Intentional Mothering

Why Disciplining Our Children Means First Disciplining Ourselves (Thoughts on Charlotte Mason).

August 2, 2017

As we continue to walk slowly into a homeschooling life, I easily see and embrace the beautiful educational philosophies of Charlotte Mason. I wouldn’t say that we will be a strict Charlotte Mason homeschool family, but her ideas about educating children will influence me as I guide the children to a lifelong love of learning within the calm and life-giving atmosphere of home.

Charlotte Mason had a three-pronged view of education. She believes that,

Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.

Two of these I feel I adopt instinctively, like breathing. I love creating a home that induces learning, creativity, and a hunger to know more. And I know the education is more than “school” – it is a wholehearted desire to know God – and His world – and grow towards Christ-like character. If my children are learning math, they’re learning about God because He made math.

But one facet of Charlotte Mason’s approach is a struggle for me: that is, education is a discipline. It is like a wall that I keep running into and struggle to climb over.

Before I look at why it is a struggle for me, first I want to briefly explain what Charlotte Mason understands discipline to be within education.

Education is a Disicpline: All About the Heart & Habits

By Education is a discipline, is meant the discipline of habits formed definitely and thoughtfully, whether habits of mind or body.” Vol. 1, Preface

Charlotte Mason believed that the character of a child was the most important part of their education. It was the parent’s primary responsibility to steadily form in their children habits – both of their hands and of their hearts – that would aid them as they grow into adults.

Some of CM’s formation of habits included:

  • cleanliness
  • courtesy
  • order
  • fortitude
  • generosity
  • gentleness
  • respect
  • obedience
  • imagining
  • observation
  • self-control
  • thanksgiving
  • truthfulness

The ultimate “goal” in the formation of habits in children is the child’s mastery of self: that is, self-control and self-discipline. Sonya Schafer in her e-book, Education Is, says that we (as parents),

…guide them with discipline from without until they can make the transition to discipline themselves from within.” 

Year after year, as we work alongside our children, diligently and with persistence, our children will slowly learn to work within themselves the discipline that leads to a joy of life: freedom. The more a child is in control of their heart and habits, the more freedom in life they will have. It’s one of those divine dichotomies: the more we limit, the more freedom we have.

This seems very straight forward and I believe wholeheartedly in it. But I struggle with this aspect of the Charlotte Mason life among the three-prongs of education. Why?

It All Starts With Me

That’s it, really.

Forming children of character with responsible habits lands primarily at the feet of the mother. It is her burden to carry since the children spend the majority of their time with her. God has given her that task of laying down the rails that will lead to their freedom in later life, and he has equipped the woman with attributes that lend herself to this task.

And this is why it’s so hard: I struggle with self-discipline myself. If I battle to have mastery over my own heart and habits, how can I consistently attend to my own children with joy, persistance, and fortitude?

Because that is what it takes to raise balanced, God-loving, kind, loving, and enjoyable adults – joy of the Lord, in it for the long haul, holding on to truth when it is tough. This is a daunting task and one that I know I ought not to take lightly. Why else did I choose to have children? To make me happy? Or fulfill some selfish desire?

I definitely started motherhood out that way. Not purely in a selfish way, of course. But, as the years begin to go on and the Lord opens the eyes of my heart to the task before me, I see how much deeper motherhood goes.

I see how much more a servant heart is needed.

I see the roots of a submissive heart reach, not just toward my dear husband as his wife, but as a mother coming under the needs of her children.

I see that the discipline of the hearts and habits of my children requires a depth of discipline in myself – who I am and how I behave on a daily basis – and is a level of hard work that I never realised. And I find myself baulking at that, often.

The Hard Work Comes From Conflict

Not only is the responsibility and authenticity of parenting in a transparent and exemplary way hard work, so is the actual forming of my children. The reason why they need help with their hearts and habits is because they are people. And what are people? Sinners.

Mothering is basically a continual battle of the wills. The will of the mother (who knows what is good, what is right, what is God-honouring – however imperfectly and fallen) to the will of the child (who knows only limitedly and spends much energy on feeling and egotistical instinct). And how is that easy?

There is no other way … but a certain strenuousness in the formation of good habits is necessary because every such habit is the result of conflict.” ~ Charlotte Mason, Vol.6, p.102

Strenuousness and conflict. How can I do this???

Labouring and Striving…With Help

This is why my personal verse for motherhood (and which is always at the end of one of my email newsletters) is Colossians 1:29:

We proclaim Him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labour, striving with all His energy working in me.”

And that is the key, isn’t it? This is the only way we can see the responsibility before us as mothers and press on, not running away or giving up that responsibility to someone else. Christ is that key. His power is that key.

Both Christ and I work in tandem as I raise His children: I labour and strive to present these children perfect (or, doing all I can to lead them to Christ where only He saves them and takes over) for Him while He works His life-giving, death-defying, healing and divine power in me.

I cannot do this without Him.

So as I struggle with my own self-discipline in my heart and habits, I can take comfort. He is perfecting the good work He has started in me, and He will finish it. Part of finishing it is the many years He has asked me to mother children, who will battle against me (because I represent the Spirit in their life), and who won’t make it easy.

But nothing on this earth that has any eternal worth or significance will be easy or require little of us. So let us not balk, but press on deeper.

  1. This was timely for me to read Sarah, as I have been getting ready to start homeschooling again at the end of the summer holidays here in a few weeks. Thank you for the encouragement 🙂

    1. I’m glad it helped, though it felt like a verbal explosion to me – I didn’t realise I was pondering all those thoughts!

    1. Hi Kelly! I really recommend For the Children’s Sake by Susan MaCauley Schaeffer who wrote about a Charlotte Mason education/philosophies, but in a way we easily understand. Or, on Ambleside Online you can get her works for free in modern English. Hope that helps! Sounds like you’re just like us 🙂

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