Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Power of Routines

Thoughts on School Education: Chapter 2 "Docility and Authority in the Home and School Part II: How Authority Behaves"
In this second chapter, Charlotte gets into  specifics of what 'authority' ought to look like.  I have actually written before on this topic – this chapter was assigned reading during the 20 Principles study last year.  It was good for me to go back and review the ideas in that post – I think maybe I need to hang that list up somewhere to remind myself what healthy authority looks like.  This time through this chapter, however, I noticed a something new.  (Isn't that the sign of a good book?  Something you can read again and again and see something new each time?)  That's what I want to talk about today.
"So far as the daily routine of small obediences goes, we help them thus to fulfill a natural function – the response of docility to authority." (p.20)
"Now to work a machine such as a typewriter or a bicycle, one must, before all things, have practice; one must have got into the way of working it involuntarily, without giving any thoughts to the matter: and to give a child this power over himself – first in response to the will of another, later, in response to his own, is to make a man of him." (p.20)
"…the parents are slow to perceive that it is not the soothing routine of lessons which is exhausting to the little girl, but the fact that she goes through the labor of decision twenty times a day, and not only that, but the added fatigue of a contest to get her own way.  Every point in the day's routine is discussed, nothing comes with the comforting ease of a matter of course; the child always prefers to do something else, and commonly does it.  No wonder the poor little girl is worn out." (p.21)
"They are careful to form habits upon which the routine of life runs easily…" (p.22)
Did you notice a theme running through these quotations from this chapter?   These points brought home to me again the idea that routines are the keys to habit.   I've had the idea of routines on my mind a lot lately, since one of my main 'takeaways' from our reading of Desiring the Kingdom was the importance of habits and routines.  After tweaking our evening routine to better reflect our values, I discovered that a good routine provided us with a framework upon which to hang other habits we'd like to develop.  For example, having an evening routine in place that helped to remove some of the chaos from our supper hour has made it easier to focus on helping our children develop better table manners.   These thoughts from Charlotte have me wondering if we can take the importance of routines a step further – our routines give us "rails" to help us move through our days more easily and to practice some of the more 'moral' habits such as obedience.   When we have established good routines in our home, we do things just because it is the next thing to do – we don't have to think about it.   In our home, we have breakfast, we have our morning devotional time, and then we go do chores.  It's just what we do.   Occasionally we have some hiccups along the way, but generally we don't have big showdowns over obedience when morning chore time comes because it's just time to do them.   I think perhaps this is an example of what Charlotte was trying to get at here – our routine provides us with the opportunity to get daily practice in "small obediences", thereby helping to develop our obedience "muscles" if that makes sense.
Having these kind of routines in place also helps us to save energy for the bigger and more 'out-of-the ordinary' decisions that need to be made.  We don't spend all day needing to decide "what comes next?" because, barring any unusual circumstances, we already know.  As a mother, I have more energy to focus on discussing big ideas and heart issues with my children.  I am calmer and better able to maintain a proper balance of authority in my home.  The children live in the security the "comforting ease of [things happening] as a matter of course" to borrow Charlotte's terminology.   In a recent thread over on the AO Forum, we were discussing how we could develop a relaxed atmosphere in our homes.  I realized that having a consistent routine in place is a big key to that – not a rigid schedule – but a general flow to the day where we all sort of know what to expect.   I've noticed that on weekends or the odd weekday that my husband is home from work – when our normal weekday routine goes out the window – we all tend to be more cranky and fractious with each other.  I can't help but wonder if that's because we've lost the security that our routine provides.  (Perhaps my next project needs to be to consider a reasonable routine for weekends and holidays!)
All of these things taken together have helped me to realize that routines can be a really powerful tool in our life-hacks toolbox.  Beyond the practical benefits of smoother and more relaxed day, routines can also be a tool we can use to help ourselves and our families to grow in wisdom and virtue.  In her book A Mother's Rule of Life, Holly Pierlot explains how she borrowed from the monastic tradition to help develop routines in her home that would help her grow in holiness:
"When Mother Teresa began writing her Rule, she didn't begin with the schedule.  Instead she began writing out the 'principles and spiritual goals' that defined the mission of the Missionaries of Charity…It was only after Mother Teresa had first defined specifically what she was doing and why she was going to do it, that she next drew up a simple schedule based on that mission…"
It is worth really carefully (and prayerfully) considering what goals we have, what habits we want to develop, what virtues we need to practice and then seeking to establish routines that will reflect our values, give us opportunities to move towards our goals, and in that way grow in grace and virtue.  In her series "Education is for Life", Mystie explores this idea and walks through some practical ways that we can flesh out the big idea "principles" that we want to live by.  I'm hoping to revisit this series during our summer break as I consider our plans for the fall.
Charlotte closes this chapter with an encouraging reminder:
"Let us not despise the days of small things nor grow weary in the well-doing…" (p.23)
Those little things?  They are worth persevering in because they can have a far greater influence than we might ever think.


  1. I really appreciated your post. I'm reading through Vol. 3 right now and am finishing up chapter two. I've also already read Ch. 14 &15. The portion you quoted above from pg. 21, I think the example she gives there is extremely helpful. Ms. Mason has a way of helping parents really get an understanding of the importance of routines.

    I think most young children need routine especially. We usually keep a general flow to our day; but the last couple of weeks our daily routine has been all mixed up because my husband started a new job and his working hours are so very different from the job he had before. So we are having to adjust to that and make a few changes in our routine.

    It takes time to get a daily flow of a routine in place. But it's definitely worth the time and effort. Things just tend to run more smoothly once that daily routine is in place. Don't they? :)

    1. Absolutely. While we do need to tweak our routine from time to makes such a difference in our home when we make the effort to do so. All of my children seem to need the structure that a routine provides, and one of them particularly so. It's helpful to me to discipline myself to do what is needed when I'm feeling kind of lazy too. :)

    2. My 6yo especially needs the routine. So we'll be keeping our basic school routine through the summer so that she'll be able to continue to have that structure in the day. :)

  2. I relate to this so much...including the way things seem to fall apart on weekends.
    And I was startled to see Holly Pierlot's name...she is also from PEI, and I used to know her back when I worked selling homeschool materials here (way back in the days before children...). I had no idea she was famous enough to be known so far away! :)

    1. Ha! What a small world. I picked up her book awhile back since I had seen it mentioned on a couple of different blogs that I like to read....neither of which were written by someone from PEI. :)