As Saint Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia says: “It’s great to walk, to work, to move and to have your health. But first you should have your spiritual health. Your spiritual health is fundamental, then comes bodily health. Almost all sicknesses come from the lack of trust in God and this creates stress”
What’s important for Man is to walk on the path of spiritual health since the very beginning. As the Saint says:
“A large part of the responsibility for a person’s spiritual state lies with the family. A child’s upbringing commences at the moment of its conception”
In this post we present Saint Porphyrios’ valuable teachings on the upbringing of children.
“A child’s upbringing commences at the moment of its conception. The embryo hears and feels in its mothers womb. Yes, it hears and it sees with its mother’s eyes. It is aware of her movements and her emotions, even though its mind has not developed. If the mother’s face darkens, it darkens too. If the mother is irritated, then it becomes irritated also. Whatever the mother experiences — sorrow, pain, fear, anxiety, etc. — is also experienced by the embryo.
If the mother doesn’t want the child, if she doesn’t love it, then the embryo senses this and traumas are created in its little soul that accompany it all its life. The opposite occurs through the mother’s holy emotions. When she is filled with joy, peace and love for the embryo, she transmits these things to it mystically, just as happens to children that have been born.
For this reason a mother must pray a lot during her pregnancy and love the child growing within her, caressing her abdomen, reading psalms, singing hymns and living a holy life. This is also for her own benefit. But she makes sacrifices for the sake of the embryo so that the child will become more holy and will acquire from the very outset holy foundations.
Do you see how delicate a matter it is for a woman to go through a pregnancy? Such a responsibility and such an honour!
I will tell you something about other animate and non-rational beings and you will understand what I mean. In America the following experiment was carried out: in two identical rooms which were kept at exactly the same temperature flowers were planted in identical soil and watered in exactly the same way. There was, however, one difference: in the one room gentle, soothing music was played. And the result? The flowers in that room displayed an enormous difference in relation to the flowers in the other room. They had a quite different vitality, their colours were more attractive and they grew incomparably better.”
What saves and makes for good children is the life of the parents in the home
“What saves and makes for good children is the life of the parents in the home. The parents need to devote themselves to the love of God. They need to become saints in their relation to their children through their mildness, patience and love. They need to make a new start every day, with a fresh outlook, renewed enthusiasm and love for their children. And the joy that will come to them, the holiness that will visit them, will shower grace on their children. Generally the parents are to blame for the bad behaviour of the children. And their behaviour is not improved by reprimands, disciplining, or strictness. If the parents do not pursue a life of holiness and if they don’t engage in spiritual struggle, they make great mistakes and transmit the faults they have within them. If the parents do not live a holy life and do not display love towards each other, the devil torments the parents with the reactions of the children. Love, harmony and understanding between the parents are what are required for the children. This provides a great sense of security and certainty.
The behaviour of the children is directly related to the state of the parents. When the children are hurt by the bad behaviour of the parents towards each other, they lose the strength and desire to progress in their lives. Their lives are constructed shoddily and the edifice of their soul is in constant danger of collapsing. Let me give you two examples.
A psychological state is created in a child as a result of its parents that accompanies it throughout its life. Its later behaviour and its relationships with others are directly connected with the experiences that it carries with it from its childhood years. The child grows up and develops, but at bottom it does not change. This is manifested even in the smallest expressions of life. For example, you get a craving for food and want to eat. You take something and eat it, then you see something else and you want that. You feel hungry and think that if you don’t eat you’ll feel faint and you’ll start to tremble. You’re afraid you’ll lose weight. This is a psychological state that has its explanation. Perhaps you never knew your father or your mother, and you feel deprived and hungry, poor and weak. And this psychological reality is expressed by way of reflex as a weakness of the body.
A large part of the responsibility for a person’s spiritual state lies with the family. For children to be released from their various inner problems it is not enough for them to receive good advice, or to be compelled by force; nor do logical arguments or threats do any good. These things rather make matters worse. The solution is to be found through the sanctification of the parents. Become saints and you will have no problems with your children. The sanctity of their parents releases the children from their problems. Children want to have saintly people at their side, people with lots of love who will neither intimidate them nor lecture them, but who will provide a saintly example and pray for them. You parents should pray silently to Christ with upraised arms and embrace your children mystically. When they misbehave you will take some disciplinary measures, but you will not coerce them. Above all you need to pray.
Parents, especially the mother, often cause hurt to a child for some act of misbehaviour by scolding it excessively. The child is then wounded. Even if you don’t scold the child outwardly but bristle with anger inwardly or look fiercely at the child, the child understands. The child believes that its mother doesn’t love it and asks, ‘Do you love me, Mummy?’ The mother answers, ‘Yes, dear,’ but the child is not convinced. It has been wounded. The mother loves it, she’ll caress it later, but the child will pull its head away. It refuses to be caressed, regarding this as hypocrisy because it has been wounded.”
Over-protectiveness leaves children immature
“Another thing that harms children is over-protectiveness, that is, excessive care or excessive anxiety and worry on the part of the parents.
A mother used to complain to me that her five-year-old child was disobedient. ‘It’s your fault,’ I told her, but she didn’t understand. Once I went for a walk by the seaside with this mother along with the child. The little boy let go of his mother’s hand and ran towards the sea. There was a sand dune there and the sea came in directly behind it. The mother immediately reacted with anxiety and was about to s wards the boy who was standing on top of the dune with outstretched arms trying to keep his balance. I calmed her down and told to her to turn her back on the boy while I kept an eye on him askance. When the boy despaired of provoking his mother’s attention and causing her to panic and scream as usual, he calmly climbed down and walked towards us. That was the end of it. Then the mother understood what I meant. Another mother used to complain that her little boy wouldn’t eat all his food, especially his yoghurt. The little one was about three years old and tormented his mother every day. I said to her:
‘What you should do is this. Empty the refrigerator completely and then fill it with some yoghurt. When lunchtime comes you’ll give Peter his yoghurt. He’ll refuse to eat it. In the evening you’ll give him it again and the same the next day. In the end he’ll get hungry and will try some. He’ll throw a tantrum, but you’ll just put up with it. Thereafter he’ll eat it quite happily.’
That’s just what happened and yoghurt became Peter’s favourite food.
These things aren’t difficult, but many mothers are unable to do them and the result is that they give their children a very bad upbringing. Mothers who are always standing over their children and pressurizing them, that is, over-protecting them, have failed in their task. You need to leave the child alone to take an interest in its own progress. Then you will succeed. When you are always standing over them, the children react. They become lethargic and weak-willed and generally are unsuccessful in life. This is a kind of over-protectiveness that leaves the children immature.
A few days ago a mother came here in a state of despair because of her son’s repeated failures in the university entrance exams. He had been an excellent pupil in elementary school and all the way through high school. But in the end he failed repeatedly and showed indifference and had strange reactions.
‘It’s your fault,’ I said to the mother, ‘educated woman though you are! How else did you expect the boy to react? Pressure, pressure, pressure all these years, “Make sure you’re top of the class, don’t let us down, get yourself an important position in society…” Now he’s thrown in the towel; he doesn’t want anything. Stop this pressure and over-protection and you’ll see that the boy will regain his equilibrium. He’ll make progress once you let him be.’ ”
A child needs to be surrounded by people who pray and pray ardently
“A child needs to be surrounded by people who pray and pray ardently. A mother should not be satisfied by giving her child a physical caress, but should also coddle it with the caress of prayer. In the depths of its soul the child senses the spiritual caress that its mother conveys to it and is drawn to her. It feels security and certainty when its mother mystically embraces it with constant, intense and fervent prayer and releases it from whatever is oppressing it.
Mothers know how to express anxiety, offer advice and talk incessantly, but they haven’t learned to pray. Most advice and criticism does a great deal of harm. You don’t need to say a lot to children. Words hammer at the ears, but prayer goes to the heart. Prayer is required, with faith and without anxiety, along with a good example.
One day a mother came here distraught about her son, George. He was very mixed-up. He stayed out late at night and the company he kept was far from good. Every day things were getting worse. The mother was overcome by anxiety and distress.
I said to her:
‘Don’t say a word. Just pray.’
We agreed that between ten and ten fifteen every evening we would both pray. I told her to say not a word and to leave her son to stay out till whatever time he wanted, without asking him, ‘What sort of time is this to come home? Where were you?’, or any such thing. Instead she would say to him as lovingly as possible, ‘Come and eat, George, there’s food in the fridge.’ Beyond this she was to say nothing. She would behave towards him with love and not stop praying.
The mother began to apply this tactic, and after about twenty days had passed the boy asked her:
‘Mother, why don’t you speak to me?’
‘What do you mean, George, that I don’t speak to you?’
‘You’ve got something against me, Mother, and you’re not speaking to me.’
‘What strange idea is this that you’ve got into your head, George? Of course I speak to you. Am I not speaking to you now? What do you want me to say to you?’
George made no reply.
The mother then came to the monastery and asked me:
‘Elder, what was the meaning of this that the boy said to me?’
‘Our tactic has worked!’
‘The tactic I told you — of not speaking and simply praying secretly and that the boy would come to his senses,’
‘Do you think that that is it?’
‘That is it,’ I told her. ‘He wants you to ask him “Where were you? What were you doing?” so that he can shout and react and come home even later the next night.’
‘Is that so?’ she said. ‘What strange mysteries are hidden!’
‘Do you understand now? He was tormenting you because he wanted you to react to his behaviour so that he could stage his little act. Now that you’re not shouting at him he is upset. Instead of you being upset when he does what he wants, now he is upset because you don’t appear distressed and you display indifference.’ ”
With children what is required is a lot of prayer and few words
“All things are achieved through prayer, silence and love. Have you understood the effects of prayer? Love in prayer, love in Christ. That is what is truly beneficial. As long as you love your children with human love — which is often pathological — the more they will be mixed-up, and the more their behaviour will be negative. But when the love between you and towards your children is holy and Christian love, then you will have no problem. The sanctity of the parents saves the children. For this to come about, divine grace must act on the souls of the parents. No one can be sanctified on his own. The same divine grace will then illuminate, warm and animate the souls of the children. People often telephone me from abroad and ask me about their children and about other matters. Today a mother phoned me from Milan and asked me how she should behave towards her children. What I said to her was this:
‘Pray, and when you have to, speak to your children with love. Lots of prayer and few words. Lots of prayer and few words for everyone. We mustn’t become an annoyance, but rather pray secretly and then speak, and God will let us know in our hearts whether the others have accepted what we have said. If not, we won’t speak. We will simply pray mystically. Because if we speak we become an annoyance and make others react or even infuriate them. That is why it is better to speak mystically to the heart of others through secret prayer rather than to their ears.
Pray and then speak. That’s what to do with your children. If you are constantly lecturing them, you’ll become tiresome and when they grow up they’ll feel a kind of oppression. Prefer prayer and speak to them through prayer. Speak to God and God will speak to their hearts. That is, you shouldn’t give guidance to your children with a voice that they hear with their ears. You may do this too, but above all you should speak to God about your children. Say, “Lord Jesus Christ, give Your light to my children. I entrust them to You. You gave them to me, but I am weak and unable to guide them, so, please, illuminate them.” And God will speak to them and they will say to themselves, “Oh dear, I shouldn’t have upset Mummy by doing that!” And with the grace of God this will come from their heart.’
This is the most perfect way — for the mother to speak to God and for God to speak to the
children. If you do not communicate in this way, constant lecturing becomes a kind of intimidation. And when the child grows up it begins to rebel, that is, to take revenge, so to speak, on its father and mother who coerced it. One way is the perfect way — for the mother’s and father’s holiness and love in Christ to speak. The radiance of sanctity and not human effort makes for good children.
When the children are traumatized and hurt on account of some serious situation, don’t let it affect you when they react negatively and speak rudely. In reality they don’t want to, but can’t help themselves at difficult times. They are remorseful afterwards. But if you become irritated and enraged, you become one with the evil spirit and it makes a mockery of you all.”
Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: T.M.