Charlotte Mason Volume I Part I.IV Despising the Children

IV: Despising the Children

Charlotte Mason suggests that to despise someone or something is to undervalue them or it — to have too low an opinion. I’ll add that this could mean you think they’re worse than they really are — a more horrible sinner, a more annoying presence, out to get you, to manipulate and exhaust you — or to think they’re not worth as much dignity as everyone else is, don’t deserve as much attention and respect.

“[H]owever much we may delight in them, we grown-up people have far too low an opinion of children” (17).

I’ve often noticed people, especially but not always strangers, talking to Amy without taking the time to listen to her response or really pay any attention to her at all. They might start a conversation with her and then switch rather abruptly to talking to me, making comments about her appearance or smarts or just talking about other things. Or they might pursue the conversation according to their own idea about what little girls are like, without noticing what Amy herself is really like. Perhaps they’re nervous, perhaps they’re unsure which one of us to attend to, perhaps it’s never occurred to them to really listen to a child. Or maybe they’re not used to paying attention and listening in general, whether to children, adults, or their own inner life.

Mason focuses on two other aspects of despising children — not wisely choosing their caregivers, and not taking their sin seriously.

If a family employs a nurse (nanny, daycare, what-have-you), that person should be wisely chosen, carefully trained, and observed. She (or he) must be a person of integrity — no “unfairness, deception, shiftiness,” no making and keeping secrets with the child(ren) from the parents. Her (or his) disposition should be what you want your children to have — Mason here is especially talking about moral disposition, saying that what is modeled overcomes the innate conscience, as little ones have all their senses active and notice all the little (or not so little) slips and such (18).

One statement I found odd in this section: “Very likely it would not answer for educated people to have their children always about them. The constant society of his parents might be too stimulating for the child…” (18). So… would it not be overstimulating for a child to be always with his uneducated parents? And even aside from the possible prejudice against the uneducated, how is the company of parents necessarily overstimulating? Unless she’s getting at parents who would be constantly talking to the child, meddling in her play, never doing their own work or activities…

Anyway — Mason goes on to say that the child who has a nanny or who goes to daycare should get his mother’s best energy.

As for sin — it is not good to let wrong-doing go unnoticed and unnamed — not good to laugh at it or dismiss it. Mason does not explicitly address child psychology and the difference between normal development and sin, which is unfortunate. But I think her view can mesh just fine with a solid understanding of what is age-appropriate, what is normal or to be expected.

I think too often parents, especially Christian parents it seems, are so quick to think their child is consciously rebelling, manipulating, etc, when they are really doing what they developmentally must do, and have little or no thought about the parent as a distinct person. That said, just because a particular wrong-doing makes sense developmentally, doesn’t mean the parent must accept it as perfectly good behavior. It just means that the parent should be careful not to take it too personally, and to name the wrong-doing, allow a consequence, explain / model the right thing to do, without too much passion. It is fairly normal, for example, for some kids to go through a stage of exploring hitting or biting; it is possible to tell the child it is not okay to hit, physically restrain them from hitting when possible, without throwing a tantrum of your own and blowing their act out of proportion. And — especially — without attributing more thought to their act than they do — they may be hitting simply to express frustration, or interest, or tiredness, or who knows what, and the parent must be careful not to see manipulation and rebellion where it is as yet unknown.

Back to Mason.

She adds that it is good to keep watch, to notice, so that fewer wrongs slip by unnoticed and unnamed. I’d add that it’s also good to keep the cookie jar out of sight and out of reach — and likewise with any other forbidden things — rather than expect the littler ones to face too many temptations. In the same way, if your child is one who hits, for example, be there when the siblings or young friends are playing, and learn the signals that a hit might be forthcoming, and get between the children before the hit can happen, or gently take the hitter in your arms, or otherwise address the issue before the hitting happens, instead of rushing in to clean up only afterwards. A lot can be smoothed over by good listening tools (A la Hand in Hand Parenting or other gentle parenting resources) and helping children with their big feelings — which ties back to the beginning of this section and its emphasis on really attending, seeing, listening to children.

To sum up this bit, Mason says it is not good to laugh and dismiss young ones’ wrong-doings — I will add that it is just as wrong to take them too thunderously seriously with a towering, looming, deeply-offended disapproval. She gets at that aspect a little in the prior section, Offending the Children.

By the way, in that prior section, Mason defines despising as “when we leave undone those things which, for their sakes, we ought to have done” (13). I suppose that the “leaving undone” is, in this current section, not being careful in choosing a nanny or daycare, not giving the child your best energy, and not taking their sin seriously, whereas the offenses from the previous section would be shaming, governing (self and children) by whim instead of by an external, constant law, giving unhealthy food or inadequate shelter, making lessons boring, and curtailing children’s affections. There is some overlap in these sections, such as discussing laughingly dismissing children’s wrongdoing.

I’ll end with this quotation and a link to the article in which I found it — an article about paying attention, especially to children:

“Oh, Mama, just look at me one minute as though you really saw me.” – Thornton Wilder, “Our Town”

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