* Disclaimer *
This is not a post about "parenting", for all those who are already preparing a verbal assault with the
"you aren't a parent so you have no right to make parenting statements" argument
(yes, people have actually said things like that.)
Often we have heard the adage, "It takes a village to raise a child" (It is pure coincidence that Father also used this phrase and touched on this very same subject in his sermon this morning!) By being a part of a community, we have a collective responsibility in the raising of the children within that community. Whether directly or indirectly, we are role models of what it means to be an adult, a woman/man, an Orthodox Christian, a spouse, a sibling. As much as there are children in our lives, we have an influence on them through our actions, our attitudes, our choices and our attentions - both in and outside the Church building!
Children aren't stupid - they question, they test, they push boundaries and they observe everything we say and do against what we teach and encourage. We teach children to speak nicely of/to one another, but then slander or gossip about others in our 'adult' conversations. We teach children to respect each other and to treat each other fairly, and then judge or put-down those around us. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words: what are the children hearing when they watch us interacting with one another in these ways?
This sits most heavily on me when in Church, either for vesperal or liturgical services. I am reminded that when brought forth for judgement, I will be asked to give an account for every act done or not done, for every kindness withheld, for every opportunity left abandoned. Christ himself warns those who lead the 'little ones' astray. Though traditionally taught these 'little ones' are those who are young in faith, it is equally relevant to our influence on those who are simply young. We are likewise encouraged by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians to be roused from our stupor and to be vigilant in our acts:
We have the power to effect either a positive, life-giving influence on others or a negative, life-denying one, especially children who are impressionable and in the act of being formed. We aren't responsible for what they do with the influence given to them, only to be it and to be it rightly. The real question is, how?
- How do I set a good example?
- How do my actions speak to my true interests?
- How do I make changes which will provide a positive model for any child who may be watching?
- How do I ensure that in all things, I am reflecting Christ?
Big questions! Questions that should lead us to examine the 'why' behind what we do, the choices we make and the behaviours we exhibit. These are also very Christian questions, as Christ is meant to be the central focus of our life and every aspect of it, influencing how we spend our time, our money, our energies and our efforts.
As a community whose child-base is growing rapidly, these questions become vital. Why are they vital? Because it is by our example, the Light that shines within us and the Breath of Life that sustains us, that the children of our parish will either stand with us as adults and confess Christ by their lives, supporting the Church by their prayers and offerings, helping to share the gospel by their own examples, or they will abandon Her altogether, finding more to attract them in the outside world, no matter how empty the things of this world are. It is in this way that I speak on the effective 'raising' of children, and how it is not only the responsibility of the biological parents, but of the entire community in which those children find themselves.