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Friday, July 8, 2011

Charlotte Mason on “Me Time,” or Masterly Inactivity for Moms

From page 33 of volume 3 (School Education) of Charlotte Mason’s Home Education Series, published in 1904:
If mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play! If she would only have courage to let everything go when life becomes too tense, and just take a day, or half a day, out in the fields, or with a favourite book, or in a picture gallery looking long and well at just two or three pictures, or in bed, without the children, life would go on far more happily for both children and parents.
That’s right, Mama should spend some time away from the kids. Even goof off a bit.
I’ve seen various articles floating around the net and magazines about something called “Me Time.”
Some think that mothers need to take some time for themselves, away from their kiddos, at least on occasion. Maybe get their hair done. Or shop for groceries without little fingers adding sundries to the shopping basket. Or even go on a weeklong retreat.

And then there are those who say “Me Time” is a myth, nothing more than a sort of selfish escapism that puts our own worldly desires above the needs of our children.

 But there’s another side to this, it’s not all black and white, just one answer or the other. Few things in our day-to-day lives are…wouldn’t it be so much easier if there was a definite “yes” or “no” answer to whether or not any little thing is the right choice?  

Yes, this is definitely the right soap to buy, it will get you cleaner without drying your skin, it’s “green” and hasn’t been tested on animals, and it’s cheap. NO, you definitely should not ever buy grapes grown outside of the US, sprayed with pesticides, and wrapped in non-biodegradable petroleum products…but I digress.

Charlotte (forgive me for calling her by her first name, I feel I’m coming to know Miss Mason quite well through her writings) was talking about “Masterly Inactivity,” the need for the human mind to not always be consciously working on something.

Ever notice how you’ll be working on a problem of some kind and no matter how you work at it, you can’t fix it? Like, say you’re trying to balance the checkbook. You’ve been through the whole stinking thing 3 times, you’ve accounted for all the transactions, but it still doesn’t balance. So you put your head down on the table with weariness. And fall asleep and dream a bit. Or maybe you throw the checkbook across the room and go for a little walk. Anyway, you come back an hour later and, duh! There’s the mistake! Your mind just needed a rest from its constant vigilance to puzzle it out on its own.

Charlotte believed that it was important to not fill up every minute of the kiddos’ days with lessons and conscious learning. They need to run off and explore a bit. Just to explore, not to accomplish anything in particular. But the beauty is that in giving the brain a rest, it makes all kinds of connections all on its own, connections it couldn’t possibly make while being kept busy, no matter how carefully we plan those unit studies.

Children need to tromp and splash and dig and run and jump and play, just because that’s how they are made. God made them that way. I think He loves to watch them exploring and reveling in the glory of His world. And whisper in their ears.

A little aside (because I’m really a parenthetical junkie at heart): L. Frank Baum, author of the marvelous (and some not so marvelous) Oz books, was a contemporary of Charlotte’s (though on a different continent, he was an American) and apparently also believed in Masterly Inactivity. I wonder if the two ever met or read each other’s work? In The Marvelous Land of Oz, which was, incidentally, published the same year as School Education (1904), Baum describes how the boy Tip spent his days. Although he had plenty of work to do for old Mombi, the witch, gathering firewood, harvesting corn, and so on,
…you must not suppose he worked all the time, for he felt that would be bad for him. When sent to the forest Tip often climbed trees for birds' eggs or amused himself chasing the fleet white rabbits or fishing in the brooks with bent pins. Then he would hastily gather his armful of wood and carry it home. And when he was supposed to be working in the corn-fields, and the tall stalks hid him from Mombi's view, Tip would often dig in the gopher holes, or if the mood seized him --lie upon his back between the rows of corn and take a nap. So, by taking care not to exhaust his strength, he grew as strong and rugged as a boy may be. (pp. 8-9)
But much as children need Masterly Inactivity, so do adults. Removing oneself from the daily distractions that can easily engulf every living moment of our lives can help us to better focus and regain our center. Sometimes when you are stuck in the moment, your perspective loses clarity, you lose sight of the bigger picture, and you might even forget that there is more than this one moment in time.

And you might not even see the flowers that are overhanging the path as you hurry the over-tired kiddos up the walk after the birthday party, because at that moment nothing seems to matter other than getting them to bed.

Human beings are flawed and our minds are limited. While we may aspire to always keep our tempers and to exhibit constant love and concern for our kiddos, and we may try to keep a song in our hearts to our Lord’s praise and glory…we fail. Daily.

We forget. We get stuck. God knows this.

It’s worldly things that tend to bog us down. There’s where our minds tend to go. What am I making for dinner? Is the baby’s dress clean for church? Oops, I forgot to defrost the bread! Did he really spill the milk, again? Our minds are constantly full of chatter, working on different tracks all the time. It can be hard for our Lord to get a word in edgewise.

You could look on Masterly Inactivity as a sort of escapism, but I think that depends a lot of how you use (or don’t use) your inactive time.

Or you could look at it as a way of saying stop and getting back to the things that really matter.

So what does this say about “Me Time”? Is it something that moms really need, or is it a myth that we delude ourselves into believing in?

I think that “Me Time” is an unfortunate name for it. It puts the emphasis on “Me” and loses sight of the fact that what we really need is not to retreat inside of ourselves, or to pamper ourselves, or to focus on ourselves at all, but to stop focusing.

Picture yourself opening your mind completely, shutting out your own thoughts, and allowing the Holy Spirit to flow into you, unfettered by any worldly concerns or preconceived notions. Lose your self for a few moments.

There are times when I feel I simply must get out of the house without the children. My brain simply can’t cope with the intensity. What do I do? I typically go to the store. Not to shop for anything special, mind you, but just to pick up a few things we need. The quiet drive and the undistracted trip among the aisles gives my brain a needed rest. There’s no pressure. I don’t think about anything in particular.

I get great ideas while driving. I get inspired. Not because I was thinking about anything in particular, but because I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular. Those ideas seem to come from without, rather than within.  And I return home to open arms, more relaxed and ready to meet my family’s needs.

Sometimes when the kiddos are off playing together in the other room, I don’t jump to do the dishes, plan the lessons, or tackle the laundry. Sometimes I take a few quiet moments to read my current book. I used to feel guilty about that. There’s work to be done! But all work and no play makes Susan a dull Mama. A few minutes lost in a book refreshes the mind and makes me more open to my children. 

But you can’t have all play and no work, either. There needs to be a balance and an awareness of your true intentions.  And I’ll admit that a few moments rearranging a cabinet or folding laundry alone can be equally refreshing.

How do you balance your time with your kiddos with your alone time?  Is “Me Time” a myth or a necessity?

Please visit Legacy of Home for the rest of this week’s The Christian Home.
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  1. She was very wise! I feel so much better and am able to tackle the work better after I've recharged with a good book or by just sitting and looking at the garden. All those little bits do add up!

  2. All I can say is: Great Minds Think Alike!!! :)

  3. Yes, they do, Crazy Mom. ;0)

  4. Beautifully done. We need the time as do our families. Sabbath rest!?

  5. Twice a week, I banish everyone from the upstairs level of the house and take a 1-2 hour bath. That's when I get a chance to think, catch up on blogs and articles, etc. When I don't get that break, my poor temprement is ruined.

  6. Oh how I love this article! My me time consists of running through the country or trail, chasing my kids around the house because I'm the giant and smell the blood of an English kid, or simply read outside on the back porch (my kids may play out there but they've learned that mommy is off limits and must figure stuff out on their own). But whatever form it takes the me time is always wonderfully appreciated


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