by Violet Leathers, Ph.D.
According to the Gallup polls of the last decade, over 85 percent of parents believe that the home is the most important influence in the religious and spiritual development of a child. Only ten percent of the parents felt that the church was the most important and only two percent felt that the schools were most influential in their children's spiritual development. What transpires in our homes is critical to the needs of children according to these parents. It appears that most parents are willing to acknowledge their responsibility to provide this training for their children.
The holiday season is an opportunity to continue to give our children this gift. Each Christmas season, the media presents a barrage of new products we can consider for our gift-giving on Christmas Day. On Saturday mornings, our children are deluged with new, electronic games and toys to make their lives more exciting. As parents, it is often difficult to choose which new item to give as a gift. Guilt often forces us into trying to keep up with our neighbors, to make sure our children are not left out in our efforts to provide all the material goods we can possibly afford to make their lives more meaningful. However, we might consider what it is our children need that will last for many years to come.
In our family setting, we can provide our children with gifts that will last, provide enjoyment and reflection in years to come, and allow them to know that during their growing years they were loved and valued as human beings. Have you considered a larger dose of a sense of family, tradition, security, morality and spirituality? The cost can be measured only in time spent to help them develop these senses, but the gift might last a lifetime and hopefully continue on to the next generation.
A sense of family is a strong tie that binds us to those we love. Yet today, we are faced with responsibilities as parents that divide us from our family life. We must hold jobs outside the home, provide for careers by becoming active in the workplace and community. We are constantly bombarded with tasks that keep us away from one another during the course of the week. Many authorities claim that the extended family is extinct, and the nuclear family [comprised of a father, mother and children] is about to become a notion of the past. Yet, when we remember our childhood, it is that sense of family that brings the smile to our lips and warmth to our heart. It is the quality of time we spend with our family that gives us a strong sense of family. It is the holiday season that offers us the time to build on our sense of family. Cherish this time together!
A sense of tradition is natural within the context of our Orthodox faith, and for many of us, our ethnic backgrounds. The opportunity to share the sacraments during the Liturgy, feast day celebrations, and joining with our parish family in [times of] joy offer us many opportunities to strengthen our sense of tradition. The hustle and bustle of Christmas preparations can only cloud the beauty of these family traditions if we take them for granted. It is not until we move to another city or a family member passes away that we realize how family members truly [fill and enrich] our lives. This Christmas perhaps we can make a commitment to share and savor those special traditions with our children for later years when memories will become more precious.
Children must cope with so much more than we did when we were young and they need a sense of security. Our experience as children was at a much slower pace. Today, children experience life so rapidly and they encounter scientific advances that change their lives year by year. With so many choices and opportunities - but without guidance - they become confused and lost in the maze of growing into adulthood. Parents who can give their children a sense of security that helps them to make good choices and provides the knowledge that they will be there to help them unravel life's puzzle, will raise children better equipped to handle life as adults.
Adults who are disciplined and ready to lead in our homes and parishes [should] have a strong sense of morality. It is foolhardy to think we can allow our children to be exposed to choices without parental guidance to determine what is right and wrong. The media, again, offers our children a wide variety of situations to explore vicariously, but it also provides a norm for morality that is false and harmful. We can give our children a strong foundation for moral development by our example and communication so that their choices in life will bring them confidence and support in their pursuits as Orthodox Christians.
Our greatest gift to our children is the sense of spirituality that revolves around our Orthodox beliefs. It cannot be bought, wrapped, and placed under a tree only to be used on special holidays each year. If this gift is used only until the seasonal feeling passes and then packed away with the Christmas decorations for next year, we are depriving our children of a way of life. How can the Birth of Our Lord become a joy and celebration for the other days of the year? Perhaps, by seeing this sense of spirituality as a precious gift that - like fine gold - becomes more precious as it is used.
This Christmas, we can expose our children to a major feast day that epitomizes the Christian spirit of giving and sharing and minimizes the commercial meaning of receiving. To give these gifts to our children takes a lot of patience, perseverance, and strong adherence to those beliefs of love and faith we know to be worthwhile as adults. Christmas is a wonderful time to enjoy children, family, and the traditions we have shared in our families since our parents [or grandparents] started them. We need only consider offering these special senses as diligently as we pursue our shopping for that special gift for Uncle John, Grandma Mary, or Aunt Helen. These gifts need not be ordered ahead of time; there are no colors or sizes to be concerned about; and they meet the individual needs of all children.
When our children are grown, perhaps their gift will be to share with us that all their Christmas gifts were special to them as children, but they sensed most our love, security, family, tradition, morality, and faith. And, God willing, we will live long enough to see these gifts reflected in our grandchildren. Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
Dr. Violet Leathers is Associate Professor Emeritus in Early Childhood Development at the University of Akron. As a mother of three and grandmother of three more, her interest has focused on development in children from birth to age 8. Dr. Leathers and her family attend Presentation of Our Lord Romanian Orthodox Church (OCA), Fairlawn, Oh. Abridged and reprinted with permission of the author from Solia, December 1983, pp. 8-9.
© 1997 by Orthodox Family Life and the original
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