Be the Change You Want to See in Your Children
Fr. Hector Firoglanis
It's a catchy bumper sticker slogan: "Be the change you want to see in the world." The quotation is often attributed to Gandhi, although he’s never been quoted as saying those exact words. Regardless of who said it, the meaning behind these words is very applicable to our lives as Christians, and as parents.
Children are brilliant spiritual guides given to us as a gift from God. They are like little concave mirrors who magnify our spiritual imperfections and, at times, painfully reflect them back into our faces. St. John Chyrsostom says the following about the power of parental modeling on children: "For generally the children acquire the character of their parents, are formed in the mold of their parents' temperament, love the same things their parents love, talk in the same fashion, and work for the same ends" (On Marriage and Family Life, SVS Press, 1986, p. 64).
Why do parents get so angry at their children when they’re out of line? Because it is in their children that they see what they most dislike about themselves—their sins and passions imbedded deeply within their hearts and souls. This can be very unsettling and depressing for parents, but if approached in a spiritual way it can be the greatest gift a parent ever receives.
Our Lord Jesus Christ says, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance" (Mark 2:17). The most dangerous sins and passions are the ones we do not see within ourselves. If we do not see our sins, then we feel we have no need for repentance, no need for healing, and no need for Christ and the Church. This is the most dangerous spiritual state we may find ourselves in.
The remedy to this destructive state of the soul — besides vigilance and having an excellent spiritual father — is to have children. As parents we will see our children whine and complain when they don’t get their way. We will see them get angry and yell at their siblings. We will see them want nothing more than to play with a handheld device. Before we chastise them for their behavior, we should ask where they picked up these bad habits. More often than not, we parents — who gave birth to our children—have given birth also to their passions and bad habits.
Once we realize we are mostly responsible for the bad habits of our children, it is possible to begin the process of repentance and true healing. Disciplining and correcting our children is like the Tylenol which masks the symptoms of their bad behavior. Repentance (changing our own lives for the better) is the antibiotic which kills the passion — the root of the bad behavior in our children. An important part of parenting is without a doubt disciplining and correcting, but to get the heart of the matter…we must be the change we want to see in our children.