Charlotte Mason for the early years: obedience

I have spent much time thinking of how to write about the early years. There are many helpful ideas in Charlotte’s first volume, Home Education (a guide for birth to age 9).

I decided to begin with small bites. Obedience seems like a perfect place to start.

We make our days so difficult when we attempt to teach and wrangle children who have not first been taught to obey!

Charlotte discusses the importance of obedience throughout this first volume, and the most helpful thing for you would be to begin reading it for yourself! But I will try to give you a look at how important it is to turn obedience into a habit before we move on to some other ideas.

A story is told of a mother telling her little child not to put his hand in the sugar bowl. But he looks at her to see what he can get away with…he is cute and the mother ‘cannot help laughing’…

“…and the little trespass is allowed to pass, and what the poor mother has not thought of…a cause of stumbling has been cast into the path of her two-year-old child. He has learned already…that which is ‘naughty’ may yet be done…It is needless to continue; everyone knows the steps by which the mother’s ‘no’ comes to be disregarded, her refusal teased into consent.”

– Charlotte Mason Vol. 1

This happens so often, that in our current society it really seems to be a very small issue. But look at what we have done to ourselves and our children:

“…the child’s life becomes an endless struggle to have his own way. A struggle in which the parent is pretty sure to be worsted, having many things to think of, while the child sticks persistently to the thing which has his fancy for the moment.”

Where does all of this mess begin? Well, Charlotte thinks that as Mothers, we begin this problem out of a lack of a sense of duty. We forget that children must obey their parents ‘for this is right’. We think we can allow whatever behavior we decide is best at the time. We forget that the Bible says:

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”

This makes us a little bit more accountable to bring our children into a habit of obedience than maybe we are comfortable with.

There is great simplicity in those words.

That verse has the ability to burn away the impurities of the pointless things we ask of our children. As parents, we must only ask our children to do what is necessary for their well being. Forget the silly, pointless commands. There are many requests that children can and should be free of, but we tend to be a pestering society of mothers these days.

The beauty of this verse is also that when we have something worthy to ask of our children, there should be no confusion. What Mom said, they will do. Because it is right.

No wonder it feels uncomfortable. We aren’t generally very thoughtful in the commands we give to our children, are we? We are rushed, distracted, and possibly irritable? We aren’t usually thinking to ourselves “what is the simplest, wisest way to instruct my child in what he needs to be doing?”. Or this: ” I know my child is busy with something very important to him, but we need to leave, and he needs to obey me right now. How can I gain his obedience in a way that respects him as a person?”.

If we can train ourselves not to misuse our authority in the life of our child, we will gain understanding, wisdom, and respect.

But…we tend to not look very far down the road to consider the consequences of our current decision.

Often both mothers and children don’t understand that this is not about what is convenient in the moment. The mother must obey God in her job of training her child to be obedient just as the child must obey his mother as he learns to obey God.

“[the child] does not know that mother must not let him break sister’s playthings…or spoil the pleasure of other people, because these things are not right.”

She tells us that when the child understands that his parents are also under the same rules as he is, things will fall into place for him.

But these things don’t happen overnight. Especially when there are already some bad habits of disobedience in place. It takes loving patience and fierce determination to bring our children around to obedience. Because we ultimately answer to God for how we have trained our children, we must take this seriously. Have they been given a healthy foundation of consistent training? If so, they will find it easier to walk in obedience to God for the rest of their lives.

“Every day, every hour, parents are either passively or actively forming those habits in their children upon which, more than upon anything else, future character and conduct depend.”

-Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1

We all know of course, that not one of us is perfectly obedient for even an entire day. But when we have a habit of obedience, things fall back into place much more quickly after a detour.

“The mother’s greatest stronghold is in the habit of obedience. If she begin by requiring that her children always obey her, why, they will always do so as a matter of course.”

But how do we do this? How do we “secure the habit of obedience”?

There are many opinions on this issue. But I think we can all agree that the things most difficult for us parents are the things that produce the most fruit.

To secure this habit of obedience, the mother must exercise great self-restraint; she must never give a command which she does not intend to see carried out to the full. And she must not lay upon her children burdens, grievous to be borne, of command heaped upon command.

-Charlotte Mason, Vol.1

They must know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you mean for them to do exactly as you say.

In order to do that, we have to be present in their lives. We cannot tell these young children what to do while we are on our phones or computers. We must look into their faces, and love them. They must know our love and our attention.

To be present, self-controlled, and consistent is a giant undertaking. It is not easy, but it will be one of our greatest accomplishments.

4 thoughts on “Charlotte Mason for the early years: obedience

  1. What a great post! I think this is so powerful really. I needed this reminder lesson…so good to keep if fresh in my mind! I think this “And she must not lay upon her children burdens, grievous to be borne, of command heaped upon command” line is very important to combat the “helicopter” overkill parenting we see today that controls every waking moment of a child’s life. It’s so easy to fall into this so children are “convenient” to “our” lives and in this modern culture where we really pack our lives too full of “good” but essentially meaningless activities.


    1. Thank you for the encouragement Amy! I agree, even writing this was convicting and reminded me of some things I need to do differently. 🙂 It’s such a long journey.


  2. “Forget the silly, pointless commands. There are many requests that children can and should be free of, but we tend to be a pestering society of mothers these days.” Love that, Mary! I’ve really been trying to work on that lately. If I let it, there can be so many things that I tell my children to do that just. don’t. matter.

    I’ve been trying to practice being more concerned about the bigger things. And the little persons that they are. “Are you OK?!” ;o)

    It was so nice chatting with you at LER! Looking forward to more from your blog! (No pressure.)


  3. Catie! I’m so glad to see you here! 🙂

    It was wonderful to meet you at the LER, and have a chance to talk. And I love the “are you okay?” question. : )

    Thank you for your encouragement for the blog, I do have several posts in my head, I hope they make it onto the computer shortly!

    Take care Friend!



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