From Back to Godhead
Fulfilling our duty as parents requires taking care of our children’s spiritual needs.
As the mother of ten children, I am often asked, “How do you fulfill your family responsibilities and still make progress in spiritual life? When do you find the time to serve God?”
“It’s a matter of vision,” I reply. “I realize that I can serve God by caring for my children and husband with love and respect.”
Being a mother and wife is my duty, and I don’t distinguish it from my service to God. It is my service to God.
Central to that service is training my children in service to God. How does one serve God? The scripture Srimad-Bhagavatam lists nine principal ways, beginning with hearing about, praising, and remembering God, and progressing to deeper levels of devotional service.
Spiritual training for children should begin early, and the Vedic scriptures prescribe a rite (garbhadhana-samskara) that creates a spiritual environment at the time of conception. When I was pregnant with each of my children, I read scriptures, listened to spiritual music and lectures, chanted sacred mantras, ate food prepared for and offered to the Lord, prayed (a lot), and associated with likeminded spiritual seekers. When I was giving birth, devotional music played quietly in the background. As the children grew, we held daily classes on the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam. I chose to home-school my children until they reached the ninth or tenth grade. I wanted to ensure that, in addition to a sound academic background, they would have a strong spiritual foundation. Rather than seeing my children as impediments to my spiritual life, I prayed to be able to view them as devotees of the Lord and to understand that by raising them with love, in a spiritual atmosphere, I was doing a service as pleasing to God as other forms of worship.
While raising children today is difficult, raising God-conscious children is even more so. Just to provide food, clothing, shelter, education, and other physical and mental needs requires great endeavor. Add the diligence and support needed for the children’s spiritual training, and parenting is an awesome responsibility. But by accepting the commitment to act as parental stewards on God’s behalf, dedicated, spiritually inclined parents develop good qualities. From within the heart, the Lord gives sincere, committed parents the intelligence and direction to know what to do and to whom to turn for help. From without, He gives guidance through the guru, scriptures, grandparents, and other experienced parents and spiritually advanced persons.
All over the world, most religiously or spiritually inclined people are married or will get married. The majority of these couples will have children. And of these, many parents seek ways to raise children who are moral, spiritually conscious contributors to the communities in which they live.
The Long Road to Adulthood
Unlike animals, the young in human society don’t grow up quickly to take their place as mature or self-sustaining members of their community. Human children have a variety of long-term needs that must be addressed: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. They need love, food, shelter, education, clothing, recreation, protection, good association, and so on. As dedicated caretakers, spiritually conscious parents must make every effort to provide for these needs in healthy ways. This is an important part of spiritual life: caring for or serving the Lord’s servants. It cannot be neglected.
The best parents are good role models for their children. They demonstrate the spiritual way of life through words and deeds, understanding that children learn what they live. They seek out other parents or families trying to raise God-conscious children. In this way, they create a much-needed support system. Truly “It takes a village to raise a child.” (Ancient African Proverb).
Sometimes it is necessary to get parenting skills so that we can communicate better, resolve conflicts, set goals, and administer discipline in loving ways to our children. Obtaining such skills is also devotional service because it helps us carry out our parenting duties.
God-conscious parenting requires sacrifice. But it is a sacrifice of love that, like other kinds of devotional service, can be quite rewarding. Raising caring, spiritually conscious children is a grand and valuable goal, and to reach it takes a grand commitment.
The Wonderful Art of Dovetailing
In the Bhagavad-gita (9.27), Lord Krishna tells Arjuna, “All that you do, all that you eat, all that you offer and give away, as well as all austerities that you may perform, should be done as an offering unto Me.”
The secret weapon of parenting is to dovetail everything in Krishna’s service. For example, Krishna declares in Bhagavad-gita (14.4), “I am the seed-giving father.” So, as a parent changing your baby’s diaper, you can remind yourself, “I am changing the diaper of one of God’s children.” When, despite fatigue, you read to or play with your son or daughter, remind yourself that the Lord is noting how you sacrifice to bring joy to one of His children. When you chide your teenage child, do so with the sense that you are caring for a living being who belongs to someone much greater than you. With your spouse, if possible, take the time to prayerfully create some family rules, rituals, and routines that are fair, hopeful, and consistent and that contribute to each child’s growth and development.
Parents who want to raise kind, considerate, spiritually aware children must provide more than just physical maintenance for their offspring. Dovetailing family life to Krishna distinguishes God-conscious parents (grihastha) from those who don’t (grihamedhi). To paraphrase Lord Krishna: “Offer the austerities of your parenting duties as an offering to Me.”
Moving on Up
In Vedic culture, life is divided into four stages, called ashramas, or “places of spiritual growth”: (1) student life, (2) married or family life, (3) retired life, and (4) renounced life. Each stage is meant for growth and development and requires the fulfillment of certain duties. Being a God-conscious parent means that you are in an ashrama (the grihastha ashrama) that is part of a spiritually progressive system. The grihastha ashrama is meant for living a wholesome, loving, regulated family life.
Since most people marry and have children, the grihastha ashrama is an example to others and offers hope. One who sincerely accepts the service of becoming a Krishna conscious parent is empowered by God Himself to do this service. God-conscious parenting is a vital duty very much appreciated by the Lord.
The Vedic scriptures tell us that we should not become parents unless we can bring our children to a higher stage of spiritual life and save them from the cycle of birth and death. Prospective parents should realize their tremendous responsibility.
“You must produce nice children,” Srila Prabhupada said. “For that purpose, sex life is allowed. And especially in this age, at the present moment, if you can produce children to become Krishna conscious, that will be a great service to the Lord.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and his wife, Srimati Bhagavati Devi, were an ideal couple who raised ten children in late nineteenth-century India. He was a great spiritual master and government official who perfectly balanced his parental, spiritual, and administrative duties. He rightly appreciated that he was but a steward for Lord Krishna’s children and property. A masterful poet and songwriter, he wrote in one song, “My life, my wife, my family—all belong to you, O Lord.”
Results Are up to the Lord
Our duty as parents is to be good examples in a God-conscious setting. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, our children will cause us problems. Therefore, we must remember, as the Bhagavad-gita teaches us, that we can only do our duty and rely on the Lord for the results.
Too many children grow up to be crude, harsh, immoral, undisciplined, or criminal. Psychologically and spiritually unhealthy children grow up to be unhealthy adults.
“Hurt people hurt people,” says actor and educator Bill Cosby.
In other words, people who have been abused or misused will often become abusers or exploiters themselves. Our world cries out for children who are truthful, compassionate, self-disciplined, clean in mind and body, and spiritually inclined. They will carry these qualities into adulthood.
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu predicted a golden age of God consciousness within the present age of quarrel and deceit. That will require more and more God-conscious children and adults to populate the earth.
“Good population in human society,” Srila Prabhupada writes, “is the basic principle for peace, prosperity, and spiritual progress in life.”