As we wrap up our series on Charlotte Mason’s motto for students, let’s look at how we can help our children strengthen their wills to do hard things—I am, I can, I ought, I will. Remember, Charlotte urged parents to make it a priority to teach their children the difference between “I want” and “I will.” A child with a truly strong will can make the tough decision to do what is right even if he doesn’t want to. But how can we help our children strengthen their wills to get to that point? Read on.
I think we all have dreams of grandeur when we’re growing up. My dreams took various forms, but they all had a similar theme: fabulous success without a bit of effort. I had dreams of winning the blue ribbon at the 4-H horse show without ever having to practice with my pony. I daydreamed about dazzling everyone with a delicious dinner but never took the time to learn to cook. I imagined myself stepping in for a sick virtuoso pianist without ever practicing.
But the reality is that those sudden momentous occasions never happened. And while I was daydreaming about instant success, I was overlooking the more important everyday opportunities. For it is the everyday efforts that add up to a strong character.
“Great occasions do not come to us at any time of our lives; or, if they do, they come in the guise of little matters of every day. Let us be aware of this” (Vol. 4, Book 2, p. 142).
The Will’s job is to make decisions. And it is the everyday decisions that strengthen the will for tougher decisions ahead. We are fooling ourselves if we expect that our children will succeed in some larger decisions that require a lot of effort if they haven’t been practicing similar smaller decisions all along the way.
It’s the Little Things
Why would we think that a child who every evening makes the decision to argue and dawdle his way to bed will suddenly start obeying his authorities when he is older? A child who every day decides to be selfish with his siblings will not suddenly become a servant in his own household when he is grown. A child who gets in the habit of deciding to leave his room a mess will not suddenly keep it pristine when he gets married.
Our children can strengthen their wills by making good small decisions every day. And as we have already seen, those decisions are affected by the ideas that we feed our children. Their reasoning and their consciences must be instructed and trained if they are to be the best persons they can be and make those tough decisions that require a strong effort of the will.
“Will does not Act alone.—It takes the whole man to will, and a man wills wisely, justly, and strongly in proportion as all his powers are in training and under instruction. It is well to know this, to be quite sure that we may not leave any part of ourselves ignorant or untrained, with the notion that what there is of us will act for the best” (Vol. 4, Book 2, pp. 141, 142).
We are doing our children a disservice if we allow them to get in the habit of taking the easy way out, of yielding to “I want” instead of strengthening their wills and deciding to do what is right.
Let’s encourage our children to grow strong by making small tough decisions every day, for those small efforts of will are what will pave the way to strong character and the ability to make the right decision in larger matters.
“As the wise parent sees that his children are invigorated by proper exercise, so we may venture to think that Providence strengthens the children of men by giving to each opportunities for effort, chiefly, perhaps, for this effort of decision. For the will grows strong by its efforts, and the will is the man” (Vol. 4, Book 2, p. 158).
Next week we will announce where you can read more about Charlotte’s motto for students and what we as parents can do to encourage our children in those areas. (Want a hint? Its initials are ACMPCJ.)