A lovely Facebook friend St. Seraphim Cathedral asked if I would write a couple of pieces for the church school families. I thought that it might help your families. This is the second of two pieces, the other may be found by clicking HERE.
We have been slowing stepping up towards its but it is nonetheless something of a shock when Great Lent finally arrives. The Church in her infinite wisdom slowly leads us into the most challenging of Fasts with a fast free week, a normal week, Cheesefare week, and then finally Clean Week. We should be ready but often we are like small children who have been warned that it is almost time to leave the playground and instead of being grateful for the time we have had, we start to feel just a little resentful that it is coming to an end. Clean Week is hard, there is no debating it. Not only is the spirit less than willing the body is more than weak. When we have children, we have to contend with their physical, psychological, and spiritual needs at this time and not only our own. Clean Week is the time to follow the Church’s advice and lead gently.
Show your children what is coming…
In our family, we will spend Sunday afternoon cleaning out our refrigerator, just like we always do. Things that can be frozen for Pascha will be and things that cannot will be eaten. When we move all the rich foods from the fridge and stock it with Lenten foods, it sets a tone. We wash all the shelves and drawers and even the outside so that we will be ready. Having a clean fridge filled a completely different set of contents is a physical reminder of what will begin.
Have a record keeping system for the weeks…
This is especially true for smaller children who don’t really understand calendars. My children have always liked the Lady Lent picture, the one with seven legs. We don’t do the salt dough or cookie one but that is because we have pets who might find them delicious. We stick with one printed out from an image on the internet and that is colored by the children. My children take turns taking the scissors and cutting off a leg at a time while they watch and wait for Pascha.
Give them something to look forward to…
Like I said before when I told you that you need a basic meal plan, you need to have a weekend plan. When the first weekend of Lent comes and it is more relaxed, then make it more relaxed. If you are pouring a glass of wine for dinner, make sure that the children have something special. In our family, we add seltzer water to juice for the children and let them sip from martini glasses. I have a large collection from the thrift store and a couple of plastic ones for the youngest. It’s special, and the children don’t get to do this very often so it gives them something to look forward to each week. We also make sure that we do a Sunday evening popcorn and movie night and we never forget to use lots and lots of olive oil and nutritional yeast. Your children need to a sense of relief from Lent, especially that first week, so make a plan for next week.
Build in some gentle dietary choices…
I know a lovely nun who jokingly refers to Clean Week as the “Insta-Cleanse” because the rapid and sudden shift from the diet of Cheesefare causes a little digestive upset. If your children are miserable from the diet of Clean Week, they will transfer their frustrations onto other elements of the Church and her practices. This is a dangerous practice. We have to find small ways of building in comfort, especially this week. Swap out whole grains for refined and polished grains and do not feel guilty. Believe you me, you are getting plenty of fiber this week already. A little less will be good for you! Provide white Lenten crackers, bagels, breads, and rice to have with our beans and lentils based dishes to make things a little easier. Also make sure that we have low fiber fruits like bananas, grapes, and melons. These make good snacks and help slow down the digestive system. You might want to avoid dried fruit this week and stick to fresh to reduce the fiber in your diet, reevaluate next week and see if your body is feeling ready for a little more fiber but go slowly, especially with small children.
Looking for other practical ideas?
- Jennifer at Illuminated Learning has a great poster that you can download and print, just warning you that it is a larger poster and will need to be printed at a shop. Find it HERE.
- Sylvia at OrthodoxMom wrote a wonderful Lenten study guide for mothers that I use and love. You can download and print the pages or you can load them onto a Kindle. Find it HERE.
- Jane, the children’s book editor at Ancient Faith, put together a wonderful list of books to use with your children over great Lent. Find it HERE.
- If you feel like you want something a little more in depth and you have the time and energy for it, this program by Annalisa is one my children have loved. I use it every summer as a substitute for Protestant Vacation Bible School for my own children. Find the book HERE.