Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Habit or Heart?

Rory and I spent the morning taking (almost) all of the toys out of his room.  He's only been in the room for about a month, but somehow it had gotten over-run with Lego's, cars, and bits of string.  We have been doing pretty well with our new school schedule, but found a sticking point on the after-breakfast routine.  He is supposed to have half an hour to get dressed and pick up his room.  Now, that shouldn't be too hard, should it? Lily and I manage to get her dressed and her room picked up in a half hour, and she's just learning how to do it.  It seems that an almost-9-year-old would be able to do as well as a 3-year-old.

This was my thought.  We even broke the job down into parts - 1.  Get dressed.  2.  Make Bed.  3.  Put away clothes.  4.  Put away toys.  It actually did work for a few days.  Then the toys took over.

The problem isn't actually with the toy mess, I've determined.  It's with the toys themselves.  It is very hard to pick out clothes and get them on when there are unfinished Lego creations waiting to be fixed.  Making a bed is far less interesting than picking out cars to paint.  And who can put away clothes when there is a brand new castle in the middle of the room?

So, out went the toys.  Most went downstairs to the basement.  The Lego's, which are in a four-drawer cart thingy, went into the edge of the kitchen next to Lily's play-doh cart.  Right now the room looks great.  I'll keep you posted!

Anyway, this got me thinking about the whole "Habit" thing.  Charlotte Mason had a saying "habit is ten natures," meaning that teaching children habits would overcome their natural bent for...whatever that natural bent is.  I've found it very hard to teach habits in the manner she describes, because you have to be extremely consistent!  This means you can't miss it once, or you basically have to start all over.  She also expects that a sorrowful look is enough to remind a child of his mistake.  Maybe, but my children are usually not looking at me when they are doing something, so that's kind of hard to accomplish.  Actually, my Mom had "the Glare" that cowed the worst offender, but it seems to have skipped a generation.  So what is a slightly scattered mom to do?

My other issue is that the whole habit thing kind of reminds me of Behaviorism, which was never my favorite type of philosophy.  It reminds me of dogs ringing bells for nothing, and gives me the impression of making people do things against their own will.  I wonder, if I can instill a habit, isn't it possible, or even probable, that someone or something else can just as easily change it?  I wonder if habits, by themselves, are the best way to give children a good foundation?

I'm going to use a little laundry illustration here.  When I was growing up, my mother and sister and I spent time on Saturdays doing the laundry together.  Because my mom worked during the week, this worked out well for us.  When I got to college, I did laundry at odd times because you had to get to the machines when everybody else wasn't using them, plus I had a pretty full schedule, and Saturdays were pretty much out of the question.  When Hubby and I got married, we did laundry on Friday nights, and also ordered out.  Reason being, that we only had one electrical plug in our apartment which ran either the clothes dryer or the stove and oven.  For a while, Hubby did all the laundry on Mondays, because I was at work and it was his day off.  When we had our 2nd baby and decided to use cloth diapers, laundry happened almost every day.  You have to basically launder diapers every 2-3 days, and I only had time to do one load at a time while taking care of a newborn and starting to homeschool a kindergartener.  Now, I've gone back to one day a week, but it's Wednesday, because that is the day we don't have somewhere to go.

Now, if I had learned the habit of doing laundry with the whole family on Saturday, I would have had a bit of trouble.  I'm grateful that I learned how to do laundry, but I really learned that I enjoyed having clean clothes. It's more of a heart learning, which has helped me to figure out how to make it happen as my life has changed.  This is the kind of learning I want for my kids.  Some things should become habit, but the reasons have to be engraved on their hearts.  And, much as I would like it to work, the final reason cannot be "Because I said so!"  That might work for now, but what about when they're out on their own?

Next Monday, my son will be halfway to legal adulthood.  I'm trying to teach him all the things he will need to know.  But the most important things need to be in his heart, not his mind.  God, please give me the wisdom!

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