, to the best of our ability, establish a Christian Orthodox atmosphere and lifestyle in our homes. Our future depends on it.