Orthodox Motherhood Series: Meet Lisa

Orthodox Motherhood Series--Lisa
This is part of a new series I started 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!

I’m excited to introduce you to Lisa today. Lisa and I don’t currently know each other very well, but we did live together for two weeks eighteen years ago! Recently Lisa contacted me via this blog and we started e-mailing about our common interests: Orthodoxy, motherhood, and education. As we continued to chat we realized that she had been my counselor at the Antiochian Village in 1999! That summer was my first year at camp–fourteen years old and in the throes of figuring out teenage life; I have very fond memories of her as my counselor. So grateful that our worlds reconnected, and so inspired by how her life has grown and changed since I knew her. She is in an incredibly intentional and thoughtful mother, and I hope you love hearing from her!

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your family:
I’ve been married for almost fourteen years to my wonderful husband and we have five kids, ranging in age from eleven down to two, with boys on both ends and three girls in the middle. I’ve been Orthodox for most of my life; my family was chrismated when I was 7 years old. I am very blessed to be able to stay at home with my kids and homeschool them. Making a home and actual homeschooling take up most of my time, of course, but I’m always on the lookout for little pockets of time where I can knit, read, play piano, or spend a few minutes studying whatever subject I’m currently interested in (at the moment I’m trying to learn the basics of New Testament Greek).

What is one of your favorite aspects of parenting?
My favorite aspect of parenting is having the privilege of watching my children grow. It is breathtaking to watch as they change from helpless, snuggly infants into capable, confident children. It is such a delight to watch them master each new skill as they’re ready for it – from first words and steps to learning how to read, to everything in between and beyond – I am continually in awe of the blossoming of personhood that it is my joy to witness.

What is the thing you find most difficult about parenting?
The most difficult aspect of parenting, for me, is that it shows my own failings so clearly. My children are often like little mirrors, reflecting back to me my own bad attitude, my irritated tone of voice, my impatience, my stubbornness, my lack of humility, my lack of self-control, my vanity, my anger – all of it. Yet, while seeing my true self reflected thus is certainly the most difficult aspect, it is also a good thing because it has forced me again and again to look carefully at what I do so that I might be a model worthy of imitation.  We often don’t realize that whether we like it or not, children are imitators, and they will imitate those around them, whether the models be good or bad. Since we as parents are the primary influence on their lives in these formative years, we must try our best to be the kind of people we want our children to become.

What is your best practical tip for creating an Orthodox home?
The best practical tip I have for creating an Orthodox home is to live an Orthodox life. First and foremost that means keeping the Church year as the central focus around which our lives turn. It means keeping the fasts and keeping the feasts to the best of our abilities. It means having an icon corner where we say daily prayers. It means reading the Bible and learning our beautiful hymns. And it means that our each and every action must be guided by our faith.

How has your Orthodox faith impacted your parenting?
My faith has impacted my parenting by providing the right framework through which to understand my role as a mother. It has helped me to understand that all the trials and tribulations which come with parenting five children are a gift to me as I walk on the path of salvation. Of course there are times when I forget that, and I moan and groan with self-pity, but when I’m thinking clearly I know that all things do work together for good for those who love the Lord–even those things which seem like more of a burden than a blessing. I am little by little learning what it means to take up my cross and follow Christ, and how that purposeful taking up of my cross and choosing to deny myself in a multitude of ways as a mother is the way to draw closer to Him.

What is the hardest thing about raising your children in the faith at the stage of life your kids are in right now?
The hardest thing about raising children in this stage of my parenting journey is not taking things personally. It’s so easy for me to interpret immaturity and low impulse-control as a deliberate effort to be disrespectful or to just get on my nerves. I am slowly learning how to keep situations from escalating so rapidly that we don’t quite know how we got from dawdling on the way to do chores to writing “I will respect my mother,” 500 times! By God’s grace I am getting better at staying calm, but I’ve had quite the learning curve!

What’s your favorite Orthodox parenting book?
My biggest challenge is directly addressed in my favorite Orthodox parenting book, Parenting Toward the Kingdom, by Dr. Philip Mamalakis. This book has been absolutely life changing for me. It is hands down the BEST parenting book I have ever read (and I have read a LOT)! The book starts by reminding parents that each of us, each of our children, is an icon of Christ. He uses the book to help parents understand what exactly that means in terms of how we parent and shows what it looks like in a very concrete way. Every Christian parent, Orthodox or not, ought to read and re-read this book.

What advice do you have for other moms raising their kids in the Orthodox faith?
I have come to realize over the past eleven years as a mom that it’s very easy to offer advice without understanding the whole picture, so I try to be careful about giving it. But one piece of advice I can give without hesitation: pray to the Theotokos for your children. Ask her to be near them and protect them and mother them in the areas where you fall short. She never fails to come to our aid as mothers and she speaks to their hearts when our own words fall short. Buy a copy of the Akathist to the Theotokos, Nurturer of Children (you can find the full prayer online here) and pray just a little of it every day. Never forget to call on her for aid when things get tough.

What’s your favorite Orthodox children’s book?
My favorite Orthodox children’s book…. Do I have to only pick one?! I love the Little Ringtail books because they’re so sweet and give children a great introduction to unceasing prayer. I also love From I-Ville to You-Ville. And while it’s not a children’s book, we read aloud a short section from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers every day and my kids really love it. Sometimes I skip, if there’s something a little over their heads, but often they understand quite well.

Anything else you’d like to share about Orthodox motherhood?
Motherhood is a beautiful, albeit difficult, path to walk. There is so much joy, so much blessing, along the way. There is nothing in the world more rewarding, and yet nothing more challenging. I spoke above about how we have to be models for our children. I believe that the number one thing we can model for them in life is repentance. This was brought home to me in a very real way one day a few years ago. I had spent the morning in a bad mood, yelling, being rude, and generally just not behaving as a Christian mother should. I was very sour and felt terrible inside. It was time to say our morning prayers, and since it was Lent we were trying to say the prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian (kids always seem to love doing prostrations). As we knelt down I was beating myself up inwardly, wondering how I could go on with the day when I had just been so disagreeable (disagreeable is a total understatement). As we got up it hit me that this was a physical reminder of exactly what I needed to do; I had fallen and now it was time to get back up, repent, and try again. We finished prayers and I apologized to my kids and made my best effort to turn around and repent of my bad attitude. And that’s what our whole lives have to be: a continual state of repentance. As parents we mess up over and over, but our God is good, and He takes even our mistakes and errors and turns them to the benefit of ourselves and our families by allowing us to try again when we fail and helping us to learn from those failures. In the Bible it says that woman will be saved through child bearing, and, as a mother, I am beginning to understand how true this is.

Lisa, I loved the reminder to pray to the Theotokos for our children; especially the encouragement that when we fall short she will be there to guide and love our children, too! So beautiful! I resonate with so much of what you have to say, and so grateful for your story about repentance–with God and with our children! Thank you so much, Lisa!

You can read more of Lisa’s wisdom about motherhood and homeschooling on her blog!

P.S. You can read the rest of the series here.