This past weekend was the fifth annual Charlotte Mason Educational Retreat in Colorado Springs. As I’ve mentioned before, this was my fourth year attending, my third year helping, and my first year speaking. The weekend is organized each year primarily by the moms in our homeschool co-op, though our fearless leader, Dawn Rhymer, is actually in the process of moving to Georgia so wasn’t participating in our co-op this year. Karen Canon, who lives in Missouri and has spoken at the retreat since the beginning, and Sarah Lancaster, who lives in northern Colorado and spoke at it up through last year, have also been a huge part of its growth.
Our plenary speaker this year was Art Middlekauff and this was the first time I’ve had a chance to hear him speak, though I’ve read many of his numerous articles in various places online. He sent me home with a few things to ponder from the different plenaries he presented, but I think the most convicting was from his talk on the 20 principles and, in particular, related to Ms. Mason’s fourth principle:
These principles are limited by the respect due to the personality of children, which must not be encroached upon whether by the direct use of fear or love, suggestion or influence, or by undue play upon any one natural desire.Charlotte Mason, vol 4 Preface
I’ve read this before, obviously. In fact, the first year I was part of my Charlotte Mason book study group, during each meeting we’d have a little mini-discussion of the different principles before we dove into the book and it was interesting to hear what each person thought of them. All of her principles tie in well with that first one, that children are born persons, but I think this one especially reiterates it.
Allow me to digress for a minute… A few weeks ago, I was getting particularly frustrated with B because he was not doing something I wanted him to do (I know this will come as a shock to parents of 9-year-olds). I would love to be able to say that I always respond to my children’s misbehavior in kind and loving ways, and of course always with an appropriate consequence for their negative actions that leads them gently back to the path of demure obedience. But the reality is that when I’m tired and feeling overwhelmed, which kind of feels like the status quo these days, I resort to threats. “If you don’t do X, then Y will happen!” And, of course, that always goes over very well. In this particular case, however, B caused me to pause after I made one of these declarations… “Mama, I don’t like it when you threaten me!”
Wow….. just wow. Obviously not one of my better mothering moments. I was proud of him, though, not only for telling me that, but also for figuring out how to articulate it as this is something he struggles with. And it’s definitely something that has stuck with me.
So back to this weekend… Art expanded on this fourth principle in ways that were new to me. Particularly the idea of “suggestion or influence.” He showed us a list of ways that parents often intentionally or unintentionally suggest to or influence their children to do something they are not naturally inclined to do. And in the middle of the list was B’s word…. “threaten.”
Enter the mom guilt.
I think this is actually an often-used tool in the parental toolbox. Consequences do have to happen when poor behavior occurs. But the threats that I mete out are just a way to get my kids to do something I want them to do or act a certain way, but their “better behavior” is really just fear-based. “If I do X, mama will do Y, and I don’t want that to happen.” It’s all on the outside. It’s all an appearance. When my children eventually leave their childhood home and go off into the world, I don’t want them to not do things because they’ll get in trouble if they do. I want them to do things because they’re the right thing to do. Because they want to be good people.
Fittingly, another part of the retreat that has stuck with me was something Dawn said before our last plenary on Sunday morning began. She talked about leaving the retreat with fresh ideas and being excited to implement them at home and feeling ready to take on the rest of the year and be the best homeschooling moms ever! (And I’m offering my apologies to Dawn for this poor attempt at a paraphrase.)
And then she said we would fail.
I was a little taken aback by this at first and then I felt my body relaxing. It was almost like she had built me up to be excited and then put some reality in there, but instead of it being discouraging, it actually felt like a relief. Yes….I will fail. Yes, at times I will not do this well at all. But I will keep trying. I will keep growing. I will keep loving my kids.
Ironically, just a few hours after I got home on Sunday night, feeling just exhausted from a very full weekend and the extremely busy weeks leading up to it (as well as contemplating the idea that I really should just schedule no school for the week after the retreat), B and C were doing something that I didn’t like. And, falling into my good old habit, the infamous words came out of my mouth, “If you keep doing X, then Y will happen!” But as soon as they were out, I heard them. I knew what I had said was wrong. I knew I had failed already. And I was convicted. But I also had hope that that awareness is going to be what helps me break this habit.
In reflection, my favorite part of the CMER weekend is always the other people at the retreat. Of being not only with my tribe of fellow co-op moms, but also all of the other parents present who are going down this path as well. Though I’m socially awkward and my introvert ways make themselves pretty apparent at events like this, I treasure the conversations when real connection was made, and those happen often at a retreat like this. I’m so thankful for it.