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Balancing Willpower with Grace
As you’re looking at this school year, let’s talk about a balance between willpower and making things happen, and giving yourself grace. You probably have your year all planned out, all of the activities in place, and you’re going to make this happen. Let’s talk about how you can balance that idea of powering through with trying to reduce the friction in your home.
Sonya: Joining me for this discussion is Laura Pitney. Laura, good to have you back.
Laura: Thanks for having me.
Sonya: As we’re thinking about the year ahead, we make a lot of plans and we get geared up and enthusiastic for the year but recently I read a quote that was about instead of trying to increase your willpower and force things to happen, try decreasing the friction. I think that might be a good idea as we look to the year ahead, what are your thoughts?
Laura: I definitely like the idea of that. There’s a lot of wisdom in that statement of trying to reduce our friction in our home. Friction naturally happens, whether we plan for it or not. Situations and circumstances arise in our home that maybe we didn’t plan for. So when I think about that statement of trying to reduce friction, one of the first things that comes to mind is that I’ve got to be aware and observant of my home atmosphere so that I can take notice of those friction points. If you’re doing that, then you can take the opportunity to try to fix them.
Many times I know we want to, like you’re saying, push through and have that willpower just to make the day go well. Get the things done. But a lot of times you get more kickback than if you’re trying to resolve it in other ways. Think about your habits in your home: if there’s constant friction about cleaning up after yourself after breakfast or putting your school things away, and that’s a constant friction point, then you should stop and think about, “What can we do to fix that or do better?” It’s that kind of thing.
Sonya: Yes. Instead of saying, “We are going to attack this, and we’re going to obliterate this wall that we have come up against,” we can think about “How can we reduce the amount of willpower that’s needed to do it?” For example, cleaning up after breakfast. Well, maybe we can have different items for breakfast or we can use paper plates for breakfast just to start the habit going.
It’s a lot like short lessons. We want the child eventually to develop the willpower to make himself pay attention for a long lesson, but rather than saying right from the get go, “You have got to pay attention for this hour-long lesson and just willpower through it,” we reduce the friction by saying, “Let’s just set up that habit of pay attention for the whole lesson with a short thing, with a small thing.”
Once that habit’s in place, then we can elongate it. So with the dishes, maybe we’re going to just get in place the habit of clean up after breakfast, but we’re going to make the cleanup itself reduced friction, pretty easy, a small thing, a short lesson, if you will. Once that habit is back in place, then we can go ahead and elongate the chore as needed, or make it bigger as needed. Does that make sense?
Laura: It does. The ages of your kids really come into play with this. It’s one thing if you have littles. Usually at that point, you’re really focusing on training, and first-time obedience, and having a joyful heart behind it. A lot of times that is, “Do what I say,” or “Don’t talk.” And a lot of times that is expecting your child to do what you asked him to do. Then as the kids are older, that’s often when more friction happens because they are their own persons and they want to know the “why” behind what we’re doing. Having good conversations about that friction point is important with the older kids.
Sonya: With the younger kids, I was thinking, you can reduce the friction, but it’s more up to you to do the reducing. Whereas with the older ones, you’re talking to them about how they can reduce it.
Laura: “Here are the Cheerios, I’m going to go to my room, I’ll see y’all in 20 minutes.” (laughs)
Sonya: I remember when Karen Smith and I both had preschoolers, she was talking to an older, wiser mom in her church and that mom said. “You know, some days I just grab the box of raisins and sprinkle it on the floor and just let them go at it, so I can go do something else.”
Laura: Sometimes that helps with the friction.
Sonya: Even with young ones, some of the friction points we can reduce is not putting demands on them when they’re hangry. It’s making sure they’ve got their rest times, making sure that they get to bed at a decent hour, and not overwhelming them with directives when they’re not ready to handle that.
Laura: I think the flip side of that is we need to do that for ourselves as well.
Sonya: Oh, good point.
Laura: Am I getting enough sleep; am I eating right? Am I allowing rest time? It goes both ways for littles and moms, especially with those friction points.
Sonya: Yes, because how you feel physically can be a huge friction point.
Laura: Yes, and the days that we don’t feel good does take the willpower. On those days, where you don’t feel good or are having a bad time, that is when willpower comes into play. That’s important to know about ourselves and realize about the home atmosphere. With littles, there’s a lot of grace given, as far as routine and trying to figure out what those friction points are. With the older kids, they have their own willpower that they have to show up with when they’re having a bad day. There are really good life lessons for the olders, especially when we’re all trying to work through those friction points in our home.
Sonya: And let’s be clear, we’re not saying you should not have to exert any willpower at all. This is part of training the will, strengthening it, feeding it, and exercising it, as Charlotte Mason put it. You don’t overwhelm it but you do need to give it small choices first. It’s just like exercising a muscle, you don’t start by lifting the 300 pounds.
Laura: Yeah, which we do that all the time. (laughs)
Sonya: We get up there eventually (laughs), but you start with the two pounds or the one pound. It’s the same idea. We are not saying, “Don’t exert any willpower.” We’re just saying that rather than blaming yourself, “I have such lack of willpower and I’m not forcing my way through to make this happen,” you might want to take a look around and see where you can reduce some friction points.
Laura: There’s wisdom in asking your husband what he sees or asking a close friend. If you have older teenagers, ask their opinions about it too. “What’s most frustrating about our homeschool day? or our Saturdays?” or whatever the situation is. Value their opinion from their perspective. There’s wisdom in that too.
Sonya: Yeah, especially when it comes to their schedule, because so much of teenager’s work is done independently. But then you also have things you want to keep doing as a family and maybe the schedule you laid out, is like, “Okay, you will do your independent work from here to here, and then we will do our family work here.” Maybe that’s not working for them. Maybe the family work is interrupting in the middle of a lesson and they’re getting frustrated. Asking their opinions and their input and working together to form a schedule that will work for everyone is a good idea. And as we’re talking about planning for the school year, be flexible. Things are going to change. Just because you say, “We’re going to try this schedule,” keep the word “experiment” in your vocabulary. “Let’s make an experiment and try this for a couple of weeks and see how it happens.”
Laura: Yeah, that’s a great point because in my experience things are always changing, and as much as I like to plan and schedule, a monthly review, if not more frequently, but at least that often, is important. When the interruptions happen and when the friction points show themselves, it’s also beneficial to have those routines and schedule in place because it helps balance when things are difficult and hard and out of routine too. They compliment each other. Staying aware of both sides of that is important.
Sonya: Yeah, it is making sure, like you said, you have those routines that actually do work for you. All of this is about finding what fits best during this season of life.
Laura: Yeah, and understanding that that atmosphere of your home and the relationships are really what helps create a successful homeschool day or life as a family or field trip to the zoo. That atmosphere, that culture of your home, is really what you’re cultivating and growing.
Sonya: Yes, it’s the atmosphere of your home, as well as the discipline of the good habits and the life-giving ideas. We inspire our children to strengthen their own wills by watching us and by listening to the living ideas and practicing.
Laura: Yeah, and it’s that understanding that even if we want to push through and show that willpower, it needs to be balanced with grace, too, for ourselves, because we often try to claim guilt that isn’t ours when things don’t go right.
Sonya: Yeah, that’s a good way to put it, thank you.
Laura: You’re welcome.
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Thank you for these reminders. Something that keeps coming to my mind and soul is the discipline of praying for a spirit of peace and joy in our home atmosphere, a peace and joy that only come from our dependence on God, maker of heaven and earth! May the power of Christ rest on each of us as we abide in him!
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