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Tag: Parenting

The Discipline of Habit – Part 2

square_white_habits2

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles: Principle 5b & 7 – Part 2

Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments – [the second being] the discipline of habit…
By “education is a discipline,” we mean the discipline of habits, formed definitely and thoughtfully, whether habits of mind or body. Physiologists tell us of the adaptation of brain structures to habitual lines of thought, i.e. to our habits.

You do not have to search far on the internet or in bookstores to find helpful advice in ways to develop habits. In fact, I highly recommend Atomic Habits by James Clear as a very practical and research-based method of developing habits. In my last post, I discussed Mason’s “why” and “what” of habit training. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend that you do before you read on. Today I am discussing “how.” Since this is part of my study of Charlotte Mason’s 20 principles, I am choosing to limit this discussion to what stood out to me from what she said. It is by no means comprehensive but a very good starting place for a mother to think about how to train her children in the habits discussed in my previous post.

Begin with the person

Habit training begins with Mason’s first principle, “Children are born persons.” They have desires and affections, conscience and a sense of duty, just as we do. They have both physical and intellectual characteristics and skills that are inherited or learned through family culture. They are particular ages with strengths and weaknesses. We take who they are as a person into account first. Then…

Teach them to do what is right

“…[it is] as much the parent’s duty to educate his child into moral strength and purpose and intellectual activity as it is to feed him and clothe him; and that in spite of his nature, if it must be so.” Vol 1, p103

Considering a child’s age, abilities, and dispositions, children are often not capable or naturally inclined to compel themselves at first to do and think the right thing. They need us to show them the way first, require them to do what is right, and lead them toward right thinking and doing for themselves as they grow in maturity.

“He depends upon his parents; it rests with them to initiate the thoughts he shall think, the desires he shall cherish, the feelings he shall allow. Only to initiate; no more is permitted to them; but from this initiation will result the habits of thought and feeling which govern the man––his character, that is to say.”

As mothers, there are many ways that we already naturally do this. We see the sins, flaws, and vices of our children and we take pains to correct and educate them in right behavior to replace the wrong. For example, it is often automatic for a mother to tell a child, “say please” before giving them something that they have asked for, and “say thank you” when they have received it. Then, when they have learned the required responses (habits of manners), we no longer prompt them with “say please.” Instead, we ask, “what do you say?” requiring them to think and remember for themselves what the required way of asking for something is. Once we have proceeded with this for a short while, we then do not need to prompt with words at all. We simply withhold that which the child has asked for until they have remembered to ask with the required “please” and responded equally to the receiving of the thing with the required “thank you.” This is very natural for a mother to do. The training of manners becomes a habit and part of the atmosphere of the home.

Reduce the strain of decision

“The effort of decision, we have seen, is the greatest effort of life; not the doing of the thing, but the making up of one’s mind as to which thing to do first.”p119

When we show the children that we expect a certain behavior every time, we take the decision making out of the equation. For example, if we want them to develop a habit of making their bed in the morning, we must take the decision away from the children whether or not they will choose to make their bed in the morning. There is no choice. They must. It is required. That is it. No more discussion. I find checklists especially invaluable for this kind of training in habits of cleanliness, neatness, and order around the home. This dovetails nicely with James Clear’s third principle of behavior change: Make it easy. “You just need to get your reps in.” (Atomic Habits, p143) By removing the effort of decision and requiring a certain behavior everyday, you are helping the children practice a behavior which becomes an automatic habit.

“Here, no doubt, come in the functions of parents and teachers; they should be able to make the child do that which he lacks the power to compel himself to. But it were poor training that should keep the child dependent upon personal influence. It is the business of education to find some way of supplementing that weakness of will which is the bane of most of us as well as of the children.” Vol 1, p99-100

Expect them to do it for themselves

Mason touches on this idea over and over and over again. We train our children with the expectation that they can and should do it for themselves. This is true in math as much as it is true in learning to make themselves a nutritious lunch. Our family motto has become “never do for a child what they can do for themselves.” If Mason herself didn’t say it, the idea is firmly rooted in this principle of training children to do the work of learning for themselves.

Once a habit is established, don’t allow it to slide.

The critical moment is after a habit is established -— you might be tempted to let him off “this once. He is tired.” But this undoes everything. It teaches them to think that it’s not important.

I had a friend tell me a few weeks ago that her daughter’s track coach cautioned the team not to ease up on running over the summer break. They were to keep it up because the coach was aware of research that showed that when a physical habit, such as running, is relaxed to the point where they miss more than a week, their physical ability reverts back further than where they were when they first started. This is especially true for girls and running. To allow the relaxing of a habit will undo all the hard work of establishing the habit in the first place and may set you back even further.

It is important to remember that it doesn’t take the same amount of work to maintain a habit once established as it does to form it in the first place. It requires diligence to stay on top of it but nowhere near the same effort to maintain it. Think about your habit of brushing your teeth. When you were a 3-year-old learning to brush your teeth every day, it required all your will power plus the insistence of Mom, to brush your teeth well every day. But now that you are an adult and this habit is firmly entrenched, you no longer exert any of the energy you first did. It is now so automatic you barely think about it at all. This is true for our children as well.

Here are the steps again.

General steps to form a habit

1. Teach it.
2. Look with expectancy that they can do it. Say little and allow the child to do their own work of thinking through the steps.
3. After 2-3 weeks the habit should be formed.
4. Do not allow dawdling to come back in at this point. New brain pathways have been forged and to go back on them at this point would undo the habit forming.

When is a habit successful?

“The education of habit is successful in so far as it enables the mother to let her children alone, not teasing them with perpetual commands and directions––a running fire of Do and Don’t; but letting them go their own way and grow, having first secured that they will go the right way, and grow to fruitful purpose.” Vol 1, p134

We train them in habits first by instructing them in the way of the habit, then let them think of it and do it for themselves. Once they know how, they need to think through the steps themselves and then do them. Resist the urge to prod them for each step. Otherwise, you are training them to rely on your memory, rather than their own. If they really can’t remember then, of course, help them. But always toward the purpose of having them learn and do it for themselves.

Developing specific habits pertaining to their education

Habit of thinking

  • Give them the right sort of lessons — Give them books!

“We need not labour to get children to learn their lessons; that, if we would believe it, is a matter which nature takes care of. Let the lessons be of the right sort and children will learn them with delight.” Vol 6, p99

James Clear says that the second law of behavior change is “make it attractive.” Mason is essentially saying the same thing. Make the lessons delightful. Mason believed that rich meaty ideas through well-written living books of a narrative nature are the feast that is naturally engaging and delightful to the minds of children. Ideas are stimulating food for the mind and will grow their thinking muscle.

  • Sow the idea lightly and casually — Give them books!

“It is possible to sow a great idea lightly and casually and perhaps this sort of sowing should be rare and casual because if a child detect a definite purpose in his mentor he is apt to stiffen himself against it.”p102

Mason says the best way is to give the children great books with heroes of good character from which to train habits of right thinking that, over time, give rise in the children’s minds to gain the same opinion.

In Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about identity as the deepest aspect of behavior change. How you identify yourself, what you believe about yourself, has a deep impact on what you do. It is the difference between thinking, “I try to run” compared with, “I am a runner.” The person who identifies as being a runner will be more motivated to run every day than someone who just tries to run. How we identify ourselves matters. As we give living books to our children that contain ideas of honor, nobleness, compassion, faithfulness, etc. the hope is that our children will take these ideas as their own—that these ideas will become part of their identity. In other words, that virtuous ideas become part of their habit of thinking which, Lord willing, will result in good doing.

When E-age-10 (at the time) and I read about the life of Teddy Roosevelt, we were astounded at the boundless energy, the zest for life, and the sheer amount of activity he fit into any given day. Whatever you think about his politics, the ideas of working hard and using your time wisely that came out through this book have not been lost on my daughter. They continue to work, albeit under the surface, to form her habits of thinking virtuously which, Lord willing, will produce good doing.

“We have seen the value of habit in mind and morals, religion and physical development. It is as we have seen disastrous when child or man learns to think in a groove, and shivers like an unaccustomed bather on the steps of a new notion. This danger is perhaps averted by giving children as their daily diet the wise thoughts of great minds, and of many great minds; so that they may gradually and unconsciously get the courage of their opinions. If we fail in this duty, so soon as the young people get their ‘liberty’ they will run after the first fad that presents itself; try it for a while and then take up another to be discarded in its turn, and remain uncertain and ill-guided for the rest of their days.”p104

Habit of attention

The habit of attention is giving complete attention of our minds to what it should be on at a given time so that we can know it and recollect it later. If you have ever experienced your mind wondering off when it should be listening to a sermon (or to your husband!), or giving it’s full attention to the book that you are reading, or writing a paper, you know that it requires rigorous effort of will to stay focused and give full attention to what it is you are doing. To train the habit of attention in our children now will be of great value to them, not just during their education, but in all of life.

“‘habit is ten natures,’ and we can all imagine how our work would be eased if our subordinates listened to instructions with the full attention which implies recollection” Vol 6, p 100

Steps to training habit of attention (from Vol 1, p137-148)

  •  Definite work in a definite time. – (Mason says 20 minutes for a child under 8) One time is not ‘as good as another.’ When it is time for math, that is what must be given complete attention for the full amount of time. Do not allow daydreaming or a wondering mind. This works in combination with…
  • Short lessons – Don’t let the time for the lesson go longer than a child can keep their full attention. Mason says 20 minutes for a child under 8. Sometimes, when my children first began formal lessons, or when a new concept is particularly hard, they have needed a shorter lesson time than even this. I gradually built up the time over a few weeks as they were able to give full attention for longer. “When a child grows stupid over a lesson, it is time to put it away” vol 1, p141. This helps to strengthen the habit of attention rather than give them the opportunity to develop the habit of inattention by daydreaming. (Full disclosure – I have one child that is a daydreamer by nature. This is an area we are STILL working on. Studying this principle has shown me that I need to be extra diligent in addressing the habit of attention for this child. Educating is for the long haul, mamas. Don’t grow weary of doing good.)
  • Alternating lessons. sums first, say, while the brain is quite fresh; then writing, or reading––some more or less mechanical exercise, by way of a rest; and so on, the program varying a little from day to day, but the same principle throughout––a ‘thinking’ lesson first, and a ‘painstaking’ lesson to follow,––the child gets through his morning lessons without any sign of weariness.”(Vol 1, p142)
    This is also the antidote to weariness in a lesson. If your child grows “stupid” over a lesson before you have finished the allotted time, put it away and do something completely different. Then go back to it when “wits are refreshened.”
  • Use Natural Rewards.––”What is the natural consequence of work well and quickly done? Is it not the enjoyment of ampler leisure?”p143 Assign an amount of work in a given time. If they get it done early, the rest of the lesson time is theirs. My children usually choose to go onto the next lesson and accumulate their free time for the end of the school day, while others will choose to use the spare minutes straight away to do something they enjoy at the time.
  • Natural Reward for the older child. — When an older child is taught to bring “ his own will to bear; to make himself attend in spite of the most inviting suggestions from without,” he should be taught to feel satisfaction and triumph in fixing his thoughts on what he ought.
  • Use Natural Consequences — If a child does not give full attention to his work and does not complete definite work in a reasonably given amount of time, a natural consequence could be that he loses his free time at the end of the school day to complete the work he should have already completed due to lack of attention. This may mean that the extracurricular activity scheduled for the end of the day will have to be missed because the child did not give the attention he ought to have during class time. It would not take very long for a child to see the wisdom of definite work in a definite time :).

If you’d like to join me in studying Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles, get your copy of Start Here and see this post for details

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason 20 Principles Directory

The Discipline of Habit – Part 1

Habits photo

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles: Principle 5b & 7 – Part 1

Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments – [the second being] the discipline of habit…
By “education is a discipline,” we mean the discipline of habits, formed definitely and thoughtfully, whether habits of mind or body. Physiologists tell us of the adaptation of brain structures to habitual lines of thought, i.e. to our habits.

There is so much to be said in the area of habits. In fact, Charlotte Mason herself said a lot. There was a LOT of reading for this principle, y’all! In order to unpack it in a way that was helpful to me, I organized the ideas into three different questions. Why is the idea of the discipline of habit important in education? What did Mason consider were the habits of the mind and the body? How do we initiate the formation of these habits in our homes? For the sake of length, this post will be concerned with the first two questions. The ‘how’ will be addressed in a separate post.

Why is the idea of the discipline of habit important in education?

1. It makes life easier

“But the most comfortable thing in this view of habit is, that it falls in with our natural love of an easy life. We are not unwilling to make efforts in the beginning with the assurance that by-and-by things will go smoothly; and this is just what habit is, in an extraordinary degree, pledged to effect.” Vol 1, p136

This is the most obvious and well-known reason for the establishment of habits. A plethora of self-help and productivity books have been written about habits with this purpose in mind. As Mason points out, our natural desire is to make life easier. Decision fatigue is a real thing which Mason discusses at length. She describes the strain that making a lot of decisions can have on a person. It is a burden which can easily become too much to bear. Imagine needing to make the decision every morning to get out of bed, to brush your teeth, to eat your meals, to brush your hair. For most of us, we don’t have to make the decision to do these things every day. We just do them out of habit. No mental energy has been expended to complete our morning routine and get ready for the day. We just do it. Habits take the decision out of what is to be done next. As Mystie Winkler often says, just do the right next thing.

Mason explains that we want the children to do the work of learning for themselves. Developing habits of mind and body is the best way to help them take ownership of their work, know the right next thing to do, and avoid the strain of making decisions about what the right thing to do is.

2. Habits are inevitable
Mason points out that our very natures prove that habits will form whether we purposely instill them or not. The question is, will they be good habits or bad? More often than not, left to ourselves, without any purposeful action toward establishing right habits, we will tend to establish unhelpful bad habits, naturally seeking the ease of life rather than the work of a good life. Therefore, establishing right habits is all the more important in the education of our children.

“We have lost sight of the fact that habit is to life what rails are to transport cars. It follows that lines of habit must be laid down towards given ends and after careful survey, or the joltings and delays of life become insupportable. More, habit is inevitable. If we fail to ease life by laying down habits of right thinking and right acting, habits of wrong thinking and wrong acting fix themselves of their own accord.” Vol 6, P101

3. Brain science tells us that habits restructure the brain.
Mason was greatly impressed with new brain research showing that pathways in the brain are rewired through habitual activity. The latest habit book I have read, Atomic Habits, also refers to current studies on the power of habits to the brain.

“We all know something of the genesis of a habit, and most of us recognise its physical basis, i.e. that frequently-repeated thoughts or acts leave some sort of register in the brain tissue which tends to make the repetition of such thoughts, at first easy, and at last automatic.”vol 3, p105

4. Establishes tools for good living in adulthood.
“training in habit becomes a habit.” (Vol 1, p126)

By initiating habits in the home, you not only equip your children with good, intentional, and thorough habits for the time they live in your home, you also give them the tools to continue to develop their own good habits of mind and body into the rest of their lives.

“habit is like fire, a bad master but an indispensable servant;” Vol 6, p101

5. Reinforces the idea of authority.
This idea is developed by Mason in Volume 3, when she talks about the training of physical habits. She says that through physical training, the idea of “living under authority, training under authority, serving under authority” (Vol 3, p103) can be brought to bear. Through habit a person is taught to bring their body into subjection first to his parents, then to his own will, and always under the authority of God. (I discussed the idea of authority in this post and this post.)

6. Prepares for a life of service
The training in habits prepares the children to be fit for whatever plans God has for them. Mason explains that the Greeks disciplined their bodies so that they were prepared for any heroic feats that the ‘gods’ would ask of them. How much more should our children, who we raise to serve the living true God, develop habits of mind and body in order that they would be prepared to serve Him in whatever capacity He places them. It prepares them to love their neighbor.

“we are empirically certain that a chief function of education is the establishment of such ways of thinking in children as shall issue in good and useful living, clear thinking, aesthetic enjoyment, and, above all, in the religious life.” – Vol 6, p100

What are the Habits of the Mind?

1. Habit of Attention
“You want them to remember? Then secure his whole attention.” (Vol 1, p157)

The development of the habit of attention is a significant aspect of Mason’s philosophy of education. She believed it was so important to develop the habit of fixing a child’s thoughts completely on what it should be on at that moment.

“no intellectual habit is so valuable as that of attention; it is a mere habit but it is also the hall-mark of an educated person.” Vol 6, p99

“A vigorous effort of will should enable us at any time to fix our thoughts.” (Vol 1, p137) A person’s capacity for mental effort is reduced when allowed to wonder off or day dream. Mason believed that overpressure or burn out was a result of a failure of the habit of attention. The children are so overly distracted that the lesson becomes overburdensome for lack of attention. She had much to say about how this habit should be developed which I hope to discuss in the next post.

2. Religious Life
Mason discusses the benefit of requiring participation in liturgy and religious habits. It encourages the religious life to be “fixed and delightful and give us due support in the effort to live a godly, righteous and sober life.” (Vol 6, p103) I do not remember reading Mason outlining religious habits specifically in the readings for this principle, but we can assume she means prayer, Scripture reading, and worship.

3. Thinking
This is the development of right thinking that results in right living. It can be seen as synonymous with ‘wisdom and knowledge’ so often referred to in the Bible. It is clear thinking that asks and attempts to answer their own questions. “Every walk should offer some knotty problem for the children to think out.” (Vol 1, p194) It is the development of tracing effect from cause, or cause from effect, comparing alike and different, and drawing conclusions as to causes or consequences from certain premises.

4. Morals
Although this is not a comprehensive list, Mason draws specific attention to obedience, “obedience the whole duty of a child” (Vol 1, p161) as well as sense of honor, gentleness, kindness, candor, respect, truthfulness, temper (keeping his temper).

Other habits of the mind briefly mentioned to work on in the education of children were concentration, thoroughness, intellectual volition, accuracy, reflection, remembering, and meditation.

As we consider these habits of the mind, Mason warns parents to be careful to not look to:

“‘What will people say? what will people think? how will it look?’ [so that] the children grow up with habits of seeming, and not of being; they are content to appear well-dressed, well-mannered, and well-intentioned to outsiders, with very little effort after beauty, order, and goodness at home, and in each other’s eyes.” Vol 1, p106

What are the habits of the body?

1. Cleanliness, Neatness, and Order
After the children have been allowed to enjoy all the messy play that is foundational to childhood, Mason impresses the importance of training them to be anxious to clean themselves of any dirt from play, bathe themselves daily, and tidy and restore order to any messes they have made. All things to be put away in their place. She stresses the importance of having the children clean up for themselves. “The pleasure grown-up people take in waiting on children is really a fruitful source of mischief.” (Vol 1, p127)

2. Manners, elocution, music, singing, health, and physical fitness
These physical skills that Mason also identified should not require much explanation. These skills are improved and made easier through repetition. That is, through habit. The benefits of developing habits in these areas for the individual are discussed in books and blog posts all over the internet. But the highest benefit, as has already been discussed earlier in this post, is to glorify God and to love and serve others with our bodies.

Mason also identifies that physical activity such as playing on the field also helps to develop habits that she calls half physical and half moral. That is, habits of good character that develop through both habits of mind and body. These are:

1. Self-restraint – no overindulgence of food or activities. Also, the habit of restraining discontentedness as well as idleness.
2. Self-control – being “impervious to small annoyances.” That is, practicing the habit of self-control of emotional outbursts, “cheerful under small inconveniences” and ready for action with “presence of mind.” Self-control results in having mind and emotions in submission to your will so that you can act and respond reasonably in a given situation.
3. Self-discipline – In behavior, address, courtesy, deportment (conduct), tones of voice, tidying own messes.
4. Alertness – that is, developing the habit of alertness to seize opportunities of getting knowledge.
5. Quick perception.
6. Fortitude – to bear pain and inconvenience without making a sign.
7. Others – stimulating ideas, service, prudence, courage, and chastity.

This is a formidable list of habits that may seem overwhelming. You might, as I do, see a vast array of habits that you, yourself, need to work on, let alone train your children in. Mason herself acknowledges that forming habits requires certain “strenuousness.” As a mom of four, if I were to try to work on all of these at one time, this list would be unattainable. There are practical things we can do to help develop these habits for ourselves as well as our children which I will discuss in the next post, but as Cindy Rollins often says, we are in this for the “long haul.” We need to keep in mind that we will not always see results in the immediate future. These habits develop little by little over the many years that the children are with us, as part of the atmosphere of our homes. We need to allow ourselves grace to work on what is possible with much prayer and supplication, and leave the rest. We need to remember to lean not on our own strength but on the Lord’s. We can rest in the knowledge that God is faithful. He never slumbers nor sleeps and is working in us and in our children even when we are exhausted and do no more. We can trust in the knowledge that “we do not labor in the dark.” (Vol 3, p99) We do not labor in vain.

My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
* Psalm 121:2-4

If you’d like to join me in studying Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles, get your copy of Start Here and see this post for details

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason 20 Principles Directory

Valderi, Valdera: Reflections on Ambleside Online Camp Meeting

I have just got back from spending a wonderful weekend at Ambleside Online’s 2019 Camp Meeting. On the plane ride home I endeavored to collect my thoughts and process all that I had learned from the conference. But as I attempted to reflect, the folksong, The Happy Wanderer, played over and over in my head. “Valderi, Valdera. Valderi, Valdera, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha…” Over and over and over. When Wendi Capehart taught us that song during the conference, she told us that we would be singing it whether we wanted to or not. She was right. At first, I found it irritating that this unwanted folksong persisted in pervading my thoughts. I wanted to be thinking of deep and meaningful things, not a frivolous folksong. But then I decided that instead of fighting with it, I would embrace it. I could not help but smile and even laugh as the song played round in my head.

You try singing, “…valdera, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,” without laughing.

Do you know what? Once I embraced it, it was exactly what I needed at that moment. I was smiling, singing a funny song, and enjoying the moment. It reminded me of something that Cindy Rollins said this weekend. Moms need to be joyful. We homeschool moms, who take educating our children very seriously, can easily forget to be joyful in our work. We worry about doing enough. We worry about doing it right. We agonize over all the ways we aren’t living up to “The Perfect.” This weekend Lynn Bruce exhorted us to put away comparing and seeking the perfect Charlotte Mason education. Because there is no perfect education. There is your family’s education. We have these beautiful persons, given to us for such a short while, full of energy and life and wonder, who we forget to smile at because we’re busy looking at what others are doing and thinking we’re not measuring up. We unwittingly push away those organic Valdera, ha, ha, ha,ha,ha moments and miss out on the very joy that is there for us if we allow ourselves to see it.

This work that we are doing is hard, especially when you’re “in the middle” as Sheila Atchley reminded us. But it is joyful work. It is good work. It is kingdom work. We are not raising or educating careers; we are discipling our children and educating their moral imagination. Wendi taught us that through living books our children learn to imagine what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes. They learn to imagine what it is like to be in other cultures, other ways of life. Through living books, our children are developing empathy for the orphan, empathy for the downcast, empathy for the worker in a factory or a leader of a nation. Wendi explained that there was no need for the “goody goody” (as Charlotte Mason calls them) moralizing book that often hardens the hearts of our children instead of softening them. Because living books bring those character qualities worth emulating to the forefront in living, real characters and life situations. As Tim Laurio, from the progeny panel, told us: the characters become their friends who guide them through life. Their failings and successes and even their words of wisdom, set down in the pages of literature, serve as guideposts for life. This is why living books and narration are so integral to Charlotte Mason’s philosophy.

Mason understood the universal law that “Children are born persons.” Karen Glass taught us that this principle as well as “education is the science of relations” were the pillars from which all Mason’s other principles hinge. As Karen went on to explain, these were principles that Mason observed as already existing. She just wrote them down. Anne White said it well when she stated, “Simple principles simply stated are often the best.” Anne showed us that these principles aren’t for the purpose of serving ourselves, they are for the stewardship and service of others. When we realize that Mason’s education philosophy was in order to develop a character that loves God and loves people, we can be joyful in our work. We can smile and be content and hopeful, as Cindy encouraged us to be, because our work is not for us. And it is not for college. It is for others. And most importantly, it is for God. As Cindy reminded us, we are educating our children for the worship of God.

Donna-Jean Breckenridge emphasized that it is not our job to save our children, but to lead them to one who can. Lead them to His Word — His truth. She explained that we do this by being in His Word and praying. Pray, pray, pray, pray, pray because, as Donna-Jean said, “there is a King over ALL” and we can trust Him. He is faithful. And because He is faithful we can be joyful and sing with the Psalmist:

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

Sovereign over Every Moment. God’s Grace in the Returns Line

“Mom! The light on my favorite new toy I got for Christmas doesn’t work!”

This exclamation during a fight between two siblings, another telling me all about a book she was reading, all while I tried to get checklists done and order art prints for school to begin next week, and write a list of birthday cards, presents, and groceries I forgot to buy when I shopped yesterday.

Sigh.

“Do you have the box?” I ask, frustrated. She produces torn up cardboard that once resembled the bright shiny box that housed the beloved toy.  A bit of gorilla glue and the box is almost passable.  I concede to add another stop to my errands list and return her toy so we can reorder and hopefully receive one whose light does work.  We arrive at the store and wait 20 minutes in the returns line, but there are no issues and the toy is returned and we move on to other errands.

It is now 1.30pm. We have not eaten. Children and mom are getting hangry and all my errands are not complete. I wish we didn’t need to eat because I really don’t want to buy food out and I did want to finish all my errands before going home. There is only one choice. We go home. I immediately get online to re-order the toy and get that job out of the way. Except, to our horror, the toy is out of stock! Who knows when or if it will come back in stock. I try Amazon. $73.00! WAY more than was originally paid and we returned it for.  My heart sank. I have a to-do list a mile long, it’s halfway through the afternoon and I haven’t even achieved a quarter of it, and now my daughter has just returned her favorite toy that is no longer available. My frustration increases. I look at my daughter. There was only one thing for it. We go back to the store in the hopes that we can retrieve the toy.

On the way, I hold little hope that we will be able to get it back. I tell my daughter to pray. She prays a simple sweet prayer, “Dear God, please help me get my toy back. Amen.”

Once again we are in the returns line. This time we only wait 10 minutes. We explain the situation to the sweet lady at the counter. She looks in the bins behind her. Our toy is not there.

“If it was an online order I don’t know what I can do.” She sees the disappointment and sadness in my daughter’s eyes and says, “there is one other place I can look.” She is back a few minutes later with the news we didn’t want to hear. “I’m sorry, but because your return was an online item, it has already been processed and labeled. Once it is labeled to go on the truck back to the warehouse, there is nothing we can do.”

“Has it left yet on the truck? Where is it right now?” I ask. She knows that I suspect that it is still in the building but due process says I can’t have it back now because it will mess up the system. She looks to see if we can buy the item in the store. We can’t. She really wants to help but knows she can’t. She takes me to her supervisor, asking her if anything can be done to get the item back. The supervisor reiterates what we’ve already been told. Once the item has been labeled, it’s bad luck. As I am talking with the supervisor, the sweet lady from the counter walks away to try another idea. She turns the corner. When I finish with the supervisor we attempt to follow her. She is nowhere to be seen. All hope seems lost now. Our one advocate trying to help us has disappeared. Maybe she went to the online order pick up area. We go there. I ask the two men working if they’d seen the sweet lady. She was helping me. They have not. My daughter’s eyes begin to well up. Her beloved toy is lost to her now. One of the men asks if he can help. I don’t think he can but to indulge him I tell him the very short version of our story. Enough for him to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t help.” But he doesn’t say that. He goes out the back and brings back a box. Our box! It’s our toy! He rips off the label and asks what I paid for it. I tell him. He manually puts the amount in the register and it is ours again!

As we leave the store with a skip in our step and tears of relief in my daughter’s eyes, I reflect to her,

“God answered your prayer today.”

She looks up at me with wonder and awe. “Yeah, I guess He did!”

“Twice we had been told that we couldn’t have it back,” I tell her. “If we hadn’t lost the lady, we wouldn’t have found our way to the man at the back. In God’s providence, when it seemed it was gone and there was nothing to be done, God directed us to the very person who could help.”

I realize that this story is pretty trivial as far as life stories go. It is just a toy. It would have been disappointing but not that important. But what seemed small and insignificant to me meant everything to my daughter. She learned that her God cared for her and was gracious and loving and kind and she could trust Him, even when our actions are unwise.   If it had turned out that in God’s providence we couldn’t get the toy back, God would still have been caring, gracious, loving, and kind. The lesson would have been to be content with what we have and perhaps think and consider all options before making a decision that could potentially be unwise.

But that wasn’t the lesson God wanted to teach us on this day. Today, my daughter learned that God always answers prayer.

“I’m glad God said yes.”

When The Ideal Meets The Real

As I study principles of education, I am reminded that there is a gaping chasm between the ideal and the real. I study educational philosophy because it is my vocation. Educating my kids is what God has called me to do and I want to do it to the best of my ability for the glory of God. But I do not measure up to the ideal. Education in my home is not always joyful, happy, or peaceful. I do not always treat my children with care for their emotions and personalities. I am often times met with bad attitudes (including my own), children who do not want to read the books I have given them to read, and who resist any kind writing with every fiber of their being. But I must not grow weary in doing good. I will never attain the ideal in my home. But I continue to work diligently toward it, knowing that anything that is achieved is not my own achievement but is a result of God’s grace. Educating is humbling. It requires leaning on the Lord for His strength, His help, His comfort. I cannot live the ideal. But He did. And only by His grace can I go forward. He is trustworthy when I fail. He is true when I am false. He is good when I sin. He is beautiful when my best is filthy rags. He is strong when I am weak. He is faithful when I am not. So whether I measure up to the educational standard set by philosophical thinkers that have come before, I can rest in the knowledge that, “all I have needed thy hand hath provided, Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”

To God be the Glory.

Don’t Abdicate Your Parental Authority

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles: Principle 3 – Part 1

The principles of authority on the one hand, and of obedience on the other, are natural, necessary and fundamental…

The ideas of authority and obedience in Charlotte Mason’s 3rd Principle probably seem obvious to most parents. Of course parents are in authority over their children and children ought to obey their parents (although to look at today’s culture, perhaps that is not so obvious anymore). Mason speaks thoughtfully and at length about this principle. She discusses what authority is for both parent and child, what it looks like in homes and schoolrooms, and how to gain the obedience of the child. For the sake of length, I will restrict my discussion today to considering parental authority, and next week, Lord willing, I will discuss authority as it relates to the child.

Parental Authority Is God-Given

Our authority as parents is given to us by God. This is foundational and central to Mason’s principle of authority. Your authority finds its source in God. Stop and think about that for a minute. This is profound. When we truly understand where our authority comes from, it informs and affects everything else that comes out of our parenting. As a gift from God, our authority is to be used wisely for the good of the children and for His glory. Because it is from God, it is not absolute authority. We are not an authority unto ourselves. Mason describes our authority as deputed, meaning it is delegated. We are, in a sense, made His representatives in our homes. We have been deputized to fulfill the duty of raising our children in “the fear and admonition of the Lord.” Our children are not ours, but have been entrusted to us for a time to love and disciple and “train up in the way he should go.” It is for a purpose that God has entrusted this role to us. He has given us this authority as ones also under authority. Mason urges parents to make known to our children that our authority is given by God and we are under His authority just as they are. Mason stresses the importance of this because she believed children will more readily accept and understand their role to submit to our authority when they know it comes from God.

Parental Authority Is Not Arbitrary

Since we are under God’s authority and our authority comes from Him, it should not be arbitrary. This means our authority should not be wielded on a whim or without reason. It should not be unrestrained authority for its own sake, ruling from a height with no intimacy with the children, like some authoritarian dictator. We should not bark out orders like a sledgehammer, with a harshness that shows no care for the hearts and minds of these precious images of God, or encroach on their personhood.

Instead, we should parent in humble recognition and obedience to the God whose authority we are under. Our authority is to be born out of love for God and love for our children.

“Authority is that aspect of love which parents present to their children; parents know it is love, because to them it means continual self-denial, self-repression, self-sacrifice: children recognise it as love, because to them it means quiet rest and gaiety of heart.” Vol. 3, pg.24

Parental Authority Serves

Our role as ones in authority is one of service. Our authority is not self-seeking. It is “…neither harsh nor indulgent,” but is an authority that is “gentle and easy to be entreated in all matters immaterial, just because [it] is immovable in matters of real importance.” (Vol. 1, pg.17)

Mason paints a wonderful picture of how biblical authority in the home provides the best atmosphere for a child to thrive.

“Authority is just and faithful in all matters of promise-keeping; it is also considerate, and that is why a good mother is the best home-ruler; she is in touch with the children, knows their unspoken schemes and half-formed desires, and where she cannot yield, she diverts; she does not crush with a sledge-hammer, an instrument of rule with which a child is somehow never very sympathetic.” Vol. 1, pg.23

Parental Authority Is Not To Be Abdicated

Not only is our authority not to be arbitrary, it should not be abdicated. Parents can be tempted, for the sake of ease or the favor of their children, to abdicate their authority in the same way that a king might abdicate the throne. They can be tempted to give over their God-given authority and obligation to another. This could be by expecting the school to deal with all aspects of raising your child, beyond their education, or defaulting your authority to another family member, or worse still, leaving the child to themselves. We must remember that it is our duty to be good stewards of the authority deputed to us by God, out of loving obedience to Him, for the good of the child.

Parental Authority Is For The Good Of All

Biblical authority is necessary for the good of the child. Our authority is integral to the development of character in children and instruction in right living. If a child is left to themselves to pursue the way that seems right in their own eyes, folly is sure to follow. It is good for the children to “…’faithfully serve, honour, and humbly obey’ their natural rulers”(Vol. 2, pg.14). It is an example of how we are to serve, honor, and humbly obey God.

“parents hold their children in trust for society.” Vol. 2, pg.15

Parental authority is also necessary for the good of society. It is necessary for raising good citizens. When parents abdicate their authority, the result is not only disastrous for the children, but also to society.

“…the child who knows that he is being brought up for the service of the nation, that his parents are acting under a Divine commission, will not turn out a rebellious son.” Vol. 2, pg.17

This does not, of course, guarantee children will heed the instructions of their parents and live godly, productive lives in the service of others, but it gives them the best opportunity and fulfills our God-given role to teach them to love Him and serve others. This is certainly not the message of today’s culture to children, which seems far more concerned with personal happiness than instilling a willing service to others.

Parenting is a difficult yet rewarding vocation. It can sometimes feel like a battleground. But when we look to God as the source of our parental authority, knowing that we too are under His authority, we can be comforted. Because He is good and just, and because He has deemed it so and thus ordered it, He will give us the grace and means to fulfill His God-given purpose for us as parents.

If you’d like to join me in studying Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles, get your copy of Start Here and see this post for details

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason 20 Principles Directory

When the Hard Times Come

It’s been a while since I have written here. A number of months ago, something occurred that made me begin to question my parenting ability. It has taken a little while (and encouragement from friends) to find my writing feet again. I admit, I was also embarrassed by the whole thing. But the Lord, in His grace, used this time to show me that I had been placing my confidence in my own parenting abilities instead of in God.

He showed me that for all my intentionality and perceived thoughtfulness in homeschooling and parenting, I was not in control. He was. Through this circumstance, He showed me that all my wisdom and ideas, all my principles and actions, cannot serve all the needs of my children. These children are not my own. Yes, they have been given into my care by God, but He is still Lord over their lives. There are situations in this life that are out of my hands and the only hope I have is to turn to God, repent of my pride, pray for His will to be done, and trust Him that He is working all things for our good—even if it hurts, even if it doesn’t turn out the way I think it should. Even, and especially when, I think I deserve everything in my life to go smoothly and without trouble. The reality is that if I place my confidence in my own ability, my confidence is misplaced. He is my only hope. He is the Creator of all things and He is the one who is Lord, not me. It is only in Christ that I can have any wisdom as a mother.

God also taught me through this time how necessary the body of Christ is and how beautiful fellowship and unity with sisters in Christ is. It was a sister in the Lord who I called (after my husband) when I felt my world crashing down upon me. She encouraged me. She supported me. She prayed for me and helped me when I needed it. It was a sister in Christ who gave me a sympathetic ear and felt the heart of this broken mama, who sent me a note of encouragement to let me know I was in her thoughts. She prayed for me and sympathized with my hurt. It was a sister in Christ who listened to my story but didn’t allow me to wallow in self-pity. Instead, she turned my eyes to Christ by telling me, “But God is still on the throne. He is sovereign. He is King and reigning on His throne, even in this circumstance.” I needed to hear these words at that time more than she will ever know.

I needed the body of Christ, my sisters, and they were there. They lifted my eyes to my sovereign Lord, from whom all my help ultimately comes.

I have learned, and continue to learn, that God is faithful—even in the hard times. He never leaves us and never forsakes us. And He’ll never leave nor forsake you. To God be the glory forever, Amen.

Mommy Meltdowns and Moving Moments

2015, in many ways, was a challenging year for me. I really hadn’t anticipated how difficult it would be to have a toddler underfoot while trying to educate my three spirited young girls and maintain a peaceful, orderly, and clean home. Amidst the chaos, I lost focus. I became weighted down by duties, responsibilities, and self-imposed expectations. Life became a battle to keep my head above water and just survive. My well laid plans for my restful Charlotte Mason homeschool became a bunch of checklists that I was failing to check off each day/week.

This feeling of drowning under diapers and duty had a snowball effect on how I treated my children. They became the object of too many mommy meltdowns. I yelled far too often at work not completed in my scheduled time or when asked to read another story while trying to cook dinner (or any other time that I was busy…which was almost always), not to mention the incessant sibling squabbles. I became increasingly grumpy the more overwhelmed I felt, and I began to view the children as an annoyance, getting in the way of what I needed to get done. I had lost sight of the fact that my calling was to raise and educate them. My children should have been my focus, not my checklist.

I knew that these meltdowns were sinful. I knew that I was completely over-reacting to the circumstance. But I just couldn’t seem to pull myself out of it. The more I melted down, the more guilty I felt, the more I thought myself the worst mother in the world, the more I melted down. You get the picture.

After one such afternoon as a grumpy mommy, E-Age-7 came to me while I was preparing dinner and asked if I would let her watch TV. We are strict on screen time for our kids and this was a request outside of approved viewing time. I looked at her with exasperation, replying with a resounding “NO!” and reminding her abruptly that she knew it wasn’t TV day. She accepted my answer without fuss and continued to loiter around the kitchen (much to my annoyance) as I continued to prepare dinner. A few moments later she began again.

“Thank you, Mum.”

“What for?” I replied. “I said no about the TV.”

She shrugged her shoulders as she answered. “I know. I meant thank you for everything that you do for us.”

She then promptly ran off to play with her sisters.

I was stunned. I was immediately ashamed of myself and at the same time filled with an overwhelming love for my children. My child had just showed me the grace that I had failed to show them. They had showed me the grace that I had been praying for. They didn’t view me as the worst mother in the world. They didn’t hang on to every meltdown as if that was the one that was going to destroy their lives. They loved me unconditionally. They forgave me.

That was the moment that changed me. God used my sweet child to answer my prayer. He used her to remind me who I am and what I’m here for. He used her to remind me who they are. My children are persons in their own right. They are made in God’s image, individuals made with their own distinct personalities. They were not an item on my To Do List. They were living, breathing human beings who were to be loved, cherished, nurtured, and enjoyed.

It was at this same moment that I was reminded of what I had been studying in God’s Word.

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live though him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:9-11)

More than providing a good education, more than keeping a clean home, more than keeping checklists, I am to love my children because God first loved me and sent His son to die for me.

Happy New Year!

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