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    Masterly Inactivity: An Example

    December 20, 2012 by Brandy Vencel

    [T]he mother who is not up to children is at their mercy, and need expect no quarter. But she must see without watching, know without telling, be on the alert always, yet never obviously, fussily, so.

    Charlotte Mason

    In her third volume, Charlotte Mason includes an entire chapter on the concept of masterly inactivity. This is, to some extent, parenting by doing nothing. Lest you think this is akin to laziness or carelessness, I refer you to the above quote. The struggle for me is in feeling that I must be actively doing something in order to effect any purpose. But yesterday I once again made the conscious decision to engage in masterly inactivity, and the result was that I had to pretend I was not laughing.

    Masterly Inactivity

    Q-Age-Five was playing with some glass figurines on the kitchen bar, and she had balanced one rather precariously on top of another. My masterly inactivity is always encouraged by the completely overbearing nature of E-Age-Ten in times like these.

    “It’s going to fall!” he declared.

    “No it isn’t!” she retorted pridefully.

    This is a very common sort of interaction between my two know-it-alls.

    I’m sure you can imagine the no-it-isn’ts and yes-it-ises that flew back and forth after that. A-Age-Seven looked up to me with pleading eyes, but since it didn’t seem to be escalating, I decided to step back and see who God would teach through this. Would it be Q-the-Careless (to say nothing of her pride)? Would it be E-the-Enforcer (how many times have I reminded him that I, in fact, am the parent)?

    They both needed correction, but I knew only one would get it because only one would be proven right and whoever was wrong? Well, whoever was wrong would be the one corrected.

    I was amused, what can I say?

    Finally, Q-Age-Five went too far.

    “No! It! Isn’t!” With each word, she pounded her tiny fist upon the bar.

    Really, I couldn’t have planned it better myself. With the last pound, her little figure fell from grace and landed on the bar, split into three or four pieces.

    Daughter Q. disappeared to the floor. Being on the other side of the counter, I couldn’t see her, but I could hear her breathing. I knew tears were imminent.

    She came plowing around the corner, her face in her hands. I admit it: I was trying not to laugh at her.

    “Mom, I’m so embarrassed,” she whispered in my ear, wetting my face with her tears.

    Still, I said nothing, but just held her tight.

    Pride, they say, it goeth before things like this. My hope is that it leaveth this child in time.


    Want to Go Deep With Masterly Inactivity?

    Masterly Inactivity: Charlotte Mason's Secret to Successfully Leading Your Homeschool

    The talk Brandy’s been giving (you already own the video version if you purchased the Leading Well retreat in 2017) is now available in the Afterthoughts Shop. Try masterly inactivity! It’s not a hack — it’s a way of life. ♥

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    4 Comments

  • Reply Saddling the Masterly Inactivity Virtue Horse | Afterthoughts August 24, 2018 at 11:26 pm

    […] There is more to say about it than this. There is a sense of waiting for time to pass — of patience while things are worked out on their own. There is also her insistence upon good humor. But the core of the virtue is what we see above: the mother is fully present and aware of the situation, but she is choosing not to act because she believes that nature, in this case, will be the best teacher. (A number of years ago when I was experimenting with this idea, I wrote of this example from our home.) […]

  • Reply Dawn December 21, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    No worries about the comment moderation, Brandy. I was merely informing you about my own ignorance and not accusing you that it isn’t user-friendly. Now that I know how it works I don’t foresee any problems. I think it is great the way it is: I just needed to figure out how it worked.

  • Reply Dawn December 21, 2012 at 11:47 am

    A much needed chuckle this am, Brandy. Thanks for sharing. Oh, how I can relate to having to remind your oldest that you, rather than he, is the parent.

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts December 21, 2012 at 5:03 pm

      Glad I’m not the only one!

      I’m sorry about the comment moderation. I didn’t publish your second submission, FYI. I really don’t know what to do. I took off the security code because too many people said it was too difficult to decipher, but I am getting spam like you would not believe! No on sees it but me because of the moderation, but it is truly annoying…sigh. Blogger used to be so good about spam but I guess the spammers have gotten better…

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