Parenting Without Passion

One of the principles of prayer is to recognize thoughts, emotions, and ideas to which we are attached and then let them go. As the Orthodox Cherubic hymn says, “Let us lay aside all earthly care.”

The early church fathers and the monks and mystics through the ages have a similar term for this called dispassion.

Both principles focus on a central aspect of human living: the greater we attach to things in the present, the greater our chances are for failure and suffering in the future. Now the saints, mystics, and ascetics often took dispassion to an often extreme point that most of us won’t be able to get to. We aren’t exactly living in a cave for decades. Here is an example from St. Isaiah the Solitary:

The first virtue is detachment, that is, death in relation to every person or thing. This produces desire for God, and this in turn gives rise to the anger that is in accordance with nature, and that flares up against all the tricks of the enemy. Then the fear of God will establish itself within us, and through this fear love will be made manifest. – Sayings of the Desert Fathers, The Alphabetical Collection, translated by Sr. Benedicta Ward.

Sounds kind of harsh.

Look a little more closely. Notice how anger isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The saints call it the “incensive power.” But it’s an anger directed the right way – against all of those things that keep us from God.

So what does this have to do with kids? The more we attach ourselves to when our kids get angry, the more angry we get and a cycle of hostility erupts. Sometimes we do have to put a little “fear of God” in our kids just to keep them safe and actually to help them detach from things in the world like toys, candy, seeing that movie, etc. But this should not be done with hostile emotions. Those emotions feed the misdirected behavior that is all ready loud and violent enough. Temper tantrums are harsh!

The point is that none of “the stuff” matters. Love matters and those things aren’t the foundation of love at all.

So what do I do when my kids get angry? I let them inflict their own punishment unless they are about to break something or hurt themselves. Even then I let them push that boundary. I detach emotionally from the situation. 98% of the time their gripe is over not getting what they want when they want it. Their problem is that they are attached. My role is to teach them to be detached from it. This means I have to be detached from the behavior and fold laundry, do dishes, even read a book (it’s possible with practice).

Their suffering is from that source and from nothing else. Anger misdirected. No wonder why the root word for sin is “missing the mark.” Sin leads to suffering, dispassion leads to God.


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