By Elder Paisius the Athonite
Part III - The children
Father and mother will answer to the Lord if they do not take care of their children and show concern for the latter’s future.
When father and mother work with dedication and save at least some money “for a rainy day,” in order to help their children in major situations, that is not only not a sin, but an actual responsibility, because those parents who do not show any concern for their children will answer for it. It is only a sin to amass money out of passion, out of avarice, for lack of faith in Divine Providence or for vain purposes.
Parents must necessarily provide for their children. Children who are abandoned by their parents naturally receive Divine assistance. But such parents will be condemned for having left their children without care.
Parents should live in a Christian manner and be attentive to their conduct, because from a tender age, even before they can talk, children begin to “record” everything they see or hear at home. And if children see their father and mother fighting, quarreling, insulting and verbally abusing each other, they “record” all of it inside themselves as though on a blank tape, and when they grow up, - without conscious volition, but having inherited from their parents all those passions, - they being to quarrel and insult their family members with the same words they had heard from their parents.
The greatest help and the best inheritance which parents can give to their offspring, - is to make them the successors of their own kindness, and for that no special effort is required, for if a child sees that his parents love each other, talk in a kind and joyous manner, are always well-disposed, pray humbly, etc., then he will copy all of it into his soul.
Many parents, who love their children excessively, spoil them to a certain degree, unfortunately not understanding what harm they bring them, as, for example, when an excessively doting mother kisses and cuddles her child, saying to him: “What a great child I have, the best child in the world,” etc. The child, however, very early on (at an age when he is still unconscious of it) acquires a high opinion of himself and, naturally, ceases to feel a need for the grace of God in his life, and does not learn how to ask for it. Thus the child’s soul becomes filled with arrogance, which many carry throughout their entire life and into the grave, because they are unable to rid themselves of it.
The worst of it is that this arrogance deals the first blow to the parents themselves, and thus they must be quite attentive to their spiritual life, because they are responsible not only for their own selves, but also for their children. Of course the parents have a certain “extenuating” circumstance in that they, too, have inherited their traits from their own parents. However, they cannot truly be absolved because they did not make a conscious effort to reject this inheritance.
In my opinion, he is worthier of praise who, having becoming an unwilling inheritor of bad traits, made a great effort to discard them, than the one who from a young age naturally inherited good traits from his parents and was not forced to preserve them; the latter found everything ready and in “good shape,” while the former toiled to instill goodness into himself. God’s judgment will take into account if, for example, a child’s father was a thief and taught the child to steal, and the latter finally becomes a thief himself, because he did not have a good example before his eyes and naturally accepted his inheritance. Such a child will be judged by God with a certain measure of leniency, seeing that he acquired such a fate as an inheritance from his parents, when he was still small and unable to distinguish good from evil.
Thus, children should acquire piousness together with their mother’s milk so-to-speak, because when children are still little they copy their parents and follow their example. It is at that time that we should make sure that the children “fill up their tape” with kindness and love. And when the children grow up, we must be attentive and act with reasoning and caution, as if we were winding up a watch. If the spring becomes weak, we wind up the watch gradually, because otherwise we risk breaking the spring, and the watch then becomes useless. We must carefully and in a kind manner explain to the child why he must not do such-and-such and why he should do such-and-such. We must not beat the child over the head with constant “not this,” “not that,” “not this way,” “not otherwise.” After we lay the foundation we should hand the matter over to Christ, for Him to finish the rest. We should not be too self-assured and try to do everything ourselves.
In rearing children, it is most helpful when parents consider themselves responsible for their children’s errors, finding their own life below Christ’s standards and believing that to be the reason for their offspring’s disgraceful behavior. When parents thus humble themselves and sincerely repent, then the Almighty Christ is moved to “throw a life belt” to the grieving parents, which, by the way, helps save their spiritually lost children.