Floating Downstream – Way of the Will, part 3

So far in this series on “The Way of the Will,” we have talked about a child who wants to have his own way and lets you know about it in no uncertain terms. But what about those children who are easy-going? Can we assume their wills are strong? Let’s discuss compliant children today.

Have you ever floated down a lazy river on an inner tube? It’s so relaxing with your hands dangling in the cool water. You can even close your eyes and snooze, because you don’t have to do anything or make any decisions. You can just bob along and enjoy the sunshine.

Some of our children float along in life. They do whatever they are told and don’t cause waves. It’s easy to think that those children have strong wills, because, after all, they are doing the right things. But Charlotte cautioned parents against jumping to that conclusion.


Just because a child is compliant doesn’t mean he is making a conscious choice of his will.

As Charlotte described, “The business of the will is to choose. But, choice, the effort of decision, is a heavy labour, whether it be between two lovers or two gowns. So, many people minimise this labour by following the fashion in their clothes, rooms, reading, amusements, the pictures they admire and the friends they select. We are zealous in choosing for others but shirk the responsibility of decisions for ourselves” (Vol. 6, pp. 133, 134).

Complying with expectations around us does not equal a will made strong by exercise.

“Most men go through life without a single definite act of willing. Habit, convention, the customs of the world have done so much for us that we get up, dress, breakfast, follow our morning’s occupations, our later relaxations, without an act of choice. For this much at any rate we know about the will. Its function is to choose, to decide, and there seems to be no doubt that the greater becomes the effort of decision the weaker grows the general will. Opinions are provided for us, we take our principles at second or third hand, our habits are suitable and convenient, and what more is necessary for a decent and orderly life?” (Vol. 6, pp. 128, 129).

Others’ Suggestions

Indeed, what more is necessary? A strong will, that’s what is necessary. We must be careful that our children (and ourselves) are not just floating downstream, being carried along on the current of popular opinion, and avoiding the effort of exercising their wills.

What about when popular opinion is wrong? What about those times when principles are questioned and the child is encouraged to stray? The poor child will have a sadly feeble will that will not be able to swim against the current of others’ suggestions, because he’s been drifting along all this time.

“From the cradle to the grave suggestions crowd upon us, and such suggestions become part of our education because we must choose between them. But a suggestion given by intent and supported by an outside personality has an added strength which few are able to resist, just because the choice has been made by another and not by ourselves, and our tendency is to accept this vicarious choice and follow the path of least resistance” (Vol. 6, pp. 129, 130).

Usually a compliant child is also a people-pleaser, one who just wants to make others happy. Give this type of child situations in which she must make a decision regardless of what others might suggest. During these formative years, encourage her to exercise her will in decisions that don’t carry heavy consequences—consequences, yes, but not heavy, life-altering consequences.

In other words, help your compliant child get off the inner tube and learn to swim.

Practical Examples from Last Week

After last week’s post on intentional training for weak wills, several of you e-mailed and asked for some practical examples of what that training might look like. We’ve added a comment with a few ideas on our blog, where we post every e-mail so you can access them easily. Feel free to add your own comment with other ideas if you would like to.