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Mondays with Miss Mason–I for (Masterly) Inactivity

October 25, 2011

Note: this post is part of an ongoing series. For more information on Charlotte Mason and Mondays with Miss Mason, please read the first post.


We ought to do so much for our children, and are able to do so much for them, that we begin to think everything rests with us and that we should never intermit for a moment our conscious action on the young minds and hearts about us. Our endeavours become fussy and restless. We are too much with our children, ‘late and soon.’ We try to dominate them too much, even when we fail to govern, and we are unable to perceive that wise and purposeful letting alone is the best part of education. Vol. 1, Chap. 3

It seems like a strange oxymoron–Masterly Inactivity. Yet for Miss Mason it was an important part of a parent’s role in a child’s education.

Is it doing nothing? Of course not.

Is it laissez-faire? No.

Here is how Miss Mason describes it:

” . . . ‘wise passiveness’. It indicates the power to act, the desire to act, and the insight and self-restraint which forbid action. But there is, from our point of view at any rate, a further idea conveyed in ‘masterly inactivity.’ The mastery is not over ourselves only; there is also a sense of authority, which our children should be as much aware of when it is inactive as when they are doing our bidding. The sense of authority is the sine quâ non of the parental relationship, and I am not sure that without that our activities or our inactivity will produce any great results. This element of strength is the backbone of our position. ‘We could an’ if we would’ and the children know it––They are free under authority, which is liberty; to be free without authority is license.  from Vol 1, Chap. 3

Authority is an important aspect of this ability to sit back a little and let the child learn on their way without constant direction and re-direction. I like how she phrases it: “they are free under authority, which is liberty; to be free without authority is license.”

If you don’t take the time to establish authority, then you can’t move forward to masterly inactivity. It just won’t work.

Other elements of masterly inactivity are good humor and confidence on the part of the parent and the child. She also shares how the parent should give a sense of omniscience and not be easily hoodwinked by their charges.

The Component Parts of Masterly Inactivity.––We have seen that authority, good humour, confidence, both self-confidence and confidence in the children, are all contained in masterly inactivity, but these are not all the parts of that whole. A sound mind in a sound body is another factor. If the sound body is unattainable, anyway, get the sound mind. Let not the nervous, anxious, worried mother think this easy, happy relation with her children is for her. She may be the best mother in the world, but the thing that her children will get from her in these moods is a touch of her nervousness––most catching of complaints. She will find them fractious, rebellious, unmanageable, and will be slow to realise that it is her fault; not the fault of her act but of her state. (from Vol. 1, Chap. 3) 

I think the toughest part for me in the midst of my frazzled day is the “calm serenity” she advises for moms. That would really be great but I am definitely a work in progress.  I like her advice below:

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. The mother would be able to hold herself in ‘wise passiveness,’ and would not fret her children by continual interference, even of hand or eye––she would let them be.

Faith is final component of masterly inactivity and of so much else in a Mason education. Faith that we are not alone in the work. That truly God is working all things together for our good (Rom. 8:28). Ah, rest . . .

When we recognise that God does not make over the bringing up of children absolutely even to their parents, but that He works Himself, in ways which it must be our care not to hinder, in the training of every child, then we shall learn passiveness, humble and wise” (Vol. 3, p. 35).

For more on Masterly Inactivity, I highly recommend Simply Charlotte Mason’s blog series and free eb00k.

How do you practice masterly inactivity in your home?

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