Masterly Inactivity in Today’s United States

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  • Mom2Millie

    In School Education Charlotte Mason talks a lot about letting alone, letting children choose their own friends, and spend their own money. And she seems to imply that we should be able to know what’s going on with our children, without appearing overly interested.

    I understand her completely, but— the time was so different. Could she have imagined a world where young girls denying their biological sex had become a fad? Where your neighbors are likely to laugh off and wink at their young son’s use of porn?

    Where parents quite commonly inactive and respectful enough of their kids privacy, Amazon created teen accounts that allow parents to pay for a child’s purchases without knowing what they’re buying?

    I was caustiously inactive with my oldest and most of my parenting regrets stem from that. I’m less so with my daughter, even discouraging close friendships where I’m seeing a great difference in parenting as the girls age. (Not ending friendships, but slowing down the frequency and duration of visits, while encouraging friendly interactions during group events where that friend is.)

    What would Charlotte Mason say today? I imagine her method would be unchanged, but surely there would be addmendums? When she saw the mass exodus of young adults from their churches and the competitive market for their very souls on television, at school, next door..


    Karen Smith

    Several years ago Sonya wrote a blog series on Masterly Inactivity. I think the ideas in that series will be helpful to you. That series is also available as a free ebook.


    I remind myself that CM was not a parent, so while she has great wisdom, as a parent I have to take that information and filter through my parenting “goggles” 🙂

    Laying down strong “rails” is part of educating and parenting and I don’t believe that includes just letting them go “free” of guidance.

    I feel that parenting comes in stages from laying down the rails, which requires a lot of direct supervision even for masterly inactivity (so they know how and when to use the awful glitter, haha). The strong rails leads to being more of a cheerleader, on the sidelines and they come to you for advice but you are cheering them on and not really directly supervising. Then moving towards letting them go and advising but watching from the bleachers more than the sidelines.

    In free activity and education guidance is often needed, depending on the child the guidance varies. Similar to teaching a child how to properly use the sewing machine, not just letting them figure it out, but once they know how to use it letting them create with more freedom. Same goes for computers, cooking, building, spending money, and even friendships… helping them learn along the way.

    I think what masterly inactivity looks like varies depending on child and maturity of that child.

    I might be way off track from what you were talking about and on my own tangent though, haha.


    Thank you, Karen, I will read those, I’m sure they’ll be helpful.

    Sarah, thank you for taking the time to write your thoughtful response.

    For me there are areas in which it’s quite natural for me to hang back. I see mothers manipulating every move, organizing circles of friends for their children, stepping in if they feel their child is in the least bit slighted. These are low stakes situations- bruised feelings, maybe a bit of loneliness, or not getting to do it all. Perhaps this is what CM had in mind. She even mentioned allowing children to carry on a friendship with someone from a lower social (economic) class- a no brainer for us today.

    My concerns are about when the stakes are higher. The internet has welcomed the world into our homes and even though we personally are diligent about maintaining a boundary our community is not. I’m realizing as I write this, that our community situation is likely much more degraded than what many of you live in. We live in an impoverished rural town where substance and sexual abuse is high; while income, education, church attendance, and property value is on the extreme end of low. Picture the worst you can imagine, that’s where we live. When I was growing up I had no idea places like this existed. Then I married a farmer in rural west Texas. The town was struggling back then, but twenty years later it’s hopeless. We live in a lovely old home, which is beautifully cared for, and I have direct neighbors whose roofs are falling in on them literally as well as figuratively. My various neighbors have been involved with federal drug busts, gun violence/murder, sexual abuse of minors, suicides, and imprisonment. Every direction I look from our property I am reminded of a tragedy. It’s chaos. (Though perhaps it just feels worse to me because in a small town you know everyone’s story.)

    I recently read a book called The Benedict Option that left me with the impression that other communities are also in upheaval, not because of poverty and drug use as much as aggressive gender and sexual orientation activism.

    I guess I’m wrestling with how to apply CM’s complete method in a space and time very different than her own.  There might not be an answer.


    Mom2Millie, I have read the blog Karen mentioned, and I can understand what CM was saying. I looked at it more like what some speakers call ‘helicopter parenting’, where we are hovering over our children all the time. I agree that if our children have learned to stay within the boundaries that parents make, they can be trusted to be let alone more often. This is where character training is so crucial.

    I also understand where you are coming from. The moral condition of our country is much worse than it was back in CM’s day. So, we naturally want to keep a closer eye on our children (even teenagers), not just when in public, but especially with all the garbage on the internet. Even a child, who has been given boundaries and has earned our trust, will still have temptations. The teen years are full of them. I’ll give an example. You mentioned friends in your original post. In our Bible/character lesson yesterday, the lesson was on the fear of man. This section came after a section on the fear of G-d. If we do not fear G-d, according to His Word, we will fear man. Since this is a book specifically for teens, it referred to peer pressure. This author says, “Peer pressure is really just fear pressure”. No matter how trustworthy our teenagers are, they want to be accepted and fit in. It’s easy for them to give in to peer pressure for that reason. Even in our fundamental Baptist church, there are teens that would not be good influences on our daughter. So, we do need to keep a closer eye on certain situations. Each parent needs to determine when and where they may need to keep a closer watch. Your concerns are legitimate.


    I recall reading something about a parent being able to influence his child’s friends by choosing from an early age friends for him that share the same family values.  This will reinforce the family values on the child throughout adulthood


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