I’m thrilled to share a new series this year! I often wonder what other mothers find wonderful and challenging about motherhood. I particularly wonder how faith impacts other mothers in their parenting journeys. My faith is centered in the Orthodox Christian Church, so I reached out to other Orthodox women to see if they would share some thoughts about parenting and faith. I’ve been delighted with their responses and I hope–whether you are Orthodox or not–that you find their answers inspiring and encouraging!
This week I’m sharing Allison’s insights into Orthodox parenting. I knew of Allison when she lived in the same town, but never really knew her. I’ve recently reconnected with her, as she is an administrator for a fabulous Orthodox motherhood Facebook group. From watching her interactions in this Facebook group I can see her care and compassion for others, and I’m excited for you to read her words!
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your family:
We currently live in Boston, where my husband is completing his last year of seminary; our son is 4. My husband and I are both converts, and Brendan is our first child.
What is one of your favorite aspects of parenting?
We absolutely love watching our son’s enthusiasm and zest for life light up a room – he takes such delight in the simplest things, and it truly moves us to more wonder and joy in our own life.
What is the thing you find most difficult about parenting?
Honestly, fighting my own will – I so often opt to go the easier route (“yes, you can have more fruit snacks”), not out of kindness or compassion, but out of my own desire to keep things smooth and peaceful. There’s absolutely a need for fruit snacks, sometimes, but I often find myself face to face with my own laziness and gluttony and can see that trickle down in the ways I cope with the daily struggles of parenting.
What is your best practical tip for creating an Orthodox home?
There’s so much focus on crafts, songs, and activities to help our kids grow in their faith – what I am finding is so much more effective, and truthful, is simply being faithful and disciplined in my prayer life and my church going, and to have my son accompany me in our prayers and church going. There’s not a single craft that’s going to unlock the mysteries of the faith to my son, but my prayers for him and my living the faith with him will, God willing, form his heart.
How has your Orthodox faith impacted your parenting?
I love having a tradition that is focused on shaping the whole person – our fasting, our prayers, and our liturgical life really turn our hearts to God in joy and mystery, and I love that my son is in a church setting that is about mystery and sacrament. That he not only knows how to say “Lord have mercy,” but that this prayer is something he can already turn to at such a young age.
What is the hardest thing about raising your children in the faith at the stage of life your kids are in right now?
Four year olds are…strong willed. Especially when they are being told where to go and what to wear and how loudly they can’t speak! Church services can be really challenging when your child doesn’t want to leave their toys or the comfort of their house. Some Sundays are great, and others…are a struggle.
What advice do you have for other moms raising their kids in the Orthodox faith?
You never, ever know what a family is dealing with – they may have the wildest kids, but they may also be dealing with issues at home that are huge burdens (autism, poverty, emotional volatility, etc). And, on the other hand, kids are kids! They are wiggly, demanding people, and they are learning. Just like we are learning. Be kind, and be friends! Look to listen and offer empathy before offering “advice.” I know from experience that assumptions can be so hurtful, especially when it comes to our kids.
What’s your favorite Orthodox parenting book?
What’s your favorite Orthodox children’s book?
Ah! So many! Lately, we have really loved The Story of Mary, the Mother of God. We also love The Blackbird’s Nest: St. Kevin of Ireland and books about St. Gerasimos and his lion. We also really love The Monks and the Grapes from Potamitis Publishing.
Anything else you’d like to share about Orthodox motherhood?
I really love these words from Matushka Julianna Schmemmen:
so often women,
mothers and actually quite often spiritual fathers,
want to dictate in the most minute details
what a child’s or a person’s life should be like.
where as when the Lord created the world,
He saw that it was good, He saw that it was very good
and having created the man and the woman,
resting after the seventh day
He let them be free and He only loving
them and giving them and when they went astray He,
He sent His Son to save them,
but never forced anyone. That
is the ultimate, the ultimate example
of the freedom that
out of respect
we have to give to one another. There is never forcing, I don’t mean
not telling the child to wash his hands before dinner,
I don’t mean that kind freedom, should not be there
but a real
respectful freedom for the child and for the other.
If I make, if I understand it right,
if I make mine this idea of motherhood
as a sort of life-giving talent,
a joyful active way for women to be,
to be a victorious leader like the Virgin Mary,
the inspiration for others, the world’s view
motherhood might change.
so our mission is not just to be mothers and to sort of
multiply our own talent, but its
to try to change the world’s view which is so catastrophic of
what motherhood is. Whether a spiritual mother or a godmother or a mother
or a friend, the womb, the woman
tries at all times to make
unnecessary obstacles, to make disappear the
dust of daily cares, instead of sort of being submerged by it and to live every
hour of the day seeing
the banquet prepared for those who love Him.
Missing and have compassion and
generate hope and light to make
by enhancing life, light,
by making light brighter,
this is motherhood, it gives life
to what lost it.
Found here (transcript of a recording).
Thank you so very much, Allison! I love knowing you more through your words. This might be my favorite thing you said: “what I am finding is so much more effective, and truthful, is simply being faithful and disciplined in my prayer life and my church going, and to have my son accompany me in our prayers and church going.” I also appreciated the reminder that we don’t know the burdens another family is carrying, and our role is to offer empathy. Thank you again!