I remember two parties I attended when I was growing up. One was a sleepover at which I saw the parent only once: at breakfast. The rest of the time we girls were left to do anything and everything we pleased. And believe me, we did.

The other party was more like wearing a straitjacket. The parent in charge had every activity timed to the minute and we were not allowed even an inch of freedom to elaborate on that schedule or alter any activity. That poor parent was so concerned and nervous about our time together that we all soon became irritated and nervous as well.

Two extremes. Between them is the happy state of Masterly Inactivity.
So what exactly is Masterly Inactivity? Charlotte unfolded its many facets by describing both what it is and what it is not.

First, it “has nothing in common with the laisser allez attitude that comes of thinking ‘what’s the good?’ ” (Vol. 3, p. 28). It is so easy to slip into that attitude of defeat. But defeat is not the same as Masterly Inactivity.

“And still further is it removed from the sheer indolence of mind that lets things go their way rather than take the trouble to lead them to any issue” (Vol. 3, p. 28). Indolence means laziness! Masterly Inactivity is not the same as allowing the children to run wild just because it requires effort to rein them in. It takes work and intentional decisions to raise children well.

Wordsworth used the phrase “wise passiveness” to emphasize what Masterly Inactivity is about. Note the word “wise.” Many parents exercise passiveness, but most times it is not wise.

Wisdom comes from insight. In fact, Charlotte pointed out that Masterly Inactivity should involve “insight and self-restraint” (Vol. 3, p. 28). Those two words are what were missing from the two parties I attended.

The first mom, who left us to do as we pleased, did not have insight into what we were thinking or desiring. Do you have insight into what your children are thinking and doing? If not, purpose to become a student of your child. Study him and learn what makes him tick.

The second mom, who ran the party like a drill sergeant, did not exercise self-restraint. Once the party was set up, she needed to restrain her natural tendency to dominate everything and just allow us to enjoy ourselves within the environment she had created.

Insight and self-restraint. Great qualities for a parent to have . . . or a party host.