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On Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing: Principle 5: Teach the Joy of Obedience

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. Find 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 5: Teach the Joy of Obedience

Dr. Mamalakis encourages his readers to teach their children the joy of obedience in chapters 14 and 15 of his book Parenting Toward the Kingdom. Chapter 14 focuses on the joy of obedience, and ch. 15 encourages parents to nurture a culture of listening. Parents need to be attuned to both to successfully teach their children the joy of obedience.

He begins the chapter about the joy of obedience by acknowledging that it is difficult to get our children to listen to us and to obey. He states that while obedience is important, it is not the end goal. Our end goal is for our children to be strong enough to follow God, and demanding obedience from them can damage the strength of their will, reducing the likelihood that they could be that strong when they are grown. We do have authority over our children, and we are responsible to help them learn to obey. But we should not take our authority and abuse it, forcing obedience from them. Instead we must utilize our authority to nurture a home environment that allows our children to learn and grow in all of the virtues, including obedience. Obedience shows both faith and love when it is lived out, whether in the home or before God. The more fully our children know that we care, respect, and love them, the easier it is for them to live within our guidelines and obey us. It is important that we model obedience to our children by genuinely living the Faith in our own home, and by prioritizing peace, repentance, and love in the process.

Dr. Mamalakis goes on in the next chapter to encourage his readers to hone their listening skills. He writes that if we expect our children to listen to us, it follows that we should model that by truly listening to them and to our spouse. It takes self-denial to truly listen to others, but when we do, they see their value to us as icons of God. When we truly listen, our children feel that they have a voice (even if it doesn’t change our direction) and affirms that we respect them. When we listen before we take any action, we successfully model the way we want our children to live: respectfully and virtuously. So, first we connect with our child; then we are in a position to correct them. It is important that we continue to teach our children about listening in the non-emotionally-intense times such as bedtime, mealtimes, etc. so that our discussions about listening are not limited to when tensions have escalated. The key to teaching listening is to model it effectively in the way that we interact with our children.

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

Here are a few gleanings from the Parenting Toward the Kingdom chapters related to Principle #5:

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“Children need to learn obedience just like they need to learn patience, kindness, and self-control. Because they are learning, we need to be teaching, not just demanding, obedience. (p. 254)

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“Demanding obedience does not work in the long term because, while we do have authority over our children, we do not have the authority to crush their wills. That is disrespectful. They will need their wills to be strong as adults to make good decisions and to follow God, which is our long-term goal.” (p. 255)

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“Our goal is not to raise up robots who just do what they are told. Our goal is to have our children internalize a spirit… of obedience to God and His commandments by the time they leave our homes so that they will choose, with their own will, to be obedient to God.” (p. 256)

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“Obedience teaches our children to let go of getting what they want, when they want it. Our long-term goal is to raise children who align their wills with God’s will, rather than live enslaved to their impulses and desires. ” (pp. 258 - 259)

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“God’s love should fill our homes with joy even in the midst of our struggles. The gospel is called the Good News, not the Oppressive Rules. Our job is to try to parent in joy, with joy, as our children struggle to listen.

More effective than demanding obedience is modeling obedience and having close relationships with our children.” (pp. 262 - 263)

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“As children observe the parents living the sacramental life of the Church, they will internalize the life of the church as real. If they experience this life as joyful, they internalize the joy of obedience.

Keep in mind, however, that if the external practices of the Church in the home are not accompanied by love, caring, and connection, children will develop a distaste for these practices. Prioritize peace, love, and repentance as you do your best to connect the Church to the home.” (p. 265)

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“The best way to teach listening is to listen to our children. We venerate our children (and our spouses) as icons of Christ by listening to them.” (p. 267)

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“Listening is an act of love. Real listening requires that we resist the temptation to ignore, interrupt, give advice, criticize, or react. It requires selflessness and is an ascetic act of self-giving. When we listen to someone, we make ourselves present and attentive to what the person is saying. It is a type of self-denial and a real act of love.” (p. 268)

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“Listening first with questions like, ‘What’s going on? What happened?Tell me what you were thinking,’ or even, ‘Why did you hit your sister?’ is respectful and invites children to reflect. Listening to children does not mean we don’t set limits and give consequences. It means we check in with them before we do anything. That is our struggle: to model respect and teach them that they are icons of Christ by listening before we set limits or give consequences.” (p. 272)

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“If our child’s angry, childish reactions are met with angry, childish reactions from us, we end up escalating the conflict, and it is not clear who the adults are anymore. When we react, we lose our authority as parents.” (p. 274)

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“...we use our God-given authority not to silence our children, but to set the expectation that the home is where we are all learning to listen. We should be strict about requiring listening but stricter about modeling listening and focusing on connecting with our children as they are learning.” (p. 277)

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“It is more effective to get your child’s attention with a gentle touch than to repeat yourself.” (p. 278)

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“Beware, it is very difficult to teach listening if our children to don’t see or experience the adults in the home listening to them… We don’t need to force this issue with each parenting incident, but we do need to nurture a household in which everyone is learning to listen.” (p. 278)