When Lent arrives, parents have schedules to maneuver, menus to plan, and services to squeeze in on busy school nights. We take stock: when does Holy Week fall? Whose birthday will be trumped by Lent this year? How will we make it to the extra services when we are in the middle of Little League season?
The following collected words of wisdom from other Orthodox parents might help:
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Most parents find it’s better to resist the temptation to read labels while shopping in the store, or to try to monitor what the teens are choosing to eat when they aren’t at home. Let’s not set up standards of perfection that will quickly succumb to the practical realities of family life. The overall goal is that we, as parents and children, will cleanse our souls, simplify our lives, practice a greater degree of love and self-sacrifice, and prepare for the Feast of Pascha. Our own father confessors can best guide us as to how to do this without ruining the atmosphere in our homes with Lenten grumpiness.
- Do create a Lent-friendly kitchen. We can keep our pantries free of dairy-heavy snacks and Beef Jerky. Our food buying will set the tone, as will our own eating choices when we are grabbing food on the go. Our fasting should be more rigorous than what we expect from our children, because what we do is more important than what we make them do. We can help them along by preparing tasty, simple meals that they enjoy.
- Do put thought into managing the family calendar. Life doesn’t stop during Lent, but instead it relentlessly marches on with baseball playoff games, school plays, non-Orthodox family weddings, and western Easter gatherings. We have to decide at the beginning of each Lenten week what we’ll do as a family, and what we’ll forgo. As always, we’ll need to strive for the balance between attending so many events at church that our children grow weary, and skipping services out of sheer laziness.
Sister Magdalen reminds us in the SVS Press book, Children in the Church Today that being a wise parent “sometimes involves letting go temporarily of secondary aspects in order to concentrate on central things (faith, love, freedom, truth). We know that ‘secondary’ things contribute to the essentials, and we try to live in a way that makes this manifest, and to explain it to our young people. However, we may have to wait patiently while our children go through the experience of sorting out the central meaning of life for themselves.”
This good counsel extends to all of the Lenten disciplines. Let’s go forward into this journey with enthusiasm, knowing that in due season we will “reap, if we faint not.”
Here are some ideas for how we can observe Lent in our families:
- Pick one service a week to go to, one that works with family obligations and schedules. Let your child pick his or her favorite service and then make attending it a special event by sharing a Lenten restaurant meal together afterwards. Kids love the one-on-one time, and we never know what our child will want to talk about after experiencing a Lenten service.
- Find ways to include the kids in ministry tasks, whether that be baking holy bread, decorating the temple, or bringing food to a shut-in.
- Talk about the meaning of Lent. After dinner, ask, why do we fast? Discuss the next Sunday’s theme.
- Pick an alms project. The Orthodox Christian Mission Center supplies families with coin boxes for missions — have your kids empty their pocket change into the boxes at dinner.
- Put up this helpful fridge poster: “My Lenten Journey,” which tracks the time and suggests one simple way to keep Lent each of the 40 days.
- Read Orthodox kids books together, and listen to the music of the Church while traveling. A good book to read through during Lent is The Bible For Young People
- Unplug your family — turn off the TV, unhook cable for 40 days, hide the X-box; instead, play table games, take walks, and read a good book out loud.