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On Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing: Principle 6: Teach the Joy of Repentance

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 6: Teach the Joy of Repentance

Dr. Philip Mamalakis’ book Parenting Toward the Kingdom is filled with wisdom and encourages godly parenting. The sixth and final principle, “Teach the joy of repentance,” is yet another challenge towards godliness, and is as invaluable to the souls of the parents who follow it as it is to those of their children. He begins with a chapter on repentance, then discusses the joy of repentance, and closes with the encouragement that Orthodox Christian homes nurture repentance and confession.

The chapter on repentance begins by encouraging parents not to focus on “doing” parenting, but rather to focus on loving God while responding to our children. He emphasizes that only a saint would parent perfectly, and that we should not expect ourselves to be able to do so. Rather, we should expect ourselves to learn and grow, just as we expect our children to learn and grow. The Holy Spirit will raise in us the fruits necessary to be the parents we must be. If we want to best reach our long-term parenting goals, we need to labor to acquire the Holy Spirit. As we work towards living a Godly life, it is important that we not cover over our mistakes; but rather that we use those mistakes to teach our children the joy that is found in repentance. Since repentance is at the heart of our Christian life, it follows that teaching repentance should be at the heart of our parenting.

Dr. Mamalakis begins the chapter on the joy of repentance by stating that joy and repentance are not usually associated with each other. However, he continues, it becomes apparent that learning to repent brings about healing in our lives, and that healing in turn, brings joy. When we make mistakes, it is important that we reflect on what we’ve done wrong, repent, and have a plan for how to learn from that mistake. When we do so, our children learn that Kingdom values/virtues are real as we are teaching them how to attain those values and virtues.

The final chapter of the book encourages us to nurture repentance and confession in our home. He suggests that including forgiveness with our other parenting interventions is an appropriate way to nurture such an atmosphere. He encourages the reader to be quick to forgive and to only keep track of our children’s misbehaviors so that we can better figure out how to help our children work through them, not in order to use those misbehaviors against our children. He recommends that families regularly ask each other for forgiveness as part of their Saturday evening preparation for communion. This sets the stage for a natural affinity for confession, wherein we restore our relationship with God by asking His forgiveness for our sins. He encourages the reader to nurture a culture of prayer in the home. Prayer helps us to better parent while also allowing our children to personally experience God’s grace. He reminds the reader once more that the ultimate goal of Orthodox parenting is that when our children are grown and leave home, they carry with them Christ and His Church. Repentance, confession, and prayer along the way will help us achieve that goal.

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 #6:  

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“Ultimately, children need to be loved. If we are more focused on parenting the right way than loving our kids, that’s not good for our kids.” (p. 281)

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“The truth is, we don’t have the patience, kindness, gentleness, wisdom, and self-control to be the types of parents we might want to be, but God helps us acquire these virtues as fruits of the Holy Spirit. If we focus on trying to do everything perfectly, we will fail. If we focus on acquiring the Holy Spirit, the values and virtues of the Kingdom of God will fill our hearts and our homes.” (p. 284)

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“The ascetic self-denial required of parenting is an act of love directed at our children and, we believe, toward Christ. We, as parents, are invited by Christ in every parenting interaction to turn away from our own impulses and desires and draw close to Him… As we respond to God’s invitation, we teach our children how God is inviting them, in every interaction, to love.” (p. 287)

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“Our children don’t need us to be perfect to teach them the right way to live, but they do need us to admit when we’ve fallen off the path. The very act of admitting we made a mistake teaches our children that there is a right way, and we blew it. When we repent we show our children both the right path and how to get back on the path when we fall off.” (p. 288)

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“When we embrace repentance and forgiveness, our mistakes and failures are no longer fatal. Repentance, confession, and forgiveness are the antidotes to sin, hurt, and our human failings Sin and failures are a fact of our human condition and of family life… We can either give our children a legacy of our sins or a legacy of repentance. We don’t need to be perfect families, but if we want to grow, learn, and  be perfected as families, we need to be repentant.” (pp. 292-293)

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“As we understand the true nature of repentance and confession, we can see that it is more about love, joy, and freedom than sin, criticism, or blame. It only makes sense to learn to do this as often as possible.” (pp. 296-297)

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“...the goal of parenting is to have children internalize the joy of repentance as one of the greatest gifts we have to thrive in marriage and in life. Children don’t need consequences as much as they need repentance in their hearts. .. When our children experience the joy of reconciliation that follows the pain of sin and repenting, they learn that our sins are temporary, but God’s love and mercy are eternal.” (p. 298)

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“It can be difficult for our kids to see that we are human Our mistakes hurt and confuse them. But if they see that we are repentant humans, they learn that we really love them and that repentance is real. Consider how you want your children to respond when they misbehave, and model that for them when you misbehave… Even in our failures---particularly in our failures---we can teach our children how to thrive in life.” (pp. 302-303)

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“Teaching children to ask for forgiveness allows us a pathway to address misbehaviors when there are no consequences or when consequences don’t make sense. If we hand out consequences for every misdeed, family life becomes nothing but a series of consequences for mistakes. Rather, if we require our children to ask for forgiveness, family life becomes filled with constantly getting back on the right path.” (p. 305)

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“When our children misbehave, we need to be quick to forgive them as we take the side of their feelings and set limits to their behaviors. Forgiving our children means letting go of our feelings of fear, hurt, shame, frustration, anger, or resentment when they misbehave… Forgiving our children is about healing our hearts as our children learn and grow. It is an inner disposition in our hearts that says, ‘I will not hold your misbehaviors against you. I love you no matter how long it takes you to learn how to behave. And you have to learn how to behave.’” (pp. 307-308

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“When our children see that we are trying to live out the Gospel in our homes and going to regular confession as part of that journey, they make the connection between the Gospel they hear in church and the struggles and learning that happen in the home. In this way, our children learn that God and His Kingdom are real. Parenting is not about stopping misbehaviors but about shaping children’s hearts and minds according to the Gospel and God’s Kingdom.” (p. 314)

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“We don’t always know how to respond to our children, where to set the limits, and what the consequence should be, but we can always pray. As we learn to turn to Christ in prayer and to parent with prayer, we will discover the endless love of God, which enables us to parent in peace and raise our children in peace, joy, and love.” (p.316)

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“To parent toward the Kingdom requires us to improve the way we interact with our children in every situation and to connect our hearts and homes to Christ and His Church… That doesn’t solve their problem or make their lives easy, but it does allow them to internalize the reality of God and the values and the virtues of His Kingdom deep within their hearts. That way, when they leave our home, they carry within their hearts Christ and His Church to guide them toward the Kingdom.” (p. 319)