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Our destiny and success as a society rest largely upon the attitude we take toward the development and welfare of our children.
Raising children is potentially one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences in life. While many will say child rearing is extremely difficult, most will also quickly point out, as the Baha’i teachings do, that all of the associated challenges are well worth the effort, pain, frustration, and sacrifice they involve:
Among the greatest of all services that can possibly be rendered by man to Almighty God is the education and training of children … – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 133.
This apparent contradiction suggests the depth and scope of the love present between parent and child—so let’s explore the particular responsibilities parents face as they strive to raise their children spiritually.
Parents are responsible for creating an environment within which their children can thrive and grow. To fulfill even the basic requirements for ensuring a child’s physical sustenance and comfort can be a daunting task in itself. Yet parents are also enjoined to create favorable conditions for healthy intellectual and emotional growth, so their children will have the best opportunity to reach their full potential as human beings.
But the most important and far-reaching responsibility that parents have is to foster their children’s spiritual development. Empowered with the right tools to progress spiritually, children will flourish and become happy, capable, loving adults who understand their purpose in life—which means that raising children spiritually is among the greatest services we can render.
This involves teaching children love and reverence for God, spiritual discipline and obedience, and a sense of morality and virtue. It also involves accustoming them to hardship, and empowering them with the educational and spiritual tools they need to succeed in life. Neither parents nor communities can ignore these responsibilities without serious consequences.
These responsibilities toward children are not unique to the parent-child relationship. Though primary responsibility for raising children belongs to the parents, responsibility for the education and nurturance of children also extends to the community. Parents cannot succeed in their efforts to nurture their children if the community where they reside does not give them the tools and support they need, nor can they succeed if the community bombards their children with conflicting messages that undermine the parents’ efforts.
Our children constantly watch and absorb our example and attitudes. After all, they spend virtually all of their waking hours observing and learning. What we do or fail to do as a community affects the future of our children and, as a result, the future of society:
Children are the most precious treasure a community can possess, for in them are the promise and guarantee of the future. They bear the seeds of the character of future society which is largely shaped by what the adults constituting the community do or fail to do with respect to children. They are a trust no community can neglect with impunity.
An all-embracing love of children, the manner of treating them, the quality of the attention shown them, the spirit of adult behavior toward them—these are all among the vital aspects of the requisite parental attitude. Love demands discipline, the courage to accustom children to hardship, not to indulge their whims or leave them entirely to their own devices. An atmosphere needs to be maintained in which children feel that they belong to the community and share in its purpose. – The Universal House of Justice, to the Baha’is of the World, April 2000.
The Baha’i teachings say that the first responsibility in raising children spiritually is to teach them love and reverence for God—the essential foundation for spiritual development. From the earliest age, children will benefit greatly from seeing their parents turning to God for spiritual sustenance and guidance. Teaching children to have a deep love and reverence for God ensures that they will want to act according to His will and not just their own. The earlier the idea of turning to God is nurtured in children, the deeper and more natural that connection will be.
The Baha’i writings repeatedly point out the value of teaching children at the earliest age to love God and to remember Him:
From the very beginning, the children must receive divine education and must continually be reminded to remember their God. Let the love of God pervade their inmost being, commingled with their mother’s milk. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 127.
The parents must exert every effort to rear their offspring to be religious, for should the children not attain this greatest of adornments, they will not obey their parents, which in a certain sense means that they will not obey God. Indeed, such children will show no consideration to anyone, and will do exactly as they please. – Baha’u’llah, from a tablet translated from the Persian.
Let them strive by day and by night to establish within their children faith and certitude, the fear of God … and all good qualities and traits. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 125.
Parents are in a critical position to shape the spiritual development of their children. They should not ever underestimate their capacity to mold their children’s moral character. For they exercise indispensable influence through the home environment they consciously create. – The Universal House of Justice, to the Baha’is of the World, April 2000.