Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Part III: Habit is Ten Natures

This afternoon Miss Mason and I sat down with a cup of tea and thought about habits. There are so many gems in this chapter I hardly know where to begin. I, of course, read them in light of my own two children and the current state of their habits, but I also felt compelled to consider my own habits.

If you've never considered how habitual most of our thoughts, habits, modes of speaking, actions, and daily lives are, Miss Mason would like to enlighten you! "There is nothing a mother cannot bring her child up to (105)." Obedient, sweet-natured children? Habits. Orderly, neat children? Habits. Even "strong-willed" children? Yes, even if one has to work harder to establish good habits in a less malleable child, successful outcomes are possible! "Anything may be accomplished by training" (106). Diligence and calm, consistent attention from Mama are the only requirements to amending poor behavior or less than wonderful traits.

Similarly, seeds of thought or feeling can be planted, for good or for evil. This speaks to our mandate to remove twaddle from the reading lives of our children, and to insist upon kindness and cheerfulness. "We think as we are accustomed to think," and if we can retrain the internal dialogue of our children, we can set them back on the track to virtuous desires and thoughts (108). If we focus on habits of "order, propriety, and virtue" we set our little ones up for a life of good possibility (111). One must only look at pop culture and the state of our world to see the consequences of leaving children to their own devices and allowing their natures to run unchecked. It is a sad neglect of the parent's vocation, to say the least.

And then there are the habits of the body: daily physical exercise, the habit of desiring fresh air and clean spaces, the habit of daily cleanliness of one's body, modesty, order and tidiness, regularity, and good manners. These areas attended to, Mama should be able to allow her children to run free a bit, knowing her diligent work has formed good habits.

Towards the end of the chapter, Miss Mason suggests that a woman with poor habits of tidiness has her own mother to blame, in part, for instilling such patterns in her life, but also herself, for not remedying the problem. I certainly won't be blaming my awesome mom for my shortcomings, but this has so much to do with where my heart is right now, in these beginning stages of homeschooling and having very little ones at home (I still consider 5 very, very little...am I the only one?). I've been pondering my own weak will, my poor tendencies to completing projects, books, even trains of thought, etc., and have been convicted in so many ways of late that I need to be a solid example of these sorts of things I'm expecting of my children.

Am I am a good model of these kinds of habits? Do I have the habits of daily exercise? Of consistent neatness? Of patterns of though which are virtuous and kind? Do I follow a daily regularity? Am I modest? Do I always exercise good manners? I think as homeschooling mothers who are always with their children, hoping to shape their hearts for God and to train their young minds in excellence, we have an even more intense call to cultivate our own minds and habits, as our children are constantly watching us and creating habits based on what we do, say, and think.

How about you? How are your habits?


  1. I'm glad to finally get a chance to post my thoughts on this section, Angela. You pulled out some great points, and you have got me thinking not just about habit-forming for the children but about my own habits, which could certainly use some work!

    I too was challenged by this section but also very encouraged, because CM is just so confident that habit is the answer for everything! :) I do think she makes a great case for the precedence of habit over things like personality, nature, gender, temptation, etc. I may have a certain personality type that makes it harder or more necessary for me to cultivate a certain habit, but once I do cultivate that habit, I have effectively altered my personality/nature for the better. For example, if I have a naturally detail-oriented child, certain virtues like punctuality and neatness will already be natural habits of theirs--the tracks will already be in place. But just because he isn't naturally detail-oriented doesn't mean we have to let his lack of orderliness slide because that's just "how he was born"--quite the opposite: "it is as much the parent's duty to educate his child into moral strength and purpose and intellectual activity as it is to feed him and clothe him; and that in spite of his nature, if it must be so" (103). And as she says, "there is nothing which a mother cannot bring her child up to" (105). This at first sounds rather contrary to Miss Mason's belief in the personhood of the child--it sounds a bit like manipulation on the surface. But as she points out, we are all automatons, our habits always rule us--it's just a matter of which habits: the good ones we have worked to form, or the ones that have come naturally?

    And as she goes through the process of habit formation, we see that there is no manipulation here. I like her approach, which sets up the parent and child as a team working together to develop virtue in the child. The mother helps the child to remember, gives the child a reason for remembering, encourages the child with a "hopeful and expectant" eye (120), with "tact, watchfulness, and persistence" (122). She doesn't have to dangle rewards or punishments because the development of the habit is the reward in itself--both mind and body find following good habits to be easier than working against bad natural inclinations, so it is a delight to have good habits. I certainly feel this to be true for myself (I love the feeling of ease that comes with a well-established routine!), though I'm not totally sure my kids have that level of consciousness...though Gianna has said to me, "it is so nice to be good, Mommy." So perhaps they're getting there.

    Anyway, I find this to be a hopeful attitude, and I'm energized to be more diligent in the "laying down of habits with real purpose and method" (111). Part of my neglect of this in the past has been the sense that there are just so many habits that need to be developed--I get a bit overwhelmed at the task, and then I get distracted from the goal, which should really just be *the cultivation of one good habit at a time.*

  2. A few of her points that I'm taking with me as I continue at habit-formation in the kids and myself with a renewed vigor:

    :: "prompt action on the child's part should have the reward of absolute leisure, time to do as she pleases, not granted as a favour, but accruing (without any words) as a right" (121)

    :: "But the little fellow has really not much power to recollect, and the mother will have to adopt various little devices to remind him; but of two things she will be careful––that he never slips off without shutting the door, and that she never lets the matter be a cause of friction between herself and the child, taking the line of his friendly ally to help him against that bad memory of his." (123)

    :: "let me say that the education of habit is successful in so far as it enables the mother to let her children alone, not teasing them with perpetual commands and directions––a running fire of Do and Don't; but letting them go their own way and grow, having first secured that they will go the right way, and grow to fruitful purpose." (134)

    And yes, I definitely have habits to work on for myself, particularly some from the next chapter--habits of the mind! :)

  3. I've almost finsihed reading Volume 1 - so much to chew on. I read later on in this book (pg.326)'Habit is either the ally or the opponent, too often the frustrator, of the will.' So important (and hard!) for us as mothers to be serious about habit formation in our own lives.