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On Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing: Principle #3: Understand Struggles in Terms of Kingdom Values and Virtues

Note: This series of blog posts will focus on principles important to Orthodox Christians who are raising children. The series will feature a closer look at Dr. Philip Mamalakis’ book, Parenting Toward the Kingdom: Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing. Each week we will take a closer look at one section of the book, which is divided into 6 basic principles of child rearing. Read an overview blog post about the book here. We thank Dr. Mamalakis and Ancient Faith Publishing for giving us permission to share his wisdom with you in this way. Purchase your own copy of his book here.

Principle #3: Understand Struggles in Terms of the Values and Virtues of the Kingdom

Dr. Mamalakis' third principle of parenting encourages parents to understand struggles in terms of the values and the virtues of the Kingdom of God. This principle is covered by two chapters in his book Parenting Toward the Kingdom. The chapters encourage parents to name their child's struggle and to separate their own struggle from their child's.

Dr. Mamalakis begins addressing this third principle by reminding the reader that if we are truly parenting toward the kingdom, we need to name our children’s struggles and frame every struggle that they encounter in the context of the kingdom. That is, we must look at each struggle in terms of the values and virtues of the Kingdom of God. Every struggle our children experience is an opportunity to help them learn those values and virtues. God has placed each of us into our family to struggle and learn together about His kingdom: that is what family life is all about. We parents need to watch our words, and choose carefully what messages we engrave on our children's souls with the way in which we speak to them. Dr. Mamalakis offers real-life examples from his family, as well as suggestions of wording choices that point our children toward the Kingdom instead of cutting them down. Naming our children's struggles and having them brainstorm ideas of ways to accomplish whatever is causing the struggle teaches our children how to do what is right on their own, instead of forcing them to comply to our own will. Along the way, we also are teaching our children the following: to connect Church life and home life; how to rightly view (and treat) their siblings; while demonstrating our delight to be struggling together with each of our children. It is important that we note their effort in their struggles, especially when they are making good choices in the face of those struggles. In order to be able to step back and name our children's struggles, we first need to take a look at our own struggles as parents.

Dr. Mamalakis continues to address the third principle with a chapter encouraging parents to see our own struggles and to separate our struggles from those of our children. He helps the reader to understand that the way that we go about struggling to help our children with their struggles teaches them much about the Kingdom of God. He notes that children need their parents to stand lovingly beside them while they struggle and as they learn to pick themselves up. Children do not benefit from parents who just jump in and rescue them from their struggle. But neither should we abandon them in their struggle: we need to learn how to join them, to be with them and support them while they struggle and get back on track. It is not our job as parents to take away our children’s struggles: it is our job to help them learn to succeed in their struggles. As we do so, we must be continually mindful of our own struggles and how God is standing beside us in our struggle. Our own struggles help us to grow closer to Him and His Church.

May God help us all to learn to understand our family's struggles (both our children’s and our own) in terms of the values and the virtues of the Kingdom of God.

Have a parenting question for Dr. Mamalakis? Ask him here (at the bottom of the page).

Here are a few gleanings from the chapters related to Principle #3:

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"Children learn important skills of life as they struggle to wait until after dinner for dessert. God gives us the struggles of dinner before dessert, and all the struggles of childhood, to help us acquire the values and the virtues of the Kingdom of God. (p. 89; Parenting Toward the Kingdom. by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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"In the home, in the struggles, is where we are learning patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, sharing, taking turns, helping others, and, essentially, selfless love. It is in the home that we are working out our salvation, being perfected in Christ, and being made holy." (p. 89; Parenting Toward the Kingdom. by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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"What does sibling fighting or a child's misbehavior have to do with the Kingdom of God? ...These struggles catch me offguard all the time. In fact, I never have time for [my children's] fights. However, I have to remind myself that this is what my time is really for." (p. 91; Parenting Toward the Kingdom.by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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"Consider what comes out of your mouth when you react to your children's misbehaviors. Most of us end up saying the very things our parents used to say to us, no matter how much we swore we would never do that. It's instinctive. Our parents' statements are written on our souls, and what we say to our children in these moments will be engraved on their souls. We can choose the messages we want our children to carry with them their whole lives. Choose wisely. It is an act of love toward our children to engrave godly, biblical messages of truth on their souls." (pp. 93-94; Parenting Toward the Kingdom. by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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"Mistakes are understood to be part of the learning process---at school, at least. Why not at home? ...If we say 'You don't listen,' or 'Why do you always lie around?' or 'You're mean to your sister!' these messages will end up etched on the souls of our children. We don't want that. We want to engrave things on their hearts that will be useful for them the rest of their lives. 'Listen to each other's words.' 'First we clean up, then we rest.' 'Be kind to your sister.'" (p. 95; Parenting Toward the Kingdom. by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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"We want the language of the home to be filled with the virtues of God, even in the midst of the struggles. When children are distressed, they are not able to listen, and short statements go a long way toward communicating what is true. Remember, these struggles will happen all the time, and we have a long time to form our children by what we say. In the struggle is when they learn the most, and what we say in those moments is what they will remember the most." (pp. 96-97; Parenting Toward the Kingdom by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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"The art of parenting: Name their struggle. Keep the limits firm. Brainstorm. Repeat." (p.101; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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"Naming their struggle, when done with compassion, communicates empathy and respect and allows us to join our children in their struggle without rescuing them. Parenting is not about getting children to do the right thing or making their life easy, but trying to walk close to them as they learn how to struggle to do the right thing." (p. 103; Parenting Toward the Kingdom by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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"Allow each child to struggle in his or her unique way and delight in them, even though they struggle. One of the most powerful messages we can communicate to our children is that we are glad that we get to be their parents---and the best time to teach that is when they make a mistake or misbehave. We communicate that love and respect as we respond by naming their struggle, keeping limits firm, and giving consequences. Help everyone in the home recognize that we are all on the same journey, each of us struggles with different things along the way, and we're glad we get to struggle with them." (p.;107 Parenting Toward the Kingdom by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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"Children don't need to be praised or told that they are great, because those are empty words. What they do need is to have their efforts and good decisions recognized. This keeps the focus on the path we want them to keep walking on." (p.109; Parenting Toward the Kingdom. by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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"Our kids' behaviors affect us in all sorts of ways. Our struggle as parents is to resist the temptation to react to misbehaviors and to respond at all times in the best interest of our children Our struggle is to focus on our long-term goals in every interaction with our children, no matter how we're feeling... Their misbehavior might disturb our peace and our plans when they misbehave at home, or disappoint and embarrass us when they misbehave in public. That is our struggle, not theirs. It is not their fault they are children, and it is not their fault we struggle with their behaviors. Parenting is the intersection of our struggle as a parent and their struggle as a child." (pp112-113; Parenting Toward the Kingdom by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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"...to succeed as parents, we need to keep our struggle separate from our child's struggle, and respond based on our child's struggle, not our own. As we struggle to respond to our children, we model for them how to struggle and to respond to their challenges. As we cultivate the virtues of the Kingdom of God in our parenting, we teach our children how to live according to the virtues of the Kingdom of God." (p.113; Parenting Toward the Kingdom by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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"Children need us to be close to them when they struggle, not to rescue them from the struggle. If we love our kids, we want to prepare them to succeed in life, which means helping them develop the capacity to get back up when they fall, dust themselves off, and ask for help if they need it." (p. 115; Parenting Toward the Kingdom by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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"Just as the only way to strengthen our muscles is by stressing them, the only way for children to become strong is through struggling. This is where growth happens. However, we don’t need to abandon our kids in their trials or create trials for them. Life provides ample opportunities for children to struggle, learn, and grow. We need to learn how to join them in these struggles.” (p. 117; Parenting Toward the Kingdom by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Being alone in the struggle is what leaves lasting painful memories. If we want to raise disciplined and motivated children, we need to allow them to experience the normal hardships and struggles of life. If we love our children, we join them in those struggles. Children need struggles in order to thrive. They just don’t need to go through them alone.” (p. 121; Parenting Toward the Kingdom by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Taking time out to learn about parenting, giving yourself a time-out when you are about to react, and going to talk to someone about your struggles are great steps toward attending to your struggles. Once we recognize that the parenting problems we face are invitations for us as parents to grow, it opens up a whole pathway for our own healing… As we learn to attend to our struggles, resist the temptation to react, and learn to respond, we walk the path of healing and salvation. In fact, it is through the struggles of parenting that we can acquire the Holy Spirit and the virtues of the Kingdom of God.” (p. 124; Parenting Toward the Kingdom by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)