We discussed CM Volume 3 Chapter 3 (Masterly Inactivity) at our book club Monday night. I have been working toward an understanding of masterly inactivity for months now, and it was helpful to hash it out with the wise women of our group.
Before I present my little epiphany, let me preface with this: often, things that are obvious to others are simply not obvious to me. I do not know why this is, but it is an evident fact. I expect that I am the only mom looking at this blog that needs this information-- most of you know intuitively what I am about to explain for those of us (me) who are a little dense. But I have to put it down somewhere, so here it is.
According to CM, masterly inactivity can be defined as "the power to act, the desire to act, and the insight and self-restraint which forbid action:
But there is, from our point of view at any rate, a further idea conveyed in 'masterly inactivity.' The mastery is not over ourselves only; there is also a sense of authority, which our children should be as much aware of when it is inactive as when they are doing our bidding. The sense of authority is the sine quâ non of the parental relationship, and I am not sure that without that our activities or our inactivity will produce any great results. This element of strength
is the backbone of our position. 'We could an' if we would' and the children know it––They are free under authority, which is liberty; to be free without authority is license. Vol. 3 p. 28-29
He 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... Is the distinction between being free to choose the right at one's own option, and not free to do the wrong, too subtle to be grasped, too elusive to be practical? It may be so, but it is precisely the distinction which we are aware of in our own lives so far as we keep ourselves consciously under the divine governance. We are free to go in the ways of right living, and have the happy sense of liberty of choice, but the ways of transgressors are hard. We are aware of a restraining hand in the present, and of sure and certain retribution in the future. Just this delicate poise is to be aimed at for the child. He must be treated with full confidence, and must feel that right-doing is his own free choice, which his parents trust him to make; but he must also be very well aware of the deterrent force in the background, watchful to hinder him when he would do wrong. CM Volume 3 p. 32
Being free to choose the right at one's own option, and not free to do the wrong, has been too subtle for me to grasp. ;o) But I think I understand it now.
There are two ditches that one may fall into, on either side of masterly inactivity. The first is taking a laissez faire approach, letting kids choose whatever and suffer natural or logical consequences*. This gives the child freedom to do right or wrong, which puts him in a very nervous position:
...He may choose either good or evil, he may obey or not obey, he may tell the truth or tell a lie; and, even when he chooses aright, he does so at the cost of a great deal of nervous wear and tear. CM Volume 3 p. 32
Don't you feel sorry for a child in this position? He has no one watching his back, guiding him, protecting him from going down a wrong path!
The other ditch is when the parent orchestrates the child's every move, rarely (or never) allowing the child enough freedom of movement or choice to strengthen his will to do right:
The child who is good because he must be so, loses in power of initiative more than he gains in seemly behaviour. Every time a child feels that he chooses to obey of his own accord, his power of initiative is strengthened. The bearing-rein may not be used. When it occurs to a child to reflect on his behaviour, he should have that sense of liberty which makes good behaviour appear to him a matter of his preference and choice. CM Volume 3 p. 31
I have been in both of these ditches.
How do we give our kids the freedom to choose right, along with the understanding that the way of transgressors is hard? CM says it is with masterly inactivity. This brings us back to the question, What IS masterly inactivity??
This is what I came up with:
1. The parent has to be obedient to the Person in authority over her. This means she is not free to use unkind speech, guilt trips, manipulation or other sinful practices to influence her children. (Yes, we know what is best for them, and they can be so stubborn sometimes; but using "whatever works" is pragmatism, plain and simple. To quote Popeye, "Wrong is wrong, even if it helps ya.")
2. The parent must be Parental, to have confidence in her ability to parent. This means she has to decide what is best for the children, and only allow them choices within those boundaries. (Let your yea be yea and your nay be nay-- no caving in to whining or wheedling!) And she must be honest about when there are truly very few right choices and when she simply has a personal preference she would like satisfied. We are not here to get our way: we are here to raise children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. If it really makes no difference whether the child wears her purple sneakers or her pink ones, we ought not to force our own preference. On the other hand, it is not good parenting to let a child decide whether or not she will eat her vegetables at lunch.
3. The parent must have confidence in her child's ability to do right, and give him the "happy sense of liberty of choice". This does not mean we leave them to themselves; after all, "a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame." We are to train them in right-doing, nourish them on noble ideas, be a good example ourselves, be watchful. We must be sphinx-like in our repose (which description conjures up an image of someone who is watchful without being obvious). But we must restrain ourselves in order to let the children choose right. Sometimes they will choose wrong, and it is at those times we must step in to help the child learn about the way of transgressors. *This is where natural and/or logical consequences can be useful. Sometimes children are too stubborn to learn from any but Hard Experience! But to completely abandon the child to those consequences, absent any guidance, is negligence. Our guidance and protection is definitely needed, and must be balanced with enough freedom to strengthen their initiative toward good. As CM put it, "the bearing rein may not be used." The book Black Beauty has got a vivid illustration of what the use of a bearing rein does to a horse (read the whole thing if you can):
Day by day, hole by hole, our bearing reins were shortened, and instead of looking forward with pleasure to having my harness put on, as I used to do, I began to dread it. Ginger, too, seemed restless, though she said very little. At last I thought the worst was over; for several days there was no more shortening, and I determined to make the best of it and do my duty, though it was now a constant harass instead of a pleasure... --Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (Ch. 22)
We do not want to constantly harass our children, but to teach them the pleasure of doing their duty.
I hope I have come closer to understanding this concept in the last week. I am interested to know if all you CMers out there think I have got it right or if I am still off-base. Please leave a comment and tell me what you think.
And will you pray for me, and for all of us attempting to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? I find analyzing the writings of Charlotte Mason so much easier than consistently applying the principles. Let's remember each other in prayer as we go about our daily duties.