Orthodox Motherhood Series: Meet Mary Beth

Orthodox Motherhood Series--Mary Beth

Another post in the Orthodox Motherhood Series! 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! (you can read the rest of the series here)

This week is a super special week for me because I get to introduce you to my mom! I’ve always known that I was blessed to have a wonderful mother, but it’s only been in the past couple years–as I’ve become a mother–that I’ve realized exactly how much she did for me and my siblings. (well, i probably still don’t realize everything, but i’m starting to notice a lot more) I’m very grateful for the opportunity to pass along many things I learned from my mom to my daughter–particularly our faith. I hope you enjoy reading her words!

Tell us a little bit about you and your family:

We have five adult children; the eldest is married and a mom to our granddaughter. We became Orthodox right before our fourth child was born, so that makes 26 years of Orthodoxy for our family. I had been a middle and high school English and religion teacher when we married, and that eventually morphed into my homeschooling our children. At that time we lived in Georgia and my husband worked in the automotive aftermarket industry as a project manager.  We moved to Wisconsin in 2003 and my husband departed this life about two years later. A paying job having become a necessity, as HR director for a small long term care pharmacy, I was given the flexibility of schedule to continue homeschooling until the children went to college or university. I’ve been able to teach Church School at each parish we’ve been members since becoming Orthodox.

What is one of your favorite aspects of parenting?

The personhood of each child is tremendously important as a theological and sociological construct, but, really, just so much fun! Observing and participating in the development of these unique persons is fascinating and inspiring.

What is the thing you find most difficult about parenting?

These unique persons—individuals in their own right—who have and develop their own notions and ways of doing things also present us such a challenge! After teaching for so long the “right” way to do a thing and the “right” way to think about a thing, I am continually having to learn to step back and give space, and concede that there is not necessarily “one right way” for everything and that I’m not always right. It’s tough enough to not always lead the way, much less have enough grace and humility to follow your child’s lead.

A related matter is learning when to be hands-off enough for each circumstance—should you just let that child’s cookie crumble? Should you grab the cookie before it smashes on the floor? Should you help bake a new batch? It’s hard to figure out if or when or how your child gets to decide (continuing with that analogy) if we’re going to skip dessert altogether or just go buy some brownies.

Also exceedingly difficult, if not impossible: becoming an adult worthy of your child’s respect, much less imitation. But that’s rather its own topic.

What is your best practical tip for creating an Orthodox home?

Be Orthodox. Your home is a little Church, so try to mark daily, weekly, monthly, and annual fasting and feasting cycles with candles, prayers, incense, readings or stories, and attending services. Observe the fasts and feasts.

It’s all laid out for you by the Church. One of the best things I’ve done and still do every July or August is to lay out the next Church year by hand in a physical calendar. Mark Pascha first and then measure and fill in everything from that point. Add some favorite saint days each month so you can commemorate them—if only reciting the Kontakion from your phone app. Sometimes you will be able to make time to examine the saint’s icon or read his or her life, perhaps even setting it in some historical context, such as adding the saint to a timeline or marking her homeland or his travels on a globe or map.

On your calendar, mark in the services that you know will be offered. Write them big and sketch a nice Orthodox cross on that date. This will properly—and in the fullest Orthodox sense—orient you and your family in time. Charting the course by our true Orient helps prevent becoming lost. If, for example, you have spent seven months heading toward Lazarus Saturday on a specific date, it is unlikely that anything with less significance can take its place. At the very least, you can be preparing from the get-go how you are going to work in a Church service before the soccer tournament. (This is akin to fitting all the rocks, pebbles, and sand in a jar by placing the rocks first.)

How has your Orthodox faith impacted your parenting?

In one way, being Orthodox is like the DNA within one’s cells—it is simply part of the moment by moment reality of everything one does, including parenting. In another way, my faith doesn’t impact my parenting nearly enough! However, even though I repeatedly miss the mark by a wide margin, because we live, move, and have our being in Christ, there’s a unity of the faith—a wholeness of being—that impinges in our parenting, even if it is not perfect or complete (that will be for another day also). As with all of Christian life, it’s about the intention and the will and the doing of it.

The Orthodox faith is the very foundation of life, of one’s marriage, of one’s parenting. Orthodoxy’s also all the small details. And Orthodox Christianity is the focus and final goal. Essentially, one’s faith is everything as concerns one’s parenting.

What is the hardest thing about raising your children in the faith at the stage of life your kids are in right now?

My children are all adults, so my time for rearing children per se has passed, even though I (thankfully) get to be their mom still and for always. I think it was St. Paisios who said that to give unsolicited advice is to rebuke, so probably keeping my opinions to myself unless asked is hardest—and doing so without a grim face, disapproving glance, and clenched jaw. I just have to keep reminding myself that if God allows us such freedom, who am I to give others, including (or especially) my children, less?

What advice do you have for other moms raising their kids in the Orthodox faith?

The path is very simple, but requires faithful walking, step by step. Pray. Read and study the Scriptures and the saints’ lives. Put what you learn into practice. Every day, just a bit.

Say that you don’t have much time in your schedule to create an extensive family prayer rule, what can you do? If you start each day, “Glory to You, O our God, glory to You” and end each day “O eternal God, grant me to pass this night in peace” every single day that you are together with your child, think what is built!

When you plan to read a Bible story or a Psalm with your family every day, but your weekend schedule is so variable that it never gets done, make the goal to read every day that you can. Find a time that works most days—maybe right before or after dinner or bath (hooking it to something you already do is helpful). During finals or play rehearsal or tournament week it might not happen at all. Most Thursdays (piano lessons) it may never happen. But if for forty-five weeks in a year, three times a week, it does; then more than 120 times in a year, you were able to direct your family’s attention God-ward for those minutes.

I’m rather an all-or-nothing type of person and found that I really got bogged down in defeat when things didn’t play out perfectly. Over time I learned that if I focused on what we could do, even if my “perfectionist-procrastinating self” concluded that the effort was pathetic, I just had to DO that little tiny thing. Over time—18 years in your home—it adds up. Even better:  it becomes normative.

What’s your favorite Orthodox parenting book?

I have two dear favorites and two runners-up:

Children in the Church Today: An Orthodox Perspective, by Sister Magdalen

Our Church and Our Children, by Sophie Koulomzin

Raising Them Right: A Saint’s Advice on Raising Children, by St. Theophan the Recluse

Making God Real in the Orthodox Christian Home, by Father Anthony Coniaris

What’s your favorite Orthodox children’s book?

I believe that any book that is true or real will necessarily be Orthodox, so I guess I would say as family read-alouds, Lewis’s Narnia series for the youngers and Rowling’s Harry Potter books for the older ones.

To memorize I’d suggest using The Psalter and reciting short (maybe two-word) phrases for beginning speakers, starting with the most familiar—those that are heard most often in our services. Move on to entire short psalms for elementary age.

Anything else you’d like to share about Orthodox motherhood?

It’s a cliché for a reason: It’s the toughest job you’ll ever love. Seek God in it—in the role, in the vocation, and in the practice. He will not let you fall.

Thank you so much, Mom! I love reading what you wrote, and I love that I’m still learning new things from you each day. I didn’t know about writing the calendar of the Church into my planner each year–this is brilliant and something I will incorporate into our planning!

P.S. The photo is my family from last Pascha when we all thought the baby would sleep! Surprise!