Intentional, Not Perfect, Parenting

There is something about parenting books that reminds me of the old snake oil salesmen in American history. “Buy my book, and all your parenting problems will be solved.” “Just try this technique and watch misbehaviors disappear!” The problem wasn’t just shady people selling snake oil with wild promises. It was people hoping that such a tonic existed and willing to spend money for such a thing. Many people approach parenting books in the same way, looking for some magic cure-all for the challenges of raising kids.

Challenged for a Reason

What if the challenges of parenting are not meant to be solved, but are actually what God gives us to raise our children prepared to go out into the world? What if the challenges in parenting are just like germs that children are exposed to when they’re young? Germs make a child sick in the short-term, but they build up a child’s immunity over the long-term, making for healthy children. If that’s the case, then learning how to parent means learning how to respond to our children in the challenges, rather than trying to eliminate the challenges. And that is a real challenge for us, as parents.

Responding Intentionally

The more we understand how our children learn and what we are teaching them by our reactions and responses, the more intentional we can be about how we respond in the face of challenges. The child development research reveals that kids form their ideas about themselves and the world through their interactions with adults. When we understand what’s happening beneath the surface, or within their hearts, we can be intentional about responding in a way that teaches our kids what is true and good.

Rather than trying to learn how to get our kids to behave, or how to stop misbehaviors, we need to learn how to be intentional in our responses to kids when they misbehave. Essentially, it’s really about us, as parents, learning how to behave appropriately when our kids misbehave appropriately. They are supposed to act like kids. We are not. Taking some time to learn how to change our behaviors will help our kids far more than hoping that our children will change their behaviors.

God’s Invitation

This doesn’t make parenting easy, and it certainly doesn’t take the challenges away. It only shows us the path, as an invitation from God Himself, to seek first the kingdom of God. It’s an invitation to offer ourselves daily to Him by how we connect with our kids, how we set limits, give consequences, and walk with our kids as they learn how to listen to us, learn how to make good decisions, and learn how to deny themselves, take up their own crosses, and follow Christ.

What happens in the home is sacred. Our children are being formed in and through the daily interactions with us and with others. And we, as parents, are invited to be transformed. It is easy to lose sight of the sacred happenings in the home with all the tasks that need to be done and all the struggles we face. Yet, the more we keep our focus on what God is doing in our hearts and in our homes, the more we can respond in love and parent toward the kingdom.

Dr. Philip Mamalakis

About Dr. Philip Mamalakis

Dr. Philip Mamalakis is the author of Parenting Toward the Kingdom: Orthodox Christian Principles of Child-Rearing. With his wife Georgia and seven children, Dr. Mamalakis lives in Boston, Massachusetts, where he is the Assistant Professor of Pastoral Care at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. Dr. Mamalakis directs the field education program and teaches classes on pastoral care,marriage and family, grief, death and dying, and topics related to pastoral counseling. He has a private practice in Newton, Massachusetts, where he works with individuals, couples, and families. Dr. Mamalakis has an M.Div. from Holy Cross and a Ph.D. from Purdue University in child development and family studies, specializing in marriage and family therapy. He has been offering parenting courses and writing on parenting for 21 years. He enjoys leading seminars and retreats on intimacy, relationships, marriage, parenting, and family life as well as Orthodoxy and psychology.

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