A Parenting Gem from Charlotte Mason, That Nearly Every Other Parenting Book Missed
I’m re-reading Home Education by Charlotte Mason and I stumbled upon this nugget of mothering goodness that stayed with me for months and wanted to share it, as I don’t recall ever reading it explained this way anywhere else.
(And let’s be honest, you’ve seen my bookshelves! I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on parenting and education books.)
Charlotte Mason, as you might recall, was an educator in England during late 1800’s, known for her compassionate heart for the plight of children and her keen observations about what made them tick.
She knew how to win their hearts, and understood the difference between being lectured to and being fully educated.
In volume 1 part 3, Entitled “Offending the Children,” she talks about a code of ethics for dealing with children, taken from the gospels:
It is summed up in three commandments, and all three have a negative character, as if the chief thing required of grown-up people is that they should do no sort of injury to the children: Take heed that ye offend not––despise not––hinder not––one of these little ones.
She opens by telling the story of a mother who thinks it’s “funny” to get a reaction out of her baby by saying “Naughty Baby” just to watch the way the child’s face drops and her countenance changes. In short, teasing the baby by saying something untrue. She notes that the baby’s face changes because her little conscience is working and she’s aware of right and wrong. Then she asks how this child could grow up into someone who couldn’t care less about doing right?
She contends that is because of the inconsistency of the mother and her example of not loving virtue.
By slow degrees, here a little and there a little, as all that is good or bad in character comes to pass. ‘Naughty!’ says the mother, again, when a little hand is thrust into the sugar bowl; and when a pair of roguish eyes seek hers furtively, to measure, as they do unerringly, how far the little pilferer may go. It is very amusing; the mother ‘cannot help laughing’; and the little trespass is allowed to pass: and, what the poor mother has not thought of, an offence, a cause of stumbling, has been cast into the path of her two-year-old child. He has learned already that which is ‘naughty’ may yet be done with some impunity, and he goes on improving his knowledge.”
She contrasts this behavior with that of the “law compelled” mother–one who upholds virtue as a standard for all in the house, including herself and doesn’t allow herself to rule her children from a place of convenience, selfishness, moodiness, or whim.
This mother believes it’s her DUTY to live under the very laws she upholds as beautiful and right to her children. AND, conversely, to parent any other way, especially to parent on your whim or moods, it to train your child to live selfishly and hate virtue.
She explains that children are born into the world with a sense of justice. They recognize injustice when they’re called “bad boy” or “naughty girl” when they weren’t truly bad.
Children know and learn quickly that sometimes the only truth they have to get around is mom’s bad mood or dad’s tired hour to get what they want. They are trained to manipulate when parental whims are the prevailing law in the home and God’s law, or virtue and right and wrong is nothing.
A mother who “does not offend or hinder a child” is one who consistently calls good good and evil evil.
She teaches the child that they both have a duty to God and to truth.
Therefore, she doesn’t laugh or overlook when the child throws a fit or hits another child, or steals cookies before dinner, even if she’s in an upbeat, silly mood and doesn’t feel like dealing with it.
And when the mother is aggravated or tired or stretched to her limits, she refuses to come down hard on the kids for little offenses, as though she’s the only consideration in the house and she’s above the law of God. She has a duty to love virtue and live virtue, and well, unjust anger doesn’t fit into that rubric.
I think many times we parent to our own whims. We know the right things to do, yes, but we don’t love virtue enough to do the hard things, and consequently, our children don’t love virtue either. It becomes a big game of pushing limits, testing mom and dad, or seeing how far we can go to the edge without getting in trouble.
Charlotte Mason, in Home Education says,
The child has learned to believe that he has nothing to overcome but his mother’s disinclination; if she choose to let him do this and that, there is no reason why she should not;
On watching a mother who lives by whims, not principle or law:
…if his mother does what she chooses, of course he will do what he chooses, if he can; and henceforward the child’s life becomes an endless struggle to get his own way; a struggle in which a parent is pretty sure to be worsted, having many things to think of, while the child sticks persistently to the thing which has his fancy for the moment.
After describing the battle of wills that will surely result from self-centered living in parenting, she asks where it all stems from:
In this: that the mother began with no sufficient sense of duty; she thought herself free to allow and disallow, to say and unsay, at pleasure, as if the child were hers to do what she liked with. The child has never discovered a background of must behind his mother’s decisions; he does not know that she must not let him break his sister’s playthings, gorge himself with cake, spoil the pleasure of other people, because these things are not right. Let the child perceive that his parents are law-compelled as well as he, that they simply cannot allow him to do the things which have been forbidden, and he submits with the sweet meekness which belongs to his age.
In short, the child needs to know that his mother
“is not to be moved from a resolution on any question of right and wrong.”
I have done a lot of parenting and I’ve seen a lot of parenting and I know how easy it is to parent out of “convenience” for mom.
“Stop fighting.”–This house is so loud I can’t hear myself think.
“Do your chores.”–I don’t want to have to remind you and I want the work done.
When it all comes back to us as the center, and we forget virtue all together, we are woe-fully off of our goal of parenting to the glory of God.
Virtuous parenting looks up to the will of the Lord. It insists that we all live for God’s desires. Parents can’t live as though they are above God’s law. They don’t get a pass. They must not shirk their duty to live a life worthy of imitating. To do so is to imitate another thing entirely.
In a Christian home, the standard must be God’s Word. What does God say about a matter? How would he have us act and react? We don’t “seek our own” because we are not our own.
It’s worth working through Part 3 of Home Education if you want to read more about this. I found it very helpful.