When our first two children were still preschoolers, my husband took them to the park without me. I had some work to finish up, so they went ahead and walked the two blocks before me. About twenty minutes later I was done and hurried to join them. As I rounded the corner, I could see our youngest (at the time) climbing the leg of the swing set. She had almost reached the top bar about ten feet off the ground.
Images immediately rushed across my mind. I could see her slipping and falling to the ground; see her missing her grip and knocking out her front teeth on the post; see her sliding down the pole and getting a terrible skin “burn”; see her . . .
You know what I mean. We moms are so good at imagining those “what if’s.” In a way, that tendency is good. It helps us protect our young ones from potential danger instead of just cleaning up the mess afterward.
But the trick of Masterly Inactivity is to not communicate those thoughts to the children. We need to keep them to ourselves and stay calm. Keep an alert eye, yes. Insert a wise word of caution, sometimes. But not to the point of causing nervous anxiety.
Charlotte thought that mothers “should give their children the ease of a good deal of letting alone, and should not oppress the young people with their own anxious care” (Vol. 3, p. 30).
For many a mother, and especially a homeschooling mother, the children become her life. Though Charlotte was not a mother herself, she knew that “the mother is apt to be too much engrossed with her children” (Vol. 3, p. 30). Every waking moment is filled with their needs, their ambitions, their faults, their strengths, their victories, their stomachaches, their macaroni and cheese. If we’re not careful, we end up so focused on them that they start focusing on themselves too.
They become self-absorbed and anxious about their progress. “The small person of ten who wishes to know if her attainments are up to the average for her age, or he who discusses his bad habits with you and the best way of curing them, is displeasing, because one feels instinctively that the child is occupied with cares which belong to the parent only” (Vol. 3, p. 30).
As in all the areas of masterly Inactivity, a balance is crucial. “The moral is, not that all mothers should be careless and selfish” (Vol. 3, p. 30). But many children would benefit from a good deal of letting alone.