“That he should take direction and inspiration from all the casual life about him, should make our poor words and ways the starting-point from which, and in the direction of which, he develops––this is a thought which makes the best of us hold our breath. There is no way of escape for parents; they must needs be as ‘inspirers’ to their children, because about them hangs, as its atmosphere about a planet the thought-environment of the child, from which he derives those enduring ideas which express themselves as a life-long ‘appetency’ towards things sordid or things lovely, things earthly or divine.” -Charlotte Mason, Vol. 2, pg. 37
The above quote, so eloquently written was once summed up for me as, “More is caught than taught.” Rather pithy, I’d say. It gives credence to Charlotte’s idea that atmosphere is a full third of education. How many of us have found ourselves using phrases with our children that we distinctly remember our mothers saying to us? This may be wonderful, or it may be less than ideal, but either way it shows that to some degree, each of us are indeed a product of the atmosphere we grew up in. How then can we think through the atmosphere we set our children in each day?
First, we need to assess the atmosphere we set in our homes. While many of us can immediately point out where we struggle, let’s begin instead with what we do well. Mothers are slow to recognize all the good that we bring to our homes – Often, because the best of what we bring to our homes are small, daily actions that bring a sense of order, direction, kindness, and love to those around us. The way you put that bandage on a boo boo may be what your child remembers more than anything, because each time you do it with a smile and a kiss. Or perhaps the voices you do when you read aloud will be what your kids strive to recreate for their own children. It is time to consider all of the beautiful traditions, actions, or kindnesses that you routinely do and to give yourself a pat on the back for them. It might even be a good exercise to ask your children about their favorite memory or their favorite tradition – it may bring something to light that you didn’t even realize was important to them.
Once you realize how you are doing so many things right, pick one thing that you would like to improve on. We could probably all think of a much longer list, but when working on a new habit it is best to focus on one at a time. Prioritize what you’d like to see improved most and put a plan into action for only that one thing. Pray about it, talk to other moms (especially if you see they seem to have a strength where you think you have a weak area – we learn so much from fellow moms!), and come up with a system that works for you and your family.
When you have chosen your one thing, consider the attitude with which you approach that thing. Will is be one of resignation and duty or an attitude of positivity and hope? The way we approach a challenge will also be a part of the atmosphere of our homes. Share the new thing you are working on with your family and allow them to help you and to see you challenged. Next time you see your child struggle with something difficult, you will have more sympathy for them and they will see you as a compatriot as well as a parent. Your example in how to improve yourself is likely to be far more important than the actual improvement itself!
“This relation of habit to human life––as the rails on which it runs to a locomotive––is perhaps the most suggestive and helpful to the educator; for just as it is on the whole easier for the locomotive to pursue its way on the rails than to take a disastrous run off them, so it is easier for the child to follow lines of habit carefully laid down than to run off these lines at his peril. It follows that this business of laying down lines towards the unexplored country of the child’s future is a very serious and responsible one for the parent. It rests with him to consider well the tracks over which the child should travel with profit and pleasure; and, along these tracks, to lay down lines so invitingly smooth and easy that the little traveller is going upon them at full speed without stopping to consider whether or no he chooses to go that way.” – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1, pg. 109
What to consider when thinking about what improvements we can make in the atmosphere of our home? A good place to look is the list of habits Charlotte mentions in her books. It is a very long list. Don’t let that intimidate you. One at a time is the best pace. Forming these habits in ourselves is the easiest way to form them in our children, or at least set the example by which they can easily grasp the same habit later. It is far more difficult to get a child trained to put their dirty clothes in a hamper when they see us dropping our own on the floor. Something like 90% of our lives are habitual, the rest of our actions need decision from our minds. If you set a habit well in yourself it will set your course for life, just as the rails of a train set its course. What Charlotte told us years ago, modern books confirm. This is the best place to start to avoid decision fatigue and unpleasant habits that form due to lack of consideration on our part.
Lastly, consider the tone of your home. Consider the way that you speak to your children – both the words you use and the volume with which you use them. We want to be careful as the words we use become part of the inner monologue of the child’s mind, as well as they way they speak to siblings, family members, and friends. The tone we use is likely the one passed down to us from our own childhood and will likely be seen in the homes of our adult grandchildren. If you sense that there is some improvement to be done in this area, it may be a good place to start. Disrespectful language coming from us, the music we listen to, the shows and movies we watch all factor into the education of our children. Yelling, slamming of doors, stomping of feet, and other violations of a peaceful tone can create a restless undercurrent in the home. Even if it seems a wildly uphill battle, this is a place where creating a new habit in yourself, and perhaps inviting your family to join you in this new endeavor, will improve the communication in your family and make every later improvement a more fruitful one.