Epiphany is in its Octave but will soon pass and while we will still be in Christmastide until Candlemas, the weeks of winter can drag slow and dreary for mothers and children alike.
Here, I think, is an opportunity to lean into grace and particularly the grace of exercising our wills in choosing cheerfulness and joy and emanating that atmosphere in our homes. Yes, the days are short and grey and the nights long and cold. Yes, we all feel the let down that comes after days of celebration. We are meant to feel those things. We are meant to walk through Christ’s life of service through to Lent and Penitence and only then onward to Easter Joy! Our seasonal and liturgical life mirrors His Life and His Life was fully human. Full of the opportunity to be discouraged, tired, and depressed. Full of the weariness that comes with a hard slog through the Judean hills (for Him) and a never ending pile of laundry and dishes (for us). Being “weary unto death” is not sin! Feeling like the work we are doing is futile and will just have to be repeated tomorrow is not sin! We see Christ in the Gospels tired, discouraged, irritated, and in need of the rest of the Spirit and of just being left alone for a bit. We see too that He was able to still serve and love in those circumstances out of His perfect humanity.
I sometimes think “Oh of course, Jesus, could feed the five thousand kindly and patiently even when He was weary. He’s God.” That’s true, but in re-reading the passage recently I was struck by this thought. Christ asks the disciples what there is to eat, takes the food, prays to His Father asking for His blessing on the food and THEN the loaves and fishes multiply. He serves in His humanity and His human soul with its perfect trust in the goodness of the GOOD God is open to the GOOD God’s blessing when and how it comes. It’s not ” He was God so He did a miracle” but ” He was fully human with perfect trust in His Father and His Father worked through Him.”
Ah! This gives hope! If Christ could trust and let the Father work through Him, so can I lean into grace, be open to the Spirit and let the Father work through me in feeding my small tribe the 5,000 meals they want and need. First, I must see them with compassion then trust that God in His Goodness (not that He does Good but that He IS Good) will provide not just what is needed for physical strength but also what is needed for spiritual strength for the journey of the day.
January and February are for us a kind of travel through the dusty, hot, Judean hills. The way is long, the work is hard and yet “His grace is sufficient in our weakness”
If you follow me on IG (@kyndrasteinmann) you’ve seen that I’ve been adjusting our main routines for the day. I find that I have to do this about once a year now the children are big for the most part and it makes sense to do that towards the end of summer in order to make the adjustment back to lesson time easier.
I tend to think of our days as having a basic framework (the Day Frame) with buckets of time within the framework that can be used for projects, play, or lessons depending on the day and the time of the year. The Day Frame is driven by rising and going to bed times, meals, and activities that happen outside of the home.
This year I have two students attending our local Catholic high school (one full time and one part time) who will need to leave the house about 7 am and will be gone until 2:30 or so. One of them is planning to join a competitive high school rowing team, so he will have practice from 3:30-5:30 each week day. The other one will probably do basketball later in the year.
We have other evening activities for some family members four evenings out of the week (choir, two dance lessons, Civil Air Patrol, Chess) so both ends of the Day Frame are effected.
How I adjust the Day Frame
My first step is to think about and make a list of things going well and things that need to change. I think about whose responsibility those things are, what I might need to change in my own time or actions (does a child need more training in a task? is someone ready to move up a chore level?) and when in the day the task should fall.
Next I think about my own needs: what work is there that is mine alone? what do I need to do that work? time? space? when will I get up? when will I go to bed? I draft out my schedule in blocks with some blocks before everyone else is up and active and some blocks after everyone is in bed or during “free time” (more on this later). I add up the time for each block across a week and decide if that is enough time to do what I need to do or at least chip away at it.
Digression into Work Habits
Chipping away at things is a very important concept. Right now our basement is in some disarray because of moving bedrooms around. I’m really the only one who can restore order down there because I’m the only one who can decide what should be trashed and how things should be stored. That’s fine but I have learned that I cannot dedicate large chunks of time to that kind of project all at once. I get overwhelmed and the children begin to feel disconnected and quarrelsome if I am too focused on a project that they cannot help with. Instead I put that project on my list multiple times in a week for as little as 20 minutes or as much as an hour (but no more than that). I choose a specific goal – get all the handcraft supply bins back on shelves with labels and lids – and work at that and only that for the allotted time. Items that turn up that aren’t handcraft supplies are put in a designated space or bin until their turn comes. About 10 minutes before I am to finish, I look at where I am and decide what I need to do- sweep, throw out trash, put sticky notes on things, etc.- in order to complete the work block and leave the project in a way that is easy to return to. This means I can leave the project feeling like I have made progress and knowing that the next time it shows up one my list I’ll know what the next step towards completion is.
I do the same thing with household chores. It is much, much easier to do a little bit three times a day then to do one massive work block. Messes are rarely made all at once and cleaning up multiple times a day keeps the tasks short. The other advantage is that the tasks are repetitive throughout the day which means that I can offer more consistent follow up and training to each child. Note on the charts below how many tasks show up morning, noon, and evening!
Doing many small tasks several times a day means that things stay tidy and clean and no one ever has a large, daunting task.
OK Back to Day Frame Changes
The second piece I look at is meals: who needs to eat when, what kind of meal do they need, what snacks are needed and so on. For this adjustment in the Day Frame – I’ve decided to make a major shift in our meals to a family breakfast (large and very protein based), a good sized lunch (fairly large and protein based for people at home, high school kids will usually eat school lunch), and a late afternoon Tea Time (smaller, includes a savoury and a sweet dish, still plenty of calories but more fat and carb based). I expect some kids will grab a quick glass of milk or bread and butter at bedtime but for the most part Tea will be the last meal of the day. This schedule maximizes a few things: Breakfast is the one meal when I know everyone is home, my children who tend to have low blood sugar will get a good start to the day, I’m fresher and more able to cook in the morning without distractions and also managing evening chores and such, Tea at 4pm means that children can play, ride bikes and be out of doors in the summer evenings and they are fed before evening activities without feeling rushed. I’m working on developing 4 weeks worth of menus to simplify the cooking and grocery shopping and I’m expecting once the school year starts that we will dedicate one Saturday each month to batch cooking certain things and freezing them.
Chore times are linked to meals and given the schedule of the school year, I’m switching over to assigned teams for certain parts of the day. Since the high school kids won’t be home in the mornings and I’m not ready to have kids doing chores at 5 am, the three younger ones and I will tackle the Morning Chores. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays the members of our learning community will be here and they will help with the noon chores. On Tuesdays and Thursdays the younger kids and I will do them. High school kids will do the Evening Chores and cover for each other when they have outside activities in the evening. I’ll work with them as I find that chore time can be a good connection time when I am only working with one or two children.
Saturdays tend to start slowly around here unless there is an activity for one or more children (Civil Air Patrol events are often on Saturdays and frequently start early!) They can end up being very puttery and so unstructured that children end up feeling quarrelsome so I’m planning to adjust some of that time as well.
I’ve made a list of Saturday cleaning jobs for the whole family to work at. Probably an hour or so of work if the daily chores have been done all week.
I’m hoping to do more projects. When I was growing up, my dad worked in town during the week and on Saturdays we worked together building sheds, getting firewood, and doing all of the myriad things that 40 acres and animals require. I remember finding it tedious at times as a child and my father getting super frustrated at points but mostly I look back on those days as extremely important in my formation of getting projects done, problem solving and being willing to tackle any job and learn as we went.
One weekend a month, I want to put into batch cooking both of ingredients (sauteed onions, pasta sauce etc) and of easy to heat and use meals (things the high school kids can take to school and microwave for example).
Sundays are a bit tricky since the Mass we attend is at 12:30 pm and we usually don’t get home until 2:30 or 3 so I’m thinking that we will move towards more of a Sunday High Tea and perhaps even be able to have company on those days. We’ll need to do some planning and cooking on Saturday if this is to work.
Regardless of the day, the Day Frame ends with Evening Prayer and bedtime. My goal is everyone in their room by 7:30 and lights out by 8:30 for most of the children. The high school students will have to get up at 5 am and breakfast will be at 6:15 am so early bedtimes will be better for everyone. I’m trying to re-establish my own habit of lights out at 9:30 pm for myself since my alarm goes off at 5am as well. Winding down the day with prayers, snuggles, and books provides that gradual calming of body and spirit that is so necessary to good rest. When winter evenings draw in and the children can no longer play out of doors after 5pm I will add in read alouds and handwork after tea.
It’s been a long minute since the last time I posted here! Life is busy and ever moving and the brain space for writing has been rather absent- never mind the time!
I’m over on IG a good bit these days (@kyndrasteinmann) so that’s a good place to catch up.
We have a little learning community that meets in our house three days a week, all studying together with different mothers teaching different subjects across Forms 1B-3 (Grades 1-8) using the curriculum selections and guides from www.thecmec.org. The first year it was my five plus two others, last year it was my five (but Stuart was part time at our local Classical Catholic High School) plus six others, and this year it will be Stuart (still splitting time between home lessons and the high school), William (Form 3), Jack (Form 2B), and Betsy (Form 1A), plus 11 other students. Full house!
The CMEC provides book lists and guides for how to teach the subjects, as well as some content where books need updates and extensions. We do all of the lesson plans for a wide range of lessons from Bible to Handcrafts and Art Instruction. A good bit of my summer is spent pre-reading the books, making notes and learning myself before I go on to offer the lessons to the children.
I’m not going to name all the books but I am going to give a few highlights that I am really looking forward to:
Science/ Nature Study
I am super happy with all of our Science across the grades. The Mason approach to education begins by encouraging the children to notice and to know the flora, fauna, geology, and geography of their own place and then expand that knowledge in particularity (study of particular phenomena and species) and in general (habitats, groups of species, general science).
This year the Form 1 students (1st-3rd grades) will be using Life in Ponds and Rivers by Arabella Buckley and The Burgess Animal Book by Thorton Burgess. Both of these books are written in an easy, conversational style. They teach a great deal about the life of a particular place – ponds and rivers – as well as the life of various species through studying the life of a representative of that species. Alongside the readings, the students will keep notebooks with their own drawings as well as pictures from magazines.
Form 2B (4th/5th grade) students continue their study of particular species using Arabella Buckley’s Life and Her Children. They will begin with the simplest one celled creatures and move up through the animal kingdom reaching starfish by the end of the year. They will also begin a book on General Science (covering basic knowledge of the solar system this year) and spend time each week doing various demonstrations of physical phenomena such as the properties of air. For each of these books they will keep a science notebook with drawings, diagrams, and records of the results of their demonstrations.
Form 2A (5th/6th grades) uses the same books but further on (since they began them last year). They also go through the five lectures of Michael Faraday on The Chemical History of a Candle which gives them a good grasp of basic chemistry as well as respiration.
Form 3 (7th/8th grades) uses Arabella Buckley’s second book, Winners in Life’s Race, to study Birds and Mammals. Next year they will circle back to the beginning of the book for Fish, Amphibians, and Reptiles. They also take on Botany and Astronomy as a discrete subjects, as well as continuing with General Science which is mostly geared towards Physics this year.
All of the Forms engage in Nature Study, using Richard Headstrom’s The Living Year. Headstrom was an Massachusetts naturalist so we find this book very helpful for helping us know what to look for in any particular month.
Last year we used the Strayer-Upton Math books for all the Forms and I was so pleased with the amount of mathematical thinking that the students gained and the joy they experienced in what is often a difficult and tear inducing lesson. These books were written in the 1930s and have been reissued in hardcover by Rainbow Resource. Each book is used for two or three years so they are well worth the $14!
The one thing I did not like about them was that I had to do a fair bit of planning in thinking how many pages to cover, how many problems to do, how to test knowledge and so on. This year, I am super happy to be using the Guides to Strayer-Upton from Emily and Heather at Beauty and Truth Math. Emily and Heather are homeschool moms and math lovers (as well as teachers) and their guides are easy to use and encouraging.
They recognize that many homeschool moms feel that they are weak in math and approach it with trepidation and that many moms are proficient in doing problems but don’t know how to think mathematically and so can’t explain the “why” behind the operations or show their students the connections between various kinds of mathematical work. Currently the Guides cover Years 1-4 (so the first and second Strayer-Upton books) as well as Practical Geometry. Year 5 is in the works as well as a guide to Jacob’s Geometry. I’m going to have to prep those years for myself this year, but I’ll be sending my notes to Emily and Heather in hopes that they will find them helpful.
They offer a ton of support materials to help develop you as a teacher in general and a math teacher in particular and are happy to answer questions as well about things like placement. All of the printables for the early grades are included in a separate file and linked in the lessons. The Guides plus the Strayer-Upton books would work as an open and go curriculum, but spending some time reading through the teacher materials is extremely valuable and I would highly recommend it.
It’s January. The holidays and the holiday excitement is wearing off and the weather is cold and rather unpleasant to be out in for long on most days. We are looking at another six weeks or so before the weather turns nice and the evening dark is after 6 pm. The children are bursting with energy and see few outlets or much likelihood of there being many outlets for the next several weeks. Moods are volatile. Little kids vary between wild play and tears, followed by “I don’t know what to do” and mother must not only manage her own mood and emotions but try to help them find their way.
These middle years with six to ten year olds are tricky. They aren’t little people who could be given naps and for whom a dance party would serve as a sufficient outlet for energy when coupled with carrying laundry hampers and moving chairs (heavy work). These bigger children want purposeful work and purposeful play. They still need rest but even there they want to feel like they are doing something. Yet the doing can’t always be work or something they perceive as work and I find I have to be very aware of when the things they are doing begin to feel onerous instead of joyous.
Over the past several months I’ve been reading Charlotte Mason’s volume Parents and Children as well as listening to the workshops from The CMEC’s Conference on Formation of Character. Mason’s advice on helping children to “change their thoughts” when they are feeling fussy or struggling with some aspect of life seems to me to be an important key to happy winter days.
Changing your thoughts isn’t denying the feelings but instead giving yourself a bit of a break from them so that later you can distinguish whether things were really as bad as you felt in the moment.
For example: the 10 year old likes to go and read Tintin books for an hour or so in the afternoon. As he and his sister are constant companions, she tends to feel very abandoned by him during this time and unable to find any absorbing occupation of her own. This comes out in wails of “nobody likes me anymore”, ” I just don’t know what to do” and so on. Since she is quite capable of playing by herself for hours and since she knows that her family does indeed like her, this is a good opportunity to teach her to change her thoughts and do something she finds pleasant until her brother has finished his reading time.
I am trying to keep a little list of pleasant things for her to do, so that I can cheerfully suggest one and get her started as soon as she starts to feel unhappy. That way she comes to associate his reading time with a pleasant time for herself. My hope is that as she grows older she will learn which activities help her to feel settled and then able to tackle life again. She is young so we don’t really go back later and talk about why she was upset as I find that at this age too much introspection is likely to cause a kind of brooding attitude. I may say something cheerfully like ” Wasn’t it nice that you got some time with Mary (her doll) this afternoons? Did she like the supper you cooked for her while Jack was reading?” . That kind of statement I think helps her to see that she can choose to have a pleasant time herself.
Similarly, for the nine year old I am trying to find little ways to infuse his regular duties and recreations with fresh interest so he finds them absorbing and can see the joy in them. Recently I saw that he was finding his helping around the household to be a burden rather than a delight. Part of the reason was that he saw that he was being far more diligent than some of his older siblings and he felt like he was lifting their load as well as his own. He’s happy to do that if one of them is ill but felt that he shouldn’t being doing “their work”. There was some resentment and also some anxiety as he really does like things to be clean and tidy and was starting to feel like the only way that would happen was if he did it all.
He is older so we did have a little talk about not being resentful of those whom we see not working as hard as we do. I told him that I really appreciate his helpfulness and reliability and then I encouraged that attitude by offering to pay him a dollar for any day in which he cleaned up after himself and did ten helpful things without my having to ask or to follow up and see that the things were done. He is trying to save up enough money to buy his first beehive and the necessary equipment for beekeeping so the thought that he could earn towards that goal helped him to shift his thoughts away from ” I’m working and my siblings aren’t ” to ” If I do these jobs and do them well, I’ll be closer to having bees”. That attitude shift in turn has eased his relationships with his siblings.
This approach of helping children to change their thoughts through self care or a change in incentive definitely takes some forethought on my part as well as time to observe the children. I find that it increases my need to be present and yet not necessarily actively engaged until the moment of crisis. When I do find that place of “masterly inactivity” (another Charlotte Mason idea) though I can quickly steer away from the point that leads to tears and help the child change their thoughts and manage their moods and emotions. The child feels loved and supported and the household is happier. Slowly they are starting to recognize the points at which they need to act to change their own thoughts and the kinds of actions that will help to do that. It is my prayer that these skills will carry into adulthood and help them to manage their lives in happy and fruitful ways.
I’ve been thinking a good deal about the Latin word discipulus these last few days. It means studentand is where the words disciple and discipline come from.
In no particular order:
If students are also disciples then they are supposed to imitate the teacher. What are they seeing to imitate?
We think of discipline as a bad thing, as punishment, but really it means more like a pattern of life that disciples copy and then make their own (“it is enough for a student to be life his teacher, for a disciple to be like his master”)
If Jesus made disciples by having them follow him around and see what He did etc. then how should the Church make disciples? Paul, too, talks of imitation “be ye imitators of me as I am of Christ.”
In modern understanding students are kind of empty sacks to be filled with whatever the teacher is teaching. The teacher is an authority because he or she knows more than the student – the authority is vested in the teacher’s own knowledge level.
When I read the Ancient Greeks or other pre-Enlightenment teachers I see two things- the Greek philosophers consider their students to already have information and the teachers job to be to help them put the information into a reasonable relation and that the authority of a teacher comes not from his knowledge but is deputed to his office by a Higher Authority.
If discipline is imitation of a teacher’s life and building the habits to make that imitation your own then teachers must be careful to imitate their Teacher.
There is joy and security in following the pattern set forth by a Greater Authority. I get glimpses of this in my own life but find that the cultural push to be my own definition of good makes it hard to rest in this. Man has been trying to prove that he is the center and pinnacle of the Universe for centuries and it’s not working so well.
“For I myself am a man under Authority…” is perhaps the greatest statement of Faith in the Scriptures.
Discipleship goes beyond discipline to hearts and souls that are aligned towards the reason for the discipleship but you can’t get to the alignment without the disciplines.
BUT human beings like easy answers and often mistake the disciplines that should align us to God for God Himself.
As we think about parenting and the formation of the children, it is helpful to look at the places where Christ interacts with children and speaks about them in the Gospels. Really we find only a little bit here but because what He says and does sets up a principle for us, I think that we will find that it covers all circumstances.
What Does Christ Do?
In the midst of the disciples quarrel over who would be the greatest, He takes a child and sets him in their midst, telling them that they must be like the child and receive the child as they receive Him.
What Does Christ Say?
“Let the children come and do not hinder them….whoever offends one of these little ones it were better for him to have a millstone put about his neck and be thrown into the see…do not despise the children….”
So there is our model: to include and receive each of our children and to refrain from offending, despising, or hindering them.
What Does This Mean Practically?
When we hear the term “offend” we tend to think not of the action itself but of the emotional response of ruffled feelings and hurt that may or may not be a reasonable reaction. Offend is a verb first of all though, and it may be better understood here if we use the synonym of sin or transgress since the word translated as offend is one with a legal meaning in the original.
To offend in this sense means doing that which we should not or failing to do that which we should (sometimes called sins of omission and commission). Of course, this leads us into difficult territory right away, for we do not want to think of our parenting failures as sins against our children (and many of them are not intentionally so) and we may feel that it is impossible not to fail in these ways, and the children will be better off if we let them alone! We must not allow our own emotions to rule however, but in seeing ourselves and our children as Christ sees us we acknowledge our tendencies and seek to grow in holiness. And by seeing ourselves clearly we can be on guard and know when we must seek the forgiveness of our children for having offended them.
I think that the offense that comes because of doing something we shouldn’t will be related to our unique personhood and the things that stress us in ourselves and in our children and circumstances. I find that I am much more likely to deal crossly with the child who shares my weaknesses than with the one who shares my strengths especially when circumstances cause me to anticipate a stressful situation by pre-stressing about it! I am offending against myself by not acknowledging that a certain situation will be difficult and asking for needed help (omission) and against the children by snapping and snarling and not giving them the opportunity to be helpful (commission).
Similarly, the offense that comes from not doing something I should, is also first an offense against myself as I do not ask for grace to get up and do my duty of following up and parenting in the presence of my children – not hollering across the house but entering into the children’s presence as we grow in the family community. The children also suffer when I am inconsistent in habit formation and in noticing what they do well.
Mother Culture is our life itself- the things that we do that we have to do and that have great potential for filling us as we become more perfect image bearers of Christ. This is a growth time for us and we (and our children) are growing into the person whom we have been made to be and there is a joy in that growth which is often obscured by daily struggles. I think it is a joy that we must fight to hold onto, by seeing ourselves and our children and friends as Christ sees us and by noticing the small improvements and the taking joy in the mere fact of our children’s existence. I think too, that if we base our joy in our children in their being (personhood) and not in what they do (or don’t!) that it becomes easier for them to know that we like them and rejoice over them regardless of behaviors.
To joy is an action and we may choose it.
The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing. Zephaniah 3:17
It is 8 o’clock on a summer morning and only two children are awake! Our summer days have taken on a rhythm that allows the children to sleep and waken slowly, or to bounce from bed to pursue reading, or Lego creations, or bug hunting while I drink my tea and do a bit of this and that. Our days are full but unhurried as we work and play with a timetable to guide and assure that there is time for each of the “next things” that will occur.
With so many thinking about homeschooling or feeling overwhelmed by all of the turmoil in our current national life; I thought it might be helpful to think about schedules and how they can help or hinder us.
Schedules that Hinder
When the children were small I was keen to have a schedule. I naturally procrastinate and putter, and a schedule, I thought, would keep me on track and organize the children into doing what they should, when they should. I spent hours writing down a timetable in 15 minute increments and even more hours fussing and fuming when life didn’t fall neatly into those increments. Some days a task or lesson took five minutes and I had time on my hands and other days 55 minutes wouldn’t have been enough to accomplish even a part of the same task. My schedule was the most important thing and when thepeople the schedule was intended to regulate, didn’t regulate I was thrown into a frustrated tizzy!
This use of schedule while tidy and organized, forgot that the relationships and the atmosphere were more important than the tasks and neglected to serve those relationships. I adjusted and adjusted what we did, but the end was always frustration and tears because my goal for our schedule was to regulate behaviors rather than to provide space for building relationships while working at various tasks together or spending individual time on personal endeavors.
My schedule was a great hinderance to peaceful and joyful motherhood and family life because I was asking it to solve problems that were rooted in attitude and relationship.
Schedule as a Provider of Peace
Gradually, through study and prayer, I came to see that the schedule was intended as a tool that would release me from constant decision making over important minutia so that my attention could be free to focus on persons. The timetable mattered in the same way that the files in a file cabinet matter. It enabled me to see that there was time enough for everything without having to hurry.
A block of time could be allotted for lessons or housekeeping and with a simple list of tasks that would fit within that time frame we could do as many or as few as that day’s relationships allowed. Each day has its appointed tasks and if someone is sick or my insomnia has left me seriously sleep deprived we do fewer things within a block.
Certain tasks (math, for instance) should be done daily, and within the time table there is ample time for those and for the riches and extras, but if a math lesson is super difficult and needs to borrow some time from Art or Laundry Folding it is not a huge deal. The timetable will give us space in which to “catch up” or another person will pitch in to help finish the task.
As each person knows their piece of the puzzle there is far less decision fatigue for everyone and while I still have to do a fair bit of follow up with certain children to be sure that tasks are done well, there is less push back as they don’t feel that I am fussing and driving them so much. The schedule provides us with structure that frees us to work at our allotted tasks or to play in peace as we know that there is time available for what we are doing and for the other things that we need or want to do. The schedule serves us.
As I often do during the summer I am going to do a little series of three or four videos over the next week. These videos will be a small class on schedule making; with some of the things I’ve learned over the years and some practical application and hand outs. As I usually do, I’ll do them on Facebook Live but then save the videos to Youtube and post them here along with any handouts.
In considering the concept that “Children are born persons” we naturally have to consider the ways in which we perceive the children in our lives. There is a natural tendency to see the them as a groups: the big kids, the little boys and so on and this can be helpful at points. Or we may see them in terms of their attributes and behaviors: the diligent kid, the lazy one, the one who can fix anything. Again these can be a helpful way of seeing the children at times but they are hardly a way of seeing the individual persons, and if we cannot see the individuals how can we educate them in terms of academics suited to their uniqueness or form them spiritually with an eye to particular tendencies towards vice or virtue.
Do we see our children as persons or as collections of abilities, faults, gifts, problems and behaviors?
In other words:
Do we see them? Each child as the unique person that they are?
I think before we can see each child we need to ask if we see ourselves.
Recently I posted in our Mother Culture Group; asking each person to post the first three things that came to mind when they thought about themselves. Many of the women posted either three things that were negative or that they expected others to see as negative. “Too loud” rather than ” I have a big voice and am exuberant in nature.” The expectation seemed to be that the negative aspects of personality and character were more definitional than the positive aspects of those same traits.
There is definitely a place for being honest about our faults and weaknesses- we are broken creatures in a broken world, BUT we are also God’s handiwork from before time began each with our own, unique vocation of good works prepared for us before all time so that by His grace we might participate in the unbreaking of ourselves and of the whole cosmos.
Sit with that for a moment.
Created as God’s Handiwork
Before all time
With a unique vocation from before all time
To participate in the unbreaking and redemption of the cosmos
Does it change how you see yourself? How you see your weaknesses?
‘Tis the season of growth! Everywhere new plants are pushing up through the soil and people are changing what they did before to accommodate a life that is different than what they had planned.
Children are growing and changing too and by the time I got my coffee at 11 this morning, I had already settled 500 squabbles, 25 meltdowns, and given out 40 extra jobs for dawdling and bad attitudes! At least it felt that way.
I was reminded forcibly that for children some years are years of extreme growth while others are more steady and that extreme growth requires extra nourishment, extra support, and even some extra training and pruning if the full plant is to be strong, confident, and grace filled.
When I put seeds or seedlings into the garden, I don’t just walk away and hope that they will bear or even expect that they will. I tend them with water and weeding, with trellises and gentle training of vines and limbs along the paths where they will be best able to take advantage of the things I have no control over but which they need in order to thrive. Sometimes I don’t see results for weeks and then suddenly I can almost watch the plants fill out and grow taller between morning and evening.
It’s true of humans too- there is much happening under the surface for all of us and so there is much tending that needs to be done if we are to see timely and fruitful growth. This morning as I was working with a child who had chosen to do a certain chore poorly and now needed to do it well and even do a bit extra in order to bring their responsibility zone up to par, I started thinking about how hard it is to do the work of growing and how hard it is to walk alongside someone who is in a period of intense growth. How if we love someone we desire what is best for them and often that means that we must provide all that we can to help them succeed and then discipline ourselves to stand back and let them do their own hard work!
We cannot grow for someone else and no matter how much we may be able to see that if they would just ____things would go more smoothly, we really cannot make those decisions for them. If we try we may well find that we are actually hindering them from the very things that would enable them to grow.
It is a delicate balance as a parent. To see what would bring the child to being all that they were created to be, and to be able to provide them with the tools to reach that fullness and yet to hold back and let them try, let them fail, let them learn to root themselves deeply and reach out for what they need.
From Charlotte Mason’s “Twenty Principles of Education.” Principles 1, 3, and 4
There is a great deal of trust encapsulated in that simple phrase “Children are born persons.” We are invited to believe that our children have been given themselves and that we are called to love them, to disciple them and ultimately to stand aside as they take the tools we have given them and the grace they are offered and use it to be in fact persons living the calling that they have been given.
Understanding these concepts is foundational to parenting but how do we work this all out? How do we offer help to grasp the resources of growth and yet not smother the growth we are trying to encourage? We want the children to have the courage and strength to speak their minds and we want them to treat others with respect and courtesy- how to we set guidelines and give needed consequences. How guide the personalities and yet not encroach upon them in any way?
It is a matter for much prayer, much patience, and yes, much growth on our parts. When I consider how I parent the current preschooler versus the way in which I parented the older children at that age, I think that I am kinder and more patient. When I consider the next few years as the older children grow through their teens into adulthood, I know that I have much to grow into myself as I try to help them.
Indeed, at this point in the parenting journey, I have many more questions than I do inklings of direction. My mind grasps the truth of holding on and letting go together but my heart cannot see how this might be in life with each of the personalities at play. I must grow myself in an intentional way in this area seeking out friends, books, and discussions that will help me to see each child and to love and help them as they grow. I must pray daily for patience and grace and then use the patience and grace I am given in order to grow. and I must let go of the results and recognize that none of the growth is the result of my effort, but is instead a gift as each of the persons involved becomes what they were made to be.
Where are your places? Where do you find yourself most firmly rooted? Where do you go when life is too much and you need to breathe?
Lately, I have found myself at sea, and without a fixed place or time for reflection, for working on my projects and plans, and for rest. My husband is working out of our bedroom, the children have grown and their projects and pursuits seem to have taken over every corner of the house and yard. In each of my “spots” someone is sure to find me after a few minutes and , while I love my children dearly, sometimes a mother just needs a minute or twenty to organize her thoughts or just sit and be.
We have been here (mostly) at home now for almost two and a half months and I think in some ways it has been a blessing and in others it has been an amazing trial. For one thing, it is not a very big space, even when we add in the green space in the middle of our street (the cars go one way on one side and the other way on the other) and the park at the end of the street while large (700 acres) is really only useful for the older two children who can go and explore the creeks. The house is also fairly small, and we are all rather intense personalities who sometimes just need to be away from each other which can be difficult to manage. On the other hand, being home so much has encouraged us all to be more creative in managing the space and more diligent in keeping it uncluttered and picked up so that we don’t feel crowded together. There has been much more enthusiasm for the garden and yard and the English Cottage Garden that I have had in my mind all this time, is finally coming to fruition. There is a certain kind of settling in that has happened with the physical spaces we inhabit.
I see a similar kind of settledness developing in the spirits of the younger children. The limitations of being in this space with these materials has inspired them to try new things with what is at hand. They quarrel but there is an incentive to “make up” again when your sibling is the one available to play with. The uninterrupted rhythm of days upon days at home has been a benefit although I can see that my extroverts in particular are starting to suffer from the lack of social interaction.
There is something to be learned I think, about our interior geography from the way that we interact with our external geography. If we are constantly “on the go” within our physical location, constantly seeking out new places and new stimulation then our souls are likely also to be restless. If our souls are restless we are more likely to try to soothe them with new places to go, new friends, new vistas laid before our physical sight as we try to draw the eyes of our souls away from the anxieties, the regrets, and the frenetic activities that drive us.
What if we chose a different path?
What if we took that feeling of restlessness as a sign that there was a need to find rest- even to force ourselves to rest? What if – as mothers in community- we could say to each other “I am restless and ill at ease, will you hold space for me, help me to hold space for myself so that I can satisfy my soul by deep interior work?”
Holding space is sacred work- sometimes spiritual as we hold each other in prayer and love from afar, sometimes eminently practical as we bring a meal, dig a garden, take the children for the day, or stand with a friend and wipe their tears. This is the vocation of community- to hold one another in the midst of our own sorrows and struggles and in the midst of our rejoicing, to gather in physical spaces and make them sacred spaces by the way in which we walk in love together.
“Bear ye, one another’s burdens,” says the Apostle, ” and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
And in another place Christ himself tells us that to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength and our neighbors as ourselves is His Law that takes the place of the Law of Moses and the teachings of the Prophets.
Dear friends, how do you love yourselves? And how loving yourselves can you then love each other in the same way?