Sunday, November 10, 2013

The "Heart Work" in Parenting

There are more times than I'd like to admit where I've whispered something like this to my boys during liturgy, "if you keep quiet and sit still, I'll buy you some (fill in the blank with a candy/treat)". Of course, there's nothing entirely wrong with doing that considering they are young and the liturgy for them seems like an eternity. The problem comes when this kind of bargaining starts to become a way of life in our home, and oftentimes it does without us, as parents, even thinking of its implications. We make all kinds of sticker charts and reward systems for the boys adhering to certain rules and avoiding certain behaviors. Again, I don't think that's always a bad thing, especially when we are trying to instill habits like doing homework, chores, potty training, etc. However, it does become a problem when the outside behavior looks good (because our kids are motivated by some external reward) but the heart remains the same. Weren't the pharisees just like that? Their behavior was actually perfect but Christ rebukes them saying, "You brood of vipers! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart" (Matt. 12:34) Yikes! Without even realizing it, we can be turning our children into Pharisees. I'll admit, sometimes it is easier to just fix the behavior from the outside, especially when we are in front of people, in places where we need them to behave, or even when we are just so exhausted that we'll do whatever it takes to make them behave (There have definitely been some nights where I promised my kids they'll get a treat in the morning if they would just go to bed and not keep coming out of their rooms ;)). So how do we practically get to work on our children's hearts?
One thing our children (and ourselves) need to understand is that no matter how hard any of us try, we cannot change on our own. It is only the mighty power of Jesus Christ inside of our hearts that can make real and lasting change. That's why its important that we, as parents, pray in front of our children very honestly and openly. When I lose my patience with my kids, I first apologize and then either on the spot or during bedtime prayers, pray out loud to God and ask Him to uproot the impatience from my heart, and replace it with His love and His heart. It may sound silly, but after a while (even at a young age), the kids start to understand that we all need God, even mommy and daddy. Wasn't that God's biggest issue with the Pharisees? They didn't feel the need for God, because they felt that they could just fix themselves without His help.
As Orthodox Christians, we are constantly displaying our need for God. Why else would we drag ourselves and our children to liturgy every Sunday? Because we know the power we receive from the Eucharist. We know the cleansing we receive from repentance and confession. We understand our spiritual struggle here on earth which is why we call on the saints, who are part of the victorious church, to pray for us and help us. We do prostrations (meytanias)while saying "Lord have mercy", which is our way of telling God, we really need your help! These are all things we need to verbalize to our children. After a rough morning with the boys when everyone was not being kind to each other (myself included), we got into the car and I said, "Boys, we are on our way to Church to be close to God and take communion because we all need Him to change our hearts and give us power to be just as kind as He is." Of course they may not understand what this really means, but their spirit does, and over time as we keep verbalizing this, they will also see their need for Him, and the healing and true peace that He brings.
Another thing that has helped work on heart issues is helping the kids find the root cause of their behavior. For example, when fighting over toys, or when siblings constantly bicker, a lot of times the root cause is selfishness or thinking of one's own needs over the other's (pride). Even at a young age, its good to probe with your children to get them to see the root cause of their behavior. Once they find it with your help, you can both pray for it and put it before God and say something like, "Lord, it is hard for me not to be selfish, can you please help me to change?" Getting into this habit not only gets to the heart of the matter, but always points our children back to the grace and saving power of the Cross, which should be our goal as Christian parents. I hope this encourages all of us to work on our children's hearts and not just the outside behavior.


  1. Hi Tasoni, Christ is in our midst. Thank you so much for this post and for encouraging parents to pray with their children in the Liturgical Life of the Church :) Your post resonates with something Metropolitan Anthony Bloom once said:

    " is not by making children to learn doctrinal formularies or formal prayers or any such thing that you make a person into a Christian or an Orthodox. He must be introduced into an experience. And an experience can be caught as one catches the flu, it is an infection, it’s not something which can be conveyed in a sterile manner. So that what we expect is that in the family people should have a sense of worship. I do not mean, do special things. It’s not by praying before a meal or not praying before a meal that one conveys a sense of a sacredness of the event, but I remember one of our young theologians saying, “Everything in life is an act of love divine even the food, which we eat, is divine love that has become edible.” And if the food is prepared with love, if it is served with beauty, if it is shared with reverence, if it is treated as a gift of God, a miracle, and for people of my generation and that of my parents this attitude is easy because we have gone so often without any food and in hunger, that really a peace of bread or any form of food is an act of God or an act of human love. So that is an example. The same could be applied to everything which is the life of the home — the way parents treat children and children treat parents."
    + Metropolitan Anthony Bloom,

    Please remember all of us your children in your prayers.

  2. Thank you for this beautiful post. Reminds me of our conversations about this topic when we were together last year.
    Every day I have been coming back to your blog site eagerly anticipating a new blog post. Please let us know what lessons you have learned to encourage us :) .....God bless!

  3. this is so important because I know that we all sometimes just focus on the external behaviors (fighting, yelling, etc.) and just want them to end, as opposed to figuring out what they are rooted in and helping shape the child's heart. Thank you!