As I read through Charlotte Mason’s lectures, I am a little saddened that her bright optimism over natural law and it’s effect on human nature back in 1895 is replaced by a more somber and less effusive view by the time she has finished her writings around the 1920s, as Britain never recovers from the First World War.
She speaks with admirable charity of how all families, whether Christ centred or agnostic can (and at this point in her writing she believes will) conform their consciences and habits with natural law. I wonder if, at this point, she has natural law a little confused by the laws of nature and therefore forms the opinion that it is a law of nature that human families will grow in good sense and love.
By the time she is writing Ourselves (pub 1904) she has already moved somewhat from this position. Ourselves is a book that is very obviously inspired by St Teresa of Avila’s writings on the mansions of the Interior Castle. This gives a more robust and realistic view of the hard work entailed in forming a good person.
In the lectures, Miss Mason talks of the Christocentric family in some fascinating ways, beginning with an exegesis on Christ’s words in Scripture about children and how they should be loved. She then makes a very important warning:
Now, believing parents have no right to lay up this crucial difficulty in their children. They have no right, for instance to pray that their children may be truthful, diligent, upright, and at the same time neglect to acquaint themselves with those principles of moral science, the observance of which will guide into truthfulness, diligence and uprightness of character.
In other words, God isn’t there to bring our children up for us; we are endowed with the authority to do that work WITH Him – that is we pro-create our children where pro means jointly.
I think it is fair to say (I can’t be the only one to have seen this) that while there are some parents who have no faith who believe that their children are naturally good and will simply grow up if left to their own devices; so there are Christian parents who think they need not form their children’s habits as it’s up to God to make them good. This seems to me to be why some apparently very holy people have such horribly behaved children.
I suspect things are more difficult for parents now than when Miss Mason spoke to those mothers in Bradford, for a number of reasons. From the Christology point of view, Jesus has been made into a cuddly, softie who would never dream of making a whip and throwing people out of the temple. He isn’t going to discipline or punish us – so we, copy that and refuse to discipline our children.
I am too old and too grumpy these days to care what other people think, so I am quite happy to put my children on the naughty step or make them minutely study the front door if they need to - regardless of who is around. I do remember feeling very embarassed and horrible the first couple of times I decided to go ahead with this. But what I have found is that other mothers are more willing to do the same.
As one mum said to her friend over having to put her son by my front door one day. “Oh no, I wasn’t embarrassed; it was Shell’s house.” LOL
I have become relaxed at removing privileges as well; no chocolate snacks or fun toys to play with – or whatever privilege has been removed. I know that I am not always consistant and sometimes tend to shout rather than do but, you see, that is where God comes in. He makes up for my lack, but I don’t expect Him to do it all while I sit back and chill.
One day I am going to have to answer to Him for how I did my mothering (and wifeing), and while Dr Ray advices “Don’t take credit when they are good, then you wont take the blame when they are bad” – which has truth to it, I know that however they turn out, I have to try and form them and their consciences to give them the best chance of turning out right.
Of course this side of education has no tick box, but I have come across some American Christian curriculum that includes forming manners, kindness, honesty and diligence in the children.
If we love them we will form them or else those who don’t love them will do it in a far more painful way.