Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Laying the Rails

“We have lost sight of the fact that habit is to life what rails are to transport cars. It follows that lines of habit must be laid down towards given ends and after careful survey, or the joltings and delays of life become unsupportable. More, habit is inevitable. If we fail to ease life by laying down habits of right thinking and right acting, habits of wrong thinking and wrong acting fix themselves of their own accord.”

~ Charlotte Mason

A couple of weeks ago, I had one of those "Aha!" moments that we parenting types sometimes have. I realized that, through the sheer amount of time that I am at home with my daughter, I am having a greater impact on the formation of her character than anyone else.

Maybe that seems like it should be obvious. In a cerebral sort of way, it was; I always knew it to be true on an intellectual level. But, my "Aha!" moment came when it hit me in a very concrete way that made me sit up and think, "Wow! I doing something huge here."

The incident, like my epiphany, may seem rather unremarkable. My daughter and son were playing on the floor with some Leggos (Duplos), and Sophia decided she just had to have the one and only Leggo that James was chewing on. She snatched it out of his little hand, and he began to cry and reached for it, but she turned away from him. If I hadn't been sitting right there, reading a book while I watched them play, I would never have noticed it. In a busy daycare or preschool, I doubt anyone would have noticed it, either.

Since I was there, I couldn't very well let it slide. I ordered Sophia to give the Leggo back to her brother. Well, then my little willful two-year-old dissolved into a fit of tears herself. I held her until she calmed down, and then I told her again to give the Leggo to James. More tears, more holding. Another command. More tears. In desperation, I tried to explain to my blubbering toddler that while the Leggos were hers (a fact she kept reminding me of through her tears), it is important to share things with other people so that they know we love them.

Suddenly, her tears stopped, and her face lit up. She rushed over to James and set the Leggo down in front of him and then gave him a big hug. Which brings me to epiphany number 2: children really do understand more than we give them credit for!

All of this was, of course, about much more than making sure my daughter gave back that particular toy to her brother in that particular instance. I was able to go beyond that, to explain to her why we share, how it is one way we can and should show love to others and, through others, to God. I was ableto do this not because I'm a superb parent but simply because I was there. When you add it all up, it's the everyday, ordinary lessons that build a character.

My daughter is far from perfect, and I know that no number of morality lessons is going to make her so. Still, every little bit helps, and by the grace of God, I trust that she will continue to grow in righteousness. We have not had a struggle with or tears over sharing since this incident...at least not yet!

I say all of this not to guilt mothers who cannot be at home with their children nor to set myself up as some sort of paragon--in the words of Jo March, "I am hopelessly flawed!" Rather, I offer this anecdote as an encouragement to all parents to really be present with their children as muchas they are able and to be active always in the formation of their characters--for this is our God-given privelege and duty!

I also offer it as a caution. Remember that by example, instruction, and even ommission, those who spend time with our children are indeed forming their characters. If you are the one spending the bulk of your child's day with him, this should be humbling and spur you on to run the race well (1 Corinthians 9:24-26). If you must entrust your children to someone else or you place them in the company of peers or friends for the majority of their day, then be selective and thoughtful in who these other caretakers and companions are.

As Charlotte Mason said, it is the little things, the every day habits, that form a character and define a life.


  1. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. And thanks for those pictures, to boot!

  2. I have found in the last few days that it is *especially* important to train your eldest child in "the way she should go", because even if the mother sets a wonderful example, the younger children are likely to want to follow the example of the eldest child. At least, I'm finding that to be true in my own life, with my newly-5-year-old and 3 year old!

  3. Bethany, I wish blogs had "like" buttons the way Facebook statuses do. Sometimes I struggle with staying home, but this post was definitely encouraging. Thanks!

  4. You have such a beautiful little girl! I admire your devotion to your children. I was raised by a stay at home mom, and I am very thankful for her diligence and sacrifice.

  5. This is a lovely story and a profound insight, Bethany. Thanks for sharing!

  6. What a wonderful story, Bethany. I am a longtime reader of your blog, and find so much wisdom in your words on a regular basis.

    I would like very much to stay at home with my children, but I am nervous about beginning this conversation with my husband. I am due to have our first child in April, so I need to figure out a way to talk about it soon! Why am I so nervous, you may ask? There are several reasons. First of all, I have been an elementary school teacher for a number of years, and subsequently, earn more than my husband does as a social worker. Secondly, both my husband's mother and sister are career women first, mothers second, especially his sister who will do anything in her power to avoid spending time with her two, beautiful, healthy, intelligent sons. Finally, and most importantly, I have become more spiritually developed in my life as a Catholic since we married less than two years ago, and I sense my husband has not.

    How can I start this important discussion without upsetting my husband? You must have some advice for me in your compassionate, brilliant mind!

  7. Christine - With a caveat that I will be forced to be somewhat terse here in the comments section, I will put my best foot forward at answering you:

    1) Don't waste your energy and time in worrying about your SIL and MIL. Be respectful and kind to them (you obviously already are) but don't make decisions for YOUR family (children/marriage) based on what they have chosen. You will never please all your in-laws, and besides, God gave this precious baby to you, not to them.

    2) Be sensitive to the fact that, although you make more money than your husband and might be considered the "breadwinner," most men are more sensitive to the financial pressures and feel more of an obligation for financial provision for their children than their wives do, regardless of income situations. So, just know that your husband's mind may go to how you're going to foot the bills before it goes to the impact daycare might have on your child's upbringing. It's not that he doesn't care about your child's upbringing, but most men's minds jump to finances first. Just be ready for it, and be sensitive to it.

    3) Before you bring up the conversation with him PRAY! I would advise spending at least a week in some serious daily prayer on this. Ask God to put the right attitude in your heart and the right words in your mouth. Pray that He would prepare the way in your husband's heart and that He would grant you the ideal circumstances in which to bring up the conversation. God does provide when we seek Him.

    4) Remember that, regardless of your personal spiritual standings, your husband is the head of your home. My husband is not a Catholic (though he is a very devoted Christian), and we disagree on some serious matters of theology. I will share my thoughts with him, but ultimately, my husband calls the shots. This is the way God ordained the marital relationship to be (I'm over-simplifying it here, but hopefully since you say you've been reading my writing for awhile, you can fill in the blanks as to what I'm talking about). I know how passionate we moms can get when it comes to our kids, but remember that your husband is called to be the leader of your family. If you keep praying and appealing to him (not nagging, but thoughtfully and compassionately appealing), I trust that he will guide you in a way that is best for your family. If you try to usurp his authority and badger him into letting you stay home, you may find yourself fighting an uphill battle all the way.

    5) Read the studies. Find legtimiate research on the effects of mother-care (as opposed to other-than-mothercare, otherwise known as childcare or daycare), and present the facts to your husband. Not any of my writings or some subjective stuff out of a book; those things may do a number on us moms, but they're not going to convince a doubtful husband. Prepare like you would for a business presentation. I would suggest presenting this information to him as the first step (after prayer) in your discussions on the subject. Then, let it go for a few days while he mulls it over. You may find that you don't have to convince him of anything once he sees the benefits laid out in black and white.

    7) If this doesn't work right away, however, you should then share with him exactly what you're feeling and what your hopes and dreams are for stay-at-home motherhood. Keep your scope well-defined and relatively narrow. Men can get overwhelmed when we bombard them with a vastness of our feelings and visions for the future. Just stick to the nuts-and-bolts: how you feel working would impact you emotional, what your main goals for staying at home are, what you feel you can practically due to adjust to the financial changes (budgetting, working parttime, or working from home, etc.).

    I hope this is a good start, because the comments section is going to cut me off! Write again if you're looking for more, though. I'll be saying a prayer for you this evening!


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