Ever since my first reading of Charlotte Mason’s works, this was an idea that really stood out to me. Good habits are often viewed as being a chore in our society. Many parents feel guilty if their young children automatically pick up after themselves and decide to let them off of the hook because they view it as being so laborious. Soon those good habits are replaced with bad ones. Either way, you are still dealing with habits.
A while back I wrote about Ms. Mason’s description of habits. I love the way she describes it. It is so easy for me to forget that once a habit is a habit, it is no longer difficult to do. It is harder not to do it. If we allow ourselves or our children to lose good habits, then we are doing more harm than good. We are making it so that it will be that much more difficult to retrain our minds to do the right thing once again – the thing that used to be natural to us. Here is what Ms. Mason says about the ease that comes with habits
For a habit is a delight in itself; poor human nature is conscious of the ease that it is to repeat the doing of anything without effort; and, therefore, the formation of a habit, the gradually lessening of the sense of effort in a given act, is pleasurable.
This is so true, not only for our children, but also for ourselves. As most of you know, I am pregnant.Â I have been struggling with keeping up my old habits. Today starts my second trimester (woohoo!) and this week has been the first time that I haven’t felt completely drained, sick, and useless. Now I am having to reform the habits that I had before we moved. Just a few months ago I was able to keep the house meticulous so that people could pop in for a showing at any moment. Since getting out of that habit, it is difficult to even get my house ready for planned guests, and that still isn’t “show worthy” like my house was before. My kids were also into the same habit. They were picking up after themselves. My son would run the sweeper each time before we left the house. My daughter would move all of our shoes. We knew what to do. Now we have will have to put in extra effort just to get back to where we were. I am so sad about this, because we were all so proud of our house and it really wasn’t a chore. It was natural.
Of course, Charlotte Mason discusses this next
This is one of the rocks that mothers sometimes split upon: they lose sight of the fact that a habit, even a good habit, becomes a real pleasure; and when the child has really formed the habit of doing a certain thing, his mother imagines that the effort is as great to him as at first, that it is a virtue in him to go on making this effort, and that he deserves, by way of reward, a little relaxation–she will let him break through the new habit a few times, and then go on again. But it is not going on; it is beginning again, and beginning in the face of obstacles. The ‘little relaxation’ she allowed her child meant the forming of another contrary habit, which must be overcome before the child gets back to where he was before.
And now for the real reason I love Charlotte Mason. She goes into how you form habits, and it is so gentle… so loving… not harsh in any way. I have learned through experience that my whole family functions best if I speak in this way.Â I am so happy to see it addressed in a book, especially a book that was written so many years ago.
As CM talks about her example of a mother teaching a child to shut the door behind him when he leaves
For two or three times Johnny remembers; and then, he is off like a shot and half-way downstairs before his mother has time to call him back. She does not cry out, ‘Johnny, come back and shut the door!’ because she knows that a summons of that kind is exasperating to big or little. She goes to the door, and calls pleasantly, ‘Johnny!’ Johnny has forgotten all about the door; he wonders what his mother wants, and, stirred by curiosity, comes back, to find her seated and employed as before. She looks up, glances at the door, and says ‘I said I should try to remind you.’ ‘Oh, I forgot,’ says Johnny, put upon his honour; and he shuts the door that time, and the next, and the next.
No yelling. No freaking out. Just gently reminding the children. In the part above this section, CM shows how the mom introduces the idea of the new habit. It is loving and gentle, and she promises to help the child remember. You are working together, not punishing the child into compliance.
So today I am working on habit training again: first for myself, and then for my children. I need to regain my lost ground, and then my children will follow behind. I can’t expect their habits to be better than mine.Â I need to model right behavior once again.