By Phoebe Farag Mikhail
Read to the end to learn how you can participate in free webinar with Dr. Philip Mamalakis, author of Parenting Toward the Kingdom. Subscribe to my email newsletter and comment below to be entered to win a free digital copy of the book, and receive a free printable of portable parenting quotes.
For most parents, becoming a better parent is not a new year’s resolution, it is a new day’s resolution. I pray every morning for more patience with my kids, for forgiveness when I make mistakes with them, and that despite my mistakes they still grow to become kind, responsible adults who are successful financially, emotionally, socially, and most importantly for my husband and I, spiritually.
Dr. Philip Mamalakis’ new book, Parenting Toward the Kingdom: Orthodox Christian Principles of Child-Rearing, is the perfect book for helping me with those daily resolutions. In the sea of parenting books out there, Dr. Mamalakis draws upon his knowledge and practice of Orthodox Christianity with both his family therapy experience and his own experience raising seven children with his wife, Georgia. I received a copy of this book to review from Ancient Faith Publishing.
The book begins with the premise that as parents, our perspective raising our children should be eternal, not temporal. We are not just raising our children to be successful in this life, but also for eternal life. The book does not focus on having happy, well-behaved, mild-mannered children in a peaceful home. It focuses on being a parent that enables children to manage their own struggles and develop the virtues they need to live a holy life now and in the future. “Our children are not here to make our lives peaceful,” he writes. “They are not here to make us proud. We are here to help them grow, no matter how they behave.” A large section of the book is devoted to how to help our children through their struggles, and how those struggles help them develop virtues. He focuses on how parents should not struggle for our children, but show our children that we are with them in their struggles. He also discusses how parents should separate our own struggles from those of our children.
Dr. Mamalakis emphasizes how, as parents, we should respect our children, who are made in the image of God, and this includes respecting their current abilities and developmental stages. It also means respecting, rather than belittling or ignoring, their emotions. He draws a distinction between understanding and sympathizing with our children while also being firm and consistent
At 317 pages, Parenting Toward the Kingdom is long, but worth it. It took me some time to read it, because each chapter gave me much to think about and apply. Dr. Mamalakis makes it easier to put things into practice by encapsulating important principles that are easy to remember during difficult parenting moments. I have chosen some of them for my portable parenting quotes printable (more on that below). One of those principles, for example, is “children are looking for connection, not attention.” When my children misbehave in what seems like an attention seeking behavior, I try to stop and think about that – they want me to connect with them. This changes how I respond to the behavior. Similarly, Dr. Mamalakis emphasizes responding, not reacting. It is very tempting to react in anger when a child misbehaves, speaks disrespectfully, or repeats the same mistake several times. In those situations I try to remember to respond by connecting with my child, empathizing with their emotions, and reiterating the limits without lashing out in anger, sarcasm, or consequences.
I appreciated how Dr. Mamalakis noted a situation where his wife disagreed with him on how he dealt with a parenting situation with their child. He acknowledges that while there are indeed important principles to maintain in parenting, parents and children are each different, and the guidance in his book is not prescriptive. Parents must also consider their own intuition and the unique needs of their children.
I found the final chapters about repentance to be the most important and the most comforting. Sometimes, when children do wrong, it is enough for them to repent and ask forgiveness, without needing to enforce an additional consequence. He writes:
It might seem that simply asking a child to repent is not really doing anything, because everyone knows this will happen again. Teaching forgiveness and repentance, in fact, is doing a powerful thing. We are teaching our children that when they make mistakes—not if—there is a path to restore relationships. Our mistakes are part of the process of growing in love when we walk the path of repentance.
Forgiveness and repentance are not just for children. Parents need to seek and model forgiveness and repentance as well. When my husband and I have a disagreement in front of our children, we also make it a point to reconcile in front of our children, so they know that in relationships there can be disagreements and conflict, but that there is also a path to reconciliation and restoration in love. We also seek forgiveness from our children when we do wrong or overreact, even though we might think we were justified at the time. “Learning to repent as parents,” Dr. Mamalakis writes, “reminds us that God is co-parenting with us … Recognizing God’s role in raising our children, by repenting from our mistakes and living our home life closely connected to the Church, relieves us of the pressure of having to be perfect and teaches our children the central role God plays in all of life.”
Remembering that God is walking with us on this path of raising children is the greatest relief of all. It’s not possible to be a perfect parent, but it is possible to be a repentant one, towards our children and towards God. Repentance, as His Holiness Pope Shenouda writes, “is the door of mercy, forgiveness, and life, a bridge linking heaven and earth.”
Subscribers to my email newsletter will also receive a free printable with parenting quotes to remind us of important parenting principles and to inspire us to appreciate our children as God’s gifts to us. The page includes eight quotes that can be cut out and placed on bulletin boards, inside wallets, in planners, above changing tables – anywhere we might need reminders of our roles as parents! The quotes include Scripture verses, sayings of the Church Fathers, and sayings from contemporary writers, including three from Dr. Mamalakis’ book. I printed mine out on cardstock paper and will be posting them wherever I need them. Click here to subscribe!
Comment below on the best parenting advice you have received, or the biggest parenting challenge you are facing, and you will also be entered to receive a Kindle e-copy of Parenting Toward the Kingdom. The giveaway closes on 2/2/2017, US and Canada residents only.
© Phoebe Farag 2017