Friday, April 24, 2009

Parents as Inspirers

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.


  1. a dense article indeed; my 'mommy-brain' really struggled!
    the plainer language spoke to me: "why, we have "finished our education" when we leave school; we shut up our books and our minds, and remain pygmies in the dark forest of our own world of thought and feeling." That quote, and the idea of being a model (even though it's not a model but an inspirer) means our own education is never done. it's why learning is often a joint project, and not an assignment to complete, a checkmark ticked.
    i also liked the poetry analogy as is it something that i respond to without concrete reason - the whole concept of the beauty of language, how it can be wielded so gracefully, and so powerfully.

  2. Dear Christine,

    I love this article and found it to be truly inspiring and uplifting though I had to reread many paragraphs to understand its true meaning. My brain needed its exercise! I just wanted to share my thoughts. I have been in a slump in homeschooling and motherhood. I believe it was because I was failing at perfectionhood. I now realize that I should be focusing on inspiring, not perfection. I should be enjoying school and enjoying teaching my child new ideas and thoughts, not just trying to get through the day's work. I really related to the garden reference as we have been spending so much time in our vegetable garden. I was able to identify how we sow our seeds, weed, water, prune, etc and not until the very end, do we harvest. This is the same with a child. A garden is hard work. Should not parenthood be even more so as the importance is so much greater? Can I not spend more time cultivating my son than I do my vegetables? I have found myself relaxing and enjoying school more in the last two days since I read the article than I have in a long time. It will be a challenge to keep the inspiring theme going but I plan on using our vegetable garden as a gentle reminder each time we work in it. Thank you for sharing. It has meant a lot to me and my family.

    Our prayers are with you and your family,

  3. Thanks for your comments, ladies. I'm really excited to have some other women sharpening their brains along with me. :)

    I also loved the poetry analogy. Why is it that we always feel we have to be able to explain, logically, everything we think or do?

    I did tons of re-reading, too. With this type of language that we are not used to reading, although we can understand it, it takes more effort to allow the full meaning to sink in, I find. I really enjoyed your thoughts about the garden theme and I am pleased that the idea of inspiration vs. perfection struck you (and freed you a little) as it did for me. So many of us know that God's burdens are easy and his yoke light, but we make them into difficult and heavy with our own unrealistic expectations of ourselves.


  4. A little tidbit, a little bit late:
    How easily we parents can forget to be inspired by something ourselves! It is easier to inspire when you are inspired, right? So thanks for giving us a vehicle to maintain our own inspiration.