When I ponder on the blessings of parenting…
I begin with Adam as written in the book of Genesis, and how the Scriptures describe his walks in the garden with God. How engaged every aspect of his senses must have been with all the beauty he beheld! Can you imagine how every second was full of total presence and mindfulness? Adam must have felt understood in the deepest sense of the word and greatly loved.
Adam responded to God not only with his human ears but with the heart and soul of his being. This is how our children listen to us. Children, when we capture their attention, are models of “active listening.” They listen with their eyes, their minds, and hearts as well as their ears. Children need to belong, and they learn how to belong as they grow. They discover that certain responses from others give them a feeling of belonging and connection. Through our relationship with them they also experience God’s presence and love in their lives. Children are tuned into the tone of our voice, the gentleness of our face and eyes as we look into their faces. We begin to communicate with them way before we even open our mouths to speak.
How important is it to have an overall plan for how we want to relate to our children? They need safety from their parents, which allows them to thrive and experience childhood. Our children need to know that we “know them,” their strengths, their weaknesses, how they express themselves, how they learn, play, and cry. It is important that each child realize their uniqueness and the traits that make him or her like no one else in the world. As parents, we are called to encourage them, and recognize their efforts rather than to demand perfection. Comparisons can lead children to believe that their worth depends on being better than others while encouragement helps each child to appreciate their own unique qualities.
When we teach our children that their thoughts and feelings are important, they experience the gift of truly being understood and heard. Giving another human being our whole attention is a healing form of love. With this giving, our children also learn how to communicate their needs and desires in a healthy way and come to better know themselves.
As children experience positive regard for their feelings, they will grow in self-awareness and self-esteem. When they believe their feelings are worthy of respect, they learn to respect other’s feelings too.
Parents have a great influence in building positive beliefs in their children. When children have positive beliefs about themselves they practice positive behaviors. These behaviors then reinforce the beliefs about themselves, which strengthens the desired behavior.
“Good listening requires that we be sensitive to the needs of others. We cannot be sensitive unless we have anchored our lives in the love of Christ,” says Fr. Anthony Coniaris in his book, Making God Real in the Orthodox Christian Home. Family dinner hours and meetings where every child feels heard and respected for their ideas helps our children experience being a valued individual within the framework of a family.
We must be intentional and purposeful in our lives because the society we live in doesn’t nurture this way of communicating or parenting. In fact, it drives us to the other side of the paradigm. We are encouraged to stay busy, strive for material gain, and fill our time with so many worldly distractions. These distractions not only tug, but painfully jerk our focus from each other onto what the world tells us is important.
I once counseled a family with a 15 year old son during a period of time when he was “acting out” with behaviors such as skipping school, smoking, and stealing with his “new found friends.” We were into our third session with this young man and his parents when he spoke the words that will be forever engraved in my memory. He said, “You know, I hear you mom every night as you sit at the kitchen table with your bible talking to God. As I lay in bed I can hear you pray for all of us one by one. I know you want what is best for me, I hear you mom. I know how much you love me and I love you too. I understand why you are so worried about me and I see the problems with what I’m doing and I don’t want that either.” Their eyes connected and the room lit up with this amazing clarity and warmth. We all knew that they were back on the path together and it would be the path God has chosen for his life.
This family did not freeze. They took action when they realized that their son was in trouble and they needed extra help. They looked at their resources, family, friends, church, and professional counseling. They were proactive and it helped them get to a healthier place.
This mother preached to her children daily by being a living example, a powerful guide in the way she chose to live her life. Instead of nagging, she faithfully shared her values and beliefs by her words and actions. She was not critical nor condemning but firm and genuinely concerned for his welfare, now and in his future. Her son could connect to that and begin to change his destructive behavior.
The other piece to this story is that she did not get stuck with his bad behavior. She knew his God-given gifts and she looked beneath the bad behavior and spoke to his heart, encouraging him to honor himself. This is huge even when your children are very young. We hold the mirror that tells them who they are in their early years of development. Children need to know that we love and honor them, but as their parents, we are called to provide them with a consistent and appropriate structure that allows them to grow and develop in a healthy way. Parents need to be firm yet loving, honest yet kind with their children.
She held him accountable for his behavior and didn’t make excuses for him. She encouraged him to pursue the right path in his life, but also allowed him to experience consequences for his choices. He came to understand that he was part of something larger than himself, and how his behaviors also affected the family.
You’ll find the book, “Taming the Spirited Child”, by Dr. Michael Popkin, an insightful parenting resource. Every family needs a leader and it should not be a child. Fathers and mothers need to take their rightful place in the family as leaders, protecting and nurturing their children. Children need church traditions, healthy family interactions and boundaries to feel safe enough to grow and thrive. Children need faithful and present parents who realize the importance of validating the fears and hurts that lie beneath their children’s misbehaviors.
We, as parents, guide our children in discovering their God-given talents, by being attentive when we communicate with them, and encouraging them to grow in their uniqueness in God’s Kingdom.