For the Family’s Sake: Chapter 9

When the Children Have Gone to Bed by Carl Larsson, c. 1895

Of Beds, Balance, and Books

There are some good ideas for family routines in this chapter especially regarding bedtimes, reading aloud, and relationships within the home that have worked for many families. I agree with the author that its’s very important to find a pattern that fits your own unique situation in the different stages of life you find yourself in.

‘Regular patterns stabilize us in life through thick and thin. When disaster strikes, we hopefully go on “automatic pilot” and carry on the basic rhythm.”

The loss of a loved one or facing a disaster of some sort can bring a sense of numbness that makes you wonder why the world doesn’t stop like you think it should. It’s almost a slap in the face that life continues through your pain – and then someone turns up with a meal, so you don’t have to think of that, at least.
Or maybe you have the opportunity to help another person experiencing loss or to step in to assist a family to carry on their basic rhythm while their mother is in hospital.

“The carrying on of the basic routine saves us…from falling into confused fragmentation. Fragmented life patterns cause a downward spiral…”

Books help us to experience difficult times vicariously. Stories of families during WWII, such as The Winged Watchman or The Hiding Place, open doors into other worlds that we would otherwise be ignorant of and furnish our minds with pictures that build bridges into the lives of others. Susan Schaeffer Macaulay wrote of her father, Francis Schaeffer:

“My mother knew that my dad had had little tenderness or cultural opportunities in his migrant-like family. So she thought that reading aloud together would give him “mind pictures” and tender understanding to fill some gaps as well as enrich the children in the family. And so it did. Dear dad. He had a big soft heart, and when he reached the touching bits in the story, his voice would press on, only slightly shaky, while tears would course down his cheeks. We children learned a lot about compassion this way. We learned that it matters when other people hurt or amazing joyful things happen.”

I don’t remember ever being read to when I was a child. It wasn’t part of my family culture, but I grew up with stories. Both my mum and her mum were excellent storytellers and listening to them talk about life in the Gorbal slums of Glasgow was a gift. They both had lived eventful lives with plenty of hardship and I shared their experiences ‘secondhand.’

Passive entertainment via movies, television or computer makes up a good part of this chapter also. Years ago, I stayed with a woman I knew; a professional, highly educated individual, and I was shocked at how much time she spent watching T.V. in the evenings after work. I know people say that just watching helps them unwind but I don’t think the evidence is convincing and it didn’t seem to help this particular woman to destress. The same goes for the overuse of any passive method of entertainment such as computers.

‘…it is adictive and dulls bright minds. It makes us lazy – we lose our appetite for reading, for conversation, for real life with its engagements that demand energy, thought, and creativity…
Entertainment is an area where self-discipline must be exercised and choices must be made.’

Investing ourselves in flesh-and-blood relationships is the important thing; having time for solitude and quiet where we don’t need constant entertainment…turning off the noise.
Peace. Making time for a married couple to be together after the children are in bed without the distraction of screens.

A life in balance might mean that a person who has been working hard mentally at work finds a restful change by mowing the lawn or another physical task or vice versa. In a Charlotte Mason education this idea of alternating mental work with a very different sort of activity, such as following a maths lesson with picture study or a read aloud, is integral to the method. It doesn’t just work for children either.

I had to smile when I read this:

‘I’ve found that if I’m upset (and maybe angry), scrubbing a floor on my hands and knees can get that energy all out and leave me relaxed and ready to go on again.’

I can relate to that – the kitchen sink gets a good scrub when I get worked up about something.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.”

– Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

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