Educational Philosophy

Motherhood Is One Big Millstone-Avoidance Project

October 29, 2019 by Brandy Vencel

It may surprise parents who have not given much attention to the subject to discover also a code of education in the Gospels, expressly laid down by Christ. It is summed up in three commandments, and all three have a negative character, as if the chief thing required of grown-up people is that they should do no sort of injury to the children: Take heed that ye OFFEND not — DESPISE not — HINDER notone of these little ones.

Charlotte Mason, Home Education, p. 12

I was thinking about this the other day — that possibly the big goal of motherhood is to avoid deserving a millstone around one’s neck — and how this might be connected to Charlotte Mason’s concept of Masterly Inactivity. We are reminded in Home Education of the negative commands given by Christ to offend not (Matthew 18:6), despise not (Matthew 18:10), and hinder not (Matthew 19:14). The early pages of Home Education introduce us to Masterly Inactivity as well:

The parents’ chief care is, that that which they supply shall be wholesome and nourishing, whether in the way of picture books, lessons, playmates, bread and milk, or mother’s love. This is education as most parents understand it, with more of meat, more of love, more of culture, according to their kind and degree. They let their children alone, allowing human nature to develop on its own lines, modified by facts of environment and descent.

Nothing could be better for the child than this ‘masterly inactivity,’ so far as it goes. It is well he should be let grow and helped to grow according to his nature; and so long as the parents do not step in to spoil him, much good and no very evident harm comes of letting him alone.

Charlotte Mason, Home Education, p. 5

What easier way to avoid these transgressions — to neither offend nor despise nor hinder — than by stepping out of the way? The millstone seems easily avoided.

A good question to ask ourselves is, Where does the danger lie? We are mothers, not child molesters. We love our children. We don’t want to harm them. And yet we know we are among those to whom Christ speaks when He urges us to take care. What is the nature of our temptation? Charlotte Mason gives us quite a bit of insight, so let’s consider what she has to say.

What is an offense?

The first … of the Divine edicts appear[s] to include our sins of commission … : we offend them, when we do by them that which we ought not to have done … . An offence, we know, is literally a stumbling-block, that which trips up the walker and causes him to fall.

Charlotte Mason, Home Education, p. 13

Charlotte Mason gives a few examples of this:

  • Muddying the law. Whether we call the child “naughty” when he is not (as a form of teasing), or whether we treat transgressions too lightly when he is (laughing at their baby sins, for example), the result is the same: we have injured the child’s conscience in some way.
  • Acting as if we are above the law. Giving children the impression that rules are for children while adults may be lawless — causing them to believe that we are not under authority ourselves — is a dangerous lie to communicate.
  • Disregarding principles of health. Physical stumbling blocks can result from mismanaged health. Feeding a child too much sugar or not making sure he gets enough sleep fit on the list of bodily injuries we are tempted to do to our children.
  • Disregarding principles of the intellectual life. We stumble the children when we present knowledge as boring and intellectual growth as unpleasant. We must take care not to give them an aversion to learning.
  • Disregarding principles of the moral life. We can do things to our children or in the presence of our children that tempt them to grievous sins. Charlotte Mason gives the example of a mother who played favorites. The child who was not the favorite had difficulty loving both her brother and her mother because of it. We want to make love as easy for them as possible, especially in the tender young years.

What is it to despise?

The … second of the Divine edicts appear[s] to include our sins omission against the children: … we despise them, when we leave undone those things which, for their sakes, we ought to have done.

Charlotte Mason, Home Education, p. 13

To despise the children, says Miss Mason, is, ultimately, to undervalue them. What might this look like? Here are some examples she gives us:

  • Leaving him with others. Miss Mason does not say this in the absolute sense. What she complains of is, for example, the “society of an ignorant nursemaid” — if the mother understood the high value of the child, would she leave him with such unqualified persons? The solution is not for mother to always be with the children, but she must choose and train childcare workers carefully. In our context, we must consider all the various companions of our children — not just persons, but also things — things on screens, for example. If you would not allow it in the character of a babysitter, why would you allow it on a screen?
  • Not giving him the best of yourself. This one pains me to read. Far too often, I have saved the best of myself for others. In fact, this was one reason why I quit traveling and speaking. As homeschool moms, we give ourselves to our kids all. day. long. This means they get not only the good, but also the bad and the ugly. It is not for us to return to Victorian habits and only bring the children to mother when she is at the heights of perfection. However, comma, I do think it is good for us to consider whether our families get their fair share of our best.
  • Allowing bad habits to grow up in his character. Acting as if a child’s lie isn’t serious simply because he is small may allow a habit of lying to grow up. The deeper issue is that treating a child’s sins this way reveals we do not properly value the child.

How might we hinder?

Hindering is, perhaps, the most serious offense of all:

But Jesus said, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 19:14

We hinder the children, says Charlotte Mason, when we make light of their relationships with God. Charlotte Mason doesn’t give this particular example, but it is a hard thing for a child, I think, to have his relationship with God questioned by his elders, simply because he cannot articulate his faith in a sophisticated way. When adults not only minimize a child’s faith, but question it, they are in danger (in my opinion) of hindering the child. I do not mean we do not give wise counsel when children have obvious misunderstandings, but I believe care is needed and that, in those little years, respect for the desire of the child to draw near to the Lord is more important than correcting every inaccuracy.

From whence does our temptation arise?

There are two categories of sins going on here. The first is the lack of gravity. We do not take the children seriously enough; we minimize their value. For this temptation, the solution is repentance. We must elevate the children by recalling in Whose image they are made.

The second, too, requires repentance, but we must not elevate in this instance. We must rather humiliate, for the problem is pride.

We ought to do so much for our children, and are able to do so much for them, that we begin to think everything rests with us and that we should never intermit for a moment our conscious action on the young minds and hearts about us.

Charlotte Mason, School Education, p. 27

Why do we do this? Because we’ve forgotten God and what He is like.

When we recognise that God does not make over the bringing up of children absolutely even to their parents, but that He works Himself, in ways which it must be our care not to hinder, in the training of every child, then we shall learn passiveness, humble and wise. We shall give children space to develop on the lines of their own characters in all right ways, and shall know how to intervene effectually to prevent those errors which, also, are proper to their individual characters.

Charlotte Mason, School Education, p. 35

Resting in Him — in His work and faithfulness, is the remedy we need. It will keep us from offending, despising, and hindering. It will help us elevate the children while humbling ourselves. It will open the door to the wisdom we need.

It will help us reach, by His grace, our goal of millstone-avoidance, and that’s a blessed thing indeed.

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10 Comments

  • Reply Keri November 2, 2019 at 10:30 am

    Loved this. Very convicting, but so helpful!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel November 2, 2019 at 12:27 pm

      Thanks! I’m glad it was helpful. 🙂

  • Reply Laura in Ontario November 1, 2019 at 7:25 pm

    Excellent post, and much to think about. Thank you Brandy!

  • Reply Sharron October 30, 2019 at 8:05 pm

    It’s amazing that the Lord has been reminding me of this principal, that everything does not depend on me, in some most unpleasant ways! In fact, it’s quite the opposite! Any good that is happening is in spite of me! But yet I still want to feel in control and think I can steer this ship! Ugh!

  • Reply Leah C October 30, 2019 at 1:59 pm

    Excellent reminder, so good! God has to circle me around to face my pride on a regular basis in many areas, but particularly these. Too often I behave as though my children’s very destinies rest on my shoulders. *sigh* And a part of me is always surprised when they reach a powerful conclusion or have a revelation apart from me or my carefully laid-out lessons! I am so thankful for 1) His ever-working hand in my children’s hearts and lives and 2) for the gift of repentance and forgiveness and His gentle patience toward my slow growth!
    Thank you for taking the time to share. Blessings!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel November 2, 2019 at 7:38 am

      It is SO EASY to feel like everything rests with us — I think it took a woman like Charlotte Mason (who was NOT a mother) to help us in this area. I love the way God uses her insights to encourage mothers. ♥

  • Reply tess October 29, 2019 at 9:24 am

    *clap clap clap* 🙂 “One big Millstone–Avoidance Project”— you made me laugh.

    Great post. I wish adults would realize that there is no good thing we can accomplish in the world that could counteract the hindering/despising/offending of the children in our care and in our circles. This parenting thing has very grave consequences!

    Another Victorian woman on the opposite end of the spectrum from Ms. Mason comes to mind, although she is fictitious: Mrs. Jellyby. I’ve toyed with dressing up as her for Halloween, but I don’t think anyone would get either a) who I was supposed to be or that b) I’d be dressing as a horror character…

    • Reply Brandy Vencel October 29, 2019 at 11:12 am

      MRS. JELLYBY! YES. She frightened me so much when I first read of her, partly because I saw in her some of myself and it’s scary to look in the mirror. My pastor’s sermon on Sunday reminded me, though, that there is a type of fear that is a healthy motivator. Mrs. Jellyby IS a horror and a healthy fear for us, I think. ♥

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