Marriage and Family Retreat
by Economos Constantine Nasr
It is a beautiful thing to reflect on the role of mothers. Mothers have great influence; becoming a mom means assuming an enormous amount of guilt. Am I doing what is right? Am I doing enough? Am I doing too much? What did I do wrong? What did I do right? Mothers often ask these and many other questions of themselves. But all mothers can be happy for this statistic: eighty-eight percent of adults today say that their mothers had a positive influence on them.
Please take some time to think about the influence your mother has had on you, whether you are twenty years old, thirty years old, forty years old, or fifty years old. The role of your mother can never be erased from your mind. There is no dollar value on a mom!
Two things are certain in this regard. First, a mother’s opinion matters; and second, a mother has enormous power. We often read about mothers who neglect their children. But it is good to read about one who approaches her parenting responsibilities intentionally and intelligently. There is a way to communicate with children using the mind and the heart, a balanced relationship. When I was a boy, my mom would take me to church. She always wanted to make sure I could kiss the icon of the Virgin Mary on the iconostasis. She would pick me up and say, “Kiss the icon!” This memory reminds me of King Solomon’s advice in the Book of Proverbs: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (22.6). We see ourselves today the way we were treated as we were being brought up by our parents. So mothers have a great influence on us and on the way we raise our families.
Although I have been saying these things about mothers, it is important to realize that a mother cannot effectively raise her children alone. It takes another partner: a father. So many families today exist without a father around the home, and children are much, much worse off for it. A father, while he has a special responsibility to provide for the family, must also be a nurturing influence, a presence in his children’s lives. I always tell folks in marriage counseling that any marriage requires three persons: the husband, the wife, and God, who holds their hands together tightly. Only in this can there be love, discipline, and security in proper balance.
Some of you reading this will, God willing, become parents. Some of you are already parents. Ask yourself: what is my role as a father or mother to my children? We live in a different world today, a different culture, than the one from which our parents and grandparents came. But to say that raising a family is fundamentally different, whether in America or the old country, is nonsense. Raising a family, whether in India or Africa, Russia or Uganda, has the same basic objective; the fundamentals do not change. The differences are in the culture, location and time. Thank God for the cultures we came from! We have learned a lot from them. But in America, the culture is different and therefore requires some different parenting techniques. We cannot take the moral formation of our kids for granted; we find ourselves amidst corrupt, declining family life and values. Three-fourths of marriages end in divorce. This is a very high statistic! Sixty to sixty-five percent of families today are broken homes. Thank God for the Church and for our parents and the morals and values they have offered us. Yet, we are still heavily influenced by the world outside, bombarded by everything that creeps into our homes from friends, strangers, television, music, and the internet. These things can shatter the family structure if we let them.
One result of divorce and absent dads and moms is the over-indulgence of our kids. In his book, Over-Indulging Children, the author writes: “In a society beset by over-indulgence, our children are paying too high a price for excess of wealth and freedom.” On one hand, we have created a plethora of options that bewilder and confuse our young people, and at a minimum distract them. How often have you asked yourself what direction this generation is going? All of our young couples who will have babies in the future, all of you mothers and fathers who already have kids and teenagers: what direction is this generation going? Our children today seem unable to focus and make life-affirming, positive decisions. On the other hand, we parents are so busy with our lifestyle that we leave our children to make product, activity, relationship, career, and life-style choices on their own. Mother is missing today. Father is missing today. Parents are missing their responsibilities. Children have more choices to filter, and at an earlier age, and yet we parents cannot seem to find the time to mentor them effectively. Instead of talking to our children, we scream at them! We shout at them! Out of guilt, we then give our children too many material things or too much freedom to make choices they are not mentally or emotionally equipped to make.
I once heard of a young couple with a two-year-old who went out to eat at a restaurant. The father asked the child, “Who do you want to feed you now?” The baby said, “Daddy!” and mommy was relieved. Dad asked after the meal, “Who do you want to wash you?” “Daddy!” said the child, and mommy was again relieved. When it was time to go to the car, “Who do you want to carry you?” “Mommy!” came the reply. This story may sound sweet or silly, but this family is teaching their child to control them! This is not how it is supposed to be! All these choices given to the child are extremely dangerous. They may seem nice, but these parents are planting a seed of control in their child. We ask our kids to make decisions all of the time about this or that, and this is dangerous to our society today, for it teaches us that we are entitled to have anything we want, whenever we want it. We think we are doing our kids a favor but, in reality, we are spoiling them and leaving them poorly equipped for real choices in the world.
There are powerful tools at our disposal as parents to stem this tide of over-indulging children, and all of them come back to the same thing: love. One important tool we have in our arsenal is compassion. Parents must be compassionate to each other and to their children. This is love that cannot be based on material things, fear, or intimidation. We parents are to love our children, care for them, and mentor them. There are kids today whose affection is bought by giving, giving, and giving, just to try to attain some amount of love. It is very dangerous to over-indulge your children and give them everything they want. This creates in the mind of the child or teen a lack of discipline, vision and responsibility, and a continuation of want, want and want. Now all of us love our children and want the best for them, of course. But what if I decide that I love my son more because he is good at basketball? What if I show my daughter more affection and concern only because she is good at music? This is love for the wrong reasons! Love means that you give the best to your children equally, regardless of their talents. Not every child is the same as another child. Expectations from parents must realize this. Out of love, we forget that each is unique and cannot be put down. One if faster, one is slower. One excels in music, another in mathematics. One is short, one is tall, one is blind. We all have strengths and weaknesses, but we cannot be under a false pretense by giving one child more affection than another.
Love must also be consistent. When you discipline a child, you say “no” out of love. You must be firm. You cannot say “yes” one time and then “no” the next. In everything, you must be firm with your children.
Love involves listening. Listening is taking into consideration what your child has to say, in compromising when it is right, in avoiding attacks, in meeting legitimate needs, in forgiveness when wrong has been done. Many of us do not want to talk with our children because we are too busy; we have no time. We would rather scream at them or simply load them up with more material gifts. We tell ourselves that this is love and that they love us parents for this. But in the minds of our children, they will soon have no place or time for us, which creates a vacuum. Children, teens, and even adults need a consistent display of love and discipline with compassion, not intimidation. Listening also involves listening to your spouse. What you do and say between you and your spouse greatly affects the lives of your children, even if they are only infants! The Japanese music teacher Suzuki has achieved international fame and success with his method for teaching music by listening. At six weeks, he has children listening to the classics in their cribs. By the time the children are three years old, they start formal lessons. At age seven, they can play Vivaldi, all by listening. Even at the youngest age, children listen. And everything we say or do influences them.
Love must include character formation. Our children will be whatever we train them to be, whether good or bad. If you are negative, sarcastic and bitter at home, then there is a great chance your kids will end up the same way. If your lives reflect the love of Jesus Christ, then your children will get the message. It will be clear because you speak of Him at the supper table, in the car on the way to church, and on family outings. And of course we should not only speak of Jesus Christ, but live for Him in the family setting.
So it is important to realize that we are molding our kids at home. Just like a potter with his clay, whatever we do and say, our children will become. If mom or dad is constantly missing-in-action, the kids either end up “just bumming around” or getting over-indulged by our attempts to make up for our not being around. I asked an eight-year-old child once, “What do you have in your bedroom?” The child responded, “I have a telephone, a TV, a computer, a Nintendo …” and the list went on and on. And when that child does something bad, do you know what his mother tells him? “Go to your room!” He is supposedly being punished, but he’s in there having a good time! When things like this happen, children begin to own you instead of you guiding and directing your children through life. And we should think very seriously about television in the home. Imagine your garbage man coming to your door. Instead of taking your trash, he brings several cans of garbage and dumps them right onto your living room carpet. Imagine how violated you would feel! But this occurs all the time across our country. The real garbage does not enter through the door but through the screen of your TV set or computer, spewing garbage all over our minds. The sacred precincts of our minds are not created for refuse, but for noble, pure and praiseworthy thoughts. If we do not guide our children in the right way, who is guiding them? There is a vacuum that must be filled, and most of the time it is filled by TV and the internet.
Know that even while living in this corrupt society where families are broken, we do not have to be like the rest of the world. As I said earlier,
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22.6).
Fathers and mothers must work together in harmony on this. Parents must take time to communicate, with each other and with children. This is one of the great purposes of gathering around the table for a family meal. It is an important and vital time for the family to communicate. Shut the television off, and talk about the things that transpired during the day. We must remember our responsibility, not only to love God and our children, but to spend time with them. How often do your kids see you and your spouse hugging and enjoying each other? Children need to see that daddy and mommy love each other, that they can talk to each other and say “I’m sorry,” if necessary. Men, don’t be a macho man; admit it when you make a mistake! Children see what their parents do and they pay attention. Through effort and intentional direction, we can form our kids, training them up in the way they should go.
Courtesy of the
October 2006 issue of The Word magazine.