Have you ever heard of the game Mother, May I? No, I don’t mean the innocent little game of “baby steps” and “kangaroo hops.” I mean the “game” of pestering and whining, “Mother, may I stay up late tonight? Pleeeeeeze, please, please? All my friends are doing it and . . . .” Perhaps you played this game yourself with your mother.

Today you might see the same situation in homeschooling. “Mother, I don’t have my assignment done. I know you said today is the deadline, but I need a couple more days to complete it.”

Do you answer Yes or No? What factors go into making that decision? You know the difference in your child’s voice whether he is cajoling and manipulating or respectfully presenting a request for his authority to consider. Your position as the authority can make all the difference.

Charlotte gave this example: ” ‘Oh, mother, may we go blackberrying this afternoon, instead of lessons?’ The masterly ‘yes’ and the abject ‘yes’ are quite different notes. The first makes the holiday doubly a delight; the second produces a restless desire to gain some other easy victory” (Vol. 3, p. 29).

You see, the parent whose authority is not securely in place thinks of this type of situation more as “giving in” than as granting a favor. A parent whose authority is secure knows that granting a favor will not affect her authority. She is still in charge. And she gets a little smile from being able to please her little ones in this way as a special treat.

Charlotte called this aspect of Masterly Inactivity “good humour — frank, cordial, natural, good humour. This is quite a different thing from overmuch complacency, and a general giving-in to all the children’s whims. The one is the outcome of strength, the other of weakness, and children are very quick to see the difference” (Vol. 3, p. 29).

So next time your children want to play this kind of Mother, May I, ask yourself whether you feel like you are giving in to their demands. Are you just trying to make the whining stop or afraid they won’t like you if you say No? That feeling is a signal that you are not operating from a position of Masterly Inactivity.

Or, when your children ask, “Mother, May I?” do you feel like you are granting a favor from a position of benevolent authority. That’s the position that expresses good humor for both you and your children.

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