We are keeping our Mommy Brains sharp by reading along some of the articles in the archives of The Parents Review. This week’s article is entitled, “Parents as Inspirers” by Charlotte Mason.
Charlotte Mason compares a child’s destiny to virgin soil — nothing has been sown in it. I like this idea because that soil has a capacity to grow beautiful, abundant fruit, to bear a thorny bush or, worst of all, to bear nothing. She points out that the first sowing is done either by the parents or by someone the parents choose.
Charlotte tells us that parents are to sow the mind’s proper food – ideas – and, in fact, this is our only educational instrument. What does this mean, that ideas are the only educational tool we really have at our disposal? It means that a child will retain nothing his person does not have need of. The only things a person will truly retain and use are those things – good or bad – that have affected him in some meaningful way. And, really the only things that can do that are ideas.
She points out that if it were any other way, if children were empty containers to be filled with information, putting them into an educational system and depositing the same information for everyone, then everyone would end up being exactly the same. Rest assured, she reminds us, that there is no danger of this because God has taken care to craft each person with a unique personality that He will ensure is preserved to be used for his purposes.
I love the idea she sets forth that parents are ‘inspirers’ as opposed to ‘modellers’. While Charlotte speaks seriously of the intense responsibility this entails, I actually find it very freeing. A ‘model’ is something that is directly copied. It must be perfect since the ‘copies’ can be nothing more than the original. Any defects will be reproduced exactly, as will the positive features of the model. It will be exactly the same. An ‘inspirer’, however, is entirely different. Just like a stunning landscape may inspire a weaver to make a beautiful cloth of many shades of green or a painter to create a lovely piece of watercolour impression, a child living alongside his parents will be inspired by their character, their behaviour and their hearts to become the artwork God has created him to be. A child is never to be a direct reproduction his of parents, simply copying modelled behaviour. (Thank goodness!) A parent inspires one child in one way and another in a different way, despite the fact that the parent is the same person.
Charlotte reminds us that “To excite this appetency towards something — towards things lovely, honest, and of good report, is the earliest and most important ministry of the educator.” This reminds me of when our first son was about 5. We used to drink soy milk at that time and were out somewhere where my son was offered a glass of milk. He brought it to me, very displeased saying he couldn’t drink it because it tasted awful. I tried it and it was perfectly fine. The problem was that after he was weaned from mommy’s milk, the milk he knew tasted completely different than that which he was given in this place. Charlotte says that many times our children do not and, in fact, may never think specifically of the ideas we inspire in them, but “all his life long they excite that ‘vague appetency towards something’ out of which most of his actions spring.” Our children will face all kinds of things in the world. What we are trying to do in our homes, is make sure their palettes have developped a taste for goodness so that when they encounter something wrong in the world, it will be uncomfortable to them even if they can’t always identify exactly why.
We cannot set about to complete a simple course of study and teach these things one by one. Rather, a child is inspired by his parents, and I would add of course many others in his life, as he lives alongside them, watching their interactions with others, reading books presented to him, having conversations. This is why God tells parents, “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Dueteronomy 6:6-7) We learn about things as we live, when we are ready to learn them.
The fact that, as parents, we have faults — serious ones — that we are sinners is not the point. No matter what we do, our children will also be sinners with faults. What I find so exciting is that, as inspirers, I need not be perfect. I need only to rest in my Heavenly Father’s calling to be a humble servant. This is his desire for my children and the greatest thing I can inspire in them.
I’d love to hear your comments, whether or not you read the article.