Our guest author for this post is Kimberley Lorden, co-founder of Ambleside Colorado.
I was the mother of three young boys. I was trying hard. I wanted to be a “good mom” whose boys obeyed, showed kindness, worked hard, and were diligent to clean up after themselves. But at any given moment I would focus on their dumped toys and strewn shoes, or on the near constant agitation between the brothers, or on some lack or slack that I saw glaring in their character, or I would retreat to ignore them for a while in an attempt to regain my own peace. But soon, any peace would unravel and I’d be back into the fray, trying to stay a step ahead of my trio of chaos. It was my wits against theirs, and my wits were worn out. Too often I didn’t enjoy them, and even more discouraging, I didn’t enjoy myself – who enjoys a nagging, harried person who talks too much? Who enjoys a petty tyrant who meddles over small things?
I was huffing and puffing. I was exhausted.
Then one evening I attended a book study where a wise woman (Ginnie Wilcox, Principal of Ambleside of McLean) said these words: “Rather than being like the wind, huffing and puffing to blow your little boats where you want them to go; instead, be like the sun, that warms the air, that moves the wind, that blows the boats steadily to their right destination.”
Well, that blew my mind. Clearly I had been huffing and puffing and I wanted to change. But how could it possibly work to be more like the sun? I’d much rather be strong and steady like the sun, but how could that get our three little bobbing sailboats to any predictable destination?
This idea (as with all ideas we allow into our minds) was like a seed that began to sprout and grow. I began to see our children and my role in a completely new way.
I began to take steps up to a more peaceful place in my authority – not as a petty tyrant, but as one placed in this role of parent by God, and thus under his deputed authority to govern my home well. My role was both bigger and more relaxed than I’d seen it before.
I began to hold in my mind a picture of our children’s “desired destination:” the kind of people God would have them to be when they are, say, 30 years old. And I took responsibility for setting a joyful, peaceful atmosphere in my home, which was conducive to growing healthy relationships. I began to do right, simply because it was right. And the boys’ obedience and peace followed mine. Slowly the fog began to clear so that I could see more clearly how to gently train them in healthy habits, and gracefully sprinkle worthy ideas that would grow in them so they would have the power to set their own sails to move them toward a desirable destination. And I stopped trying to take hold of the rudders of their lives, which had only caused resentment.
Over time, everything changed.
My parenting moved from having many small rules to a few principles (such as, be kind, be true, do your best, do what you know is right) with the gentle force of “must” behind them. I learned to give settled, proactive, kindly stated statements, such as, “As soon as the playroom is picked up, we’ll have dinner.” “After you play peacefully together for a while, we’ll ask a friend over.” (In response to a complaint…) “You don’t have to ‘like it’…but you do need to do it.” (Or in response to a big fuss…) “Son, pain is inevitable, but misery is optional.” “It is a joy to help our neighbor.” “I so enjoy you, and I see you aren’t your ‘best self’ right now; let’s read a book together to settle ourselves a bit.”
Soon, the fretfulness and discontent in my children began to diminish, and they also diminished in me. The boys became more free under authority, which is liberty. “[The child] is free to do as he ought, but knows quite well in his secret heart that he is not free to do that which he ought not…Every time a child feels that he chooses to obey of his own accord, his power of initiative is strengthened.” (C. Mason)
The atmosphere of our home became more natural, hopeful, and purposeful. Parenting “like the sun” involved becoming a good-humored, bright-faced, rightful authority — warm, loving, far-seeing, and consistent. I became a confident presence rather than an anxious meddler.
I later found that this new way of parenting has a name: Masterly Inactivity, “quiet watchfulness without fuss.” And it isn’t new at all. It is most poetically expounded in these wonderful quotes from Charlotte Mason…
“A blessed thing in our mental constitution is, that once we receive an idea, it will work itself out, in thought and act, without much after-effort on our part; and, if we admit the idea of ‘masterly inactivity’…, we shall find ourselves framing our dealings with children from this standpoint, without much conscious effort.”
“Parents should trust themselves more. Everything is not done by restless endeavor. The mere blessed fact of the parental relationship and of that authority which belongs to it, by right and by nature, acts upon the children as do sunshine and shower on a seed in good soil. But the fussy parent, the anxious parent, the parent who explains overmuch, who commands overmuch, who excuses overmuch, who restrains overmuch, who interferes overmuch, even the parent who is with the children overmuch, does away with dignity and simplicity of that relationship which, like all the best and most delicate things in life, suffer by being asserted or defended.”
“…the highest art lies in ruling without seeming to do so…in the family, as in the State, the best government is that in which peace and happiness, truth and justice, religion and piety, are maintained without the intervention of the law. Happy is the household that has few rules…, and where ‘Mother does not like this,’ and, ‘Father wishes that,’ are all-constraining.”
“Let children alone…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.”
Finally, this manner of purposeful repose in mothering requires my confidence, my faith, that God is working in my children in ways I must be careful not to hinder. I must have my eyes on him, be humble before him, and remember that I co-labor with him in his work.
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt. 11:29)
If you have questions about these ideas, I’d be delighted to discuss them with you. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.