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  • Writer's pictureKrissy Mellum

How Charlotte Mason Impacted My Parenting

I was raised in the church. I've heard the gospel message countless times in my life. But it wasn't until I got married and became a mother that I began wrestling with and searching for answers to all my theological questions. It was also at that point that I began to deeply desire wisdom on how to biblically raise my babies. By God's grace I was introduced to Charlotte Mason in 2017. Truthfully, I did not understand much of what I read in her volumes at first - but the parts that I did understand were incredibly compelling. I knew I had been given a gift. Her ideas painted a beautiful picture of the purpose of parenthood, including how to honor a child's God-given personhood all the while creating habits of discipline that provide exposure to the beauty of God's design for humanity (i.e., the gospel).

However, as my kids transitioned from babyhood to toddlerhood, I began to question if Mason's ideas really were "enough." For a variety of reasons, my focus shifted. I became more concerned with external obedience than parenting my children in a way that mirrored Christ's love. I feared my children wouldn't respect my role as an authority in their life, and as a result punishment became the primary tool to train my children "the way they should go." I was rigid in expecting first time obedience, which overshadowed any ability to show compassion. I found myself caught up in a web of legalism (although I didn't recognize it at the time); all the while, Mason's ideas were still ruminating in the back of my mind.

Over time, the cognitive dissonance became almost palpable - I felt like I was missing something. How I was parenting my children was nowhere near the beautiful, life-giving experience I had read about in Mason's volumes. But God is merciful and He didn't let me stay there. Through much prayer and time spent in the Word, the Lord began to free me from the tangled web of legalism - and he used Charlotte Mason to help.

Why We Can't Rely on a System For Parenting

What I eventually came to realize is this: I had been relying on a system to inform my parenting decisions and moments of discipline. Charlotte Mason explains a system as, "the observing of rules until the habit of doing certain things, of behaving in certain ways, is confirmed, and, therefore, the art is acquired..." She goes on to explain that a system, "is so successful in achieving precise results, that it is no wonder there should be endless attempts to straiten the whole field of education [or parenting] to the limits of a system." And yet, she points out that a system is an "alluring fancy" when it comes to raising children.¹

As humans, we are drawn to systems. Input X, and the output is certain to be Y. A system can be helpful (sometimes even necessary) in showing how a car engine is designed, for example, or how to follow a recipe, or how a mathematical formula works; but the human soul is a complex, unique, ever-changing l, eternal being made in the image of God. It's often said there's no manual for parenting, and yet, we often find ourselves in search of just that. Making parenting decisions with a flowchart mentality, or a list of "if this, then that" rules is incredibly challenging because its constraints simply don't allow for all the edgecases that are a part of being human. More importantly, relying on a system for parenting puts the Holy Spirit in the back seat when He should be the driving force in all that we say and do.

We Need to Allow the Holy Spirit to Lead Our Parenting

How often do we try to adopt of implement a system of parenting without even consulting the Holy Spirit? Too easily we allow others (whether internet influencers, trusted literature, friends, family, or even the church) to tell us the best ways to parent. Flawed people give flawed answers. One of the biggest ways the Lord has helped me loosen my grip on systematic parenting is by continually reminding me to first look vertically when I need parenting wisdom, instead of seeking all the answers horizontally. Can wisdom be found in godly friends and mentors? Absolutely! Should we allow that wisdom to go unchecked without taking it to the Lord and holding it up to the light of Scripture? Of course not. If He is King and Lord of our life, we should be constantly be seeking His advice above all else.

Charlotte Mason aptly states, "...God the Holy Spirit is Himself the Supreme Educator, dealing with each of us severally in the things we call sacred and those we call secular. We lay ourselves open to the spiritual impact of ideas, whether these be conveyed by the printed page, the human voice, or whether they reach us without visible sign."² One of Charlotte Mason's principles is that the most important responsibility a person has is the acceptance or rejection of initial ideas. Everyone has ideas about parenting. Those ideas came from somewhere and they are not neutral. They're either going to propel us in the right direction or hinder us from living out God's highest and best for our family.

The ideas that we choose accept (or reject) when it comes to parenting will impact everything we say and do to our children. For example, if we primarily view our children as wayward sinners in constant need of correction and our primary tool or correction is punishment, we run the risk of teaching our children that God is punitive - waiting to release His "consequences" the moment we fail to obey. Contrast that with viewing our children as whole persons made in the image of God to be cherished and championed through unconditional love and acceptance.

This doesn't negate the fact that our children are indeed sinners, but there is much freedom in recognizing that it isn't our job to rid them of their sin through punishing every sinful

behavior. Our highest aim should be to woo our children with the love of Jesus; to parent them as God parents us - with mercy, grace, gentleness, and kindness. The only way this is possible is if we allow the Holy Spirit to lead instead of relying on a man-made systematic formula every time our children need to be disciplined. Because systems will ultimately fail us; not only because they give us a false sense of control, but it is impossible to recreate a system the exact same way from family to family. God uniquely designed each of our families. Therefore our families' unique culture, atmosphere, strengths, weaknesses, DNA are so vastly different there is no guarantee that what works for me will work the same for you.

Discipleship Requires More Than Punishment

Modern Christian culture too often touts punishment as the best and most effective way to discipline our children in order to instill obedience. For the sake of clarity, I'm using the dictionary definition of punishment which defines punishment as, "suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution." Charlotte Mason opposed the idea that punishment is the best way to secure a child's willing obedience. She believed that, "...exceedingly little actual punishment is necessary where children are brought up with care."³ And yet, interestingly, Mason believed that the habit of obedience is one of the most important habits we should cultivate in our children. The question then becomes: how do we train obedience without excessive punishment?

Mason explains, "It is said that the children of parents who are most strict in exacting obedience often turn out ill; and that orphans and other poor waifs brought up under strict discipline only wait their opportunity to break into license. Exactly so; because, in these cases, there is no gradual training of the child in the habit of obedience; no gradual enlisting of his will on the side of sweet service and a free will offering of submission to the highest law: the poor children are simply bullied into submission to the will, that is, the wilfulness, of another; not at all, 'for it is right'; only because it is convenient."⁴ Obedience out of fear (of punishment) is not what we're after. God is so much more creative when it comes to teaching his children about obedience, and we shouldn't limit ourselves to the constraints of a system that takes away our freedom, creativity and consideration of personhood in deciding how the Holy Spirit would have us handle each unique and nuanced moment of discipling our children.

As followers of Christ, we are commanded to go and make disciples. But the reality is, we aren't commanded to use punishment to do so. Just as it would be ludicrous to limit oneself to only using a hammer to build an entire house, nor should we expect that a single parenting tool will allow for the human soul to thrive. Mason wrote, "He who would draw disciples does not trust to force; but to these three things––to the attraction of his doctrine, to the persuasion of his presentation, to the enthusiasm of his disciples; so the parent has teachings of the perfect life which he knows how to present continually with winning force until the children are quickened with such zeal for virtue and holiness as carries them forward with leaps and bounds."⁵

¹, ⁴,⁵ Charlotte Mason, Home Education, (Jilliby: Living Book Press, 2017), 10, 148, 162.

², ³ Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, (Jilliby: Living Book Press, 2017), 230, 67.

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