Establishing Household Habits: Established by Repetition

Reposted from Novemeber 2009


Household Habits: Established by repetition

Let these things become as a natural law to the household.


Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. — G.K. Chesterton

Habits are only formed after they are repeated without interruption for a long time. So, it might take years for these habits to be formed, but we’re going to work on it anyway.


Household Habits: Established by repetition


Supposing that the doing of a certain action a score or two of times in unbroken sequence forms a habit which it is as easy to follow as not; that, persist still further in the habit without lapses, and it becomes second nature, quite difficult to shake off; continue it further, through a course of years, and the habit has strength of ten natures, you cannot break through it without doing real violence to yourself… — Charlotte Mason

I have years of bad habits I am having to break in order to establish my new habits. So it is ok that it has been so difficult for me. I do have to stretch to the point of really breaking myself to undo the habits of bad action in order to form the habit of right action. Last time I was doing well in this area, we had a clean bedroom, and after taking my shoes off, I put them on the shoe rack. It felt completely unnatural, and it literally felt like I was fighting with myself internally to do it. “Look!” I grinned at Matt, “I’m putting my shoes away — where they belong!” “Yay!” he chuckled at me. “Look at this! I’m putting my socks in the dirty hamper! I’m not even putting them on the floor to put in the dirty hamper tomorrow! I’m doing it right now!”

When parent or teacher supposes that a good habit is a matter of obedience to his authority, he relaxes a little. A boy is late who has been making evident efforts to be punctual; the teacher good-naturedly forgoes rebuke or penalty, and the boy says to himself, “It doesn’t matter,” and begins to form the unpunctual habit. The mistake the teacher makes is to suppose that to be punctual is troublesome to the boy, so he will let him off; whereas the office of the habits of an ordered life is to make such life easy and spontaneous; the effort is confined to the first half dozen or score of occasions for doing the thing.


The “little relaxation” she allowed her child meant the forming of another contrary habit, which must be overcome before the child gets back to where he was before. — Charlotte Mason

Now, in these quotes I actually see not so much me and my children, but me and myself. I do well for a time, then ease up, and then suddenly there is chaos again. I am not talking about interruptions and emergencies and bad days, I am talking about normal days that I say, “Oh, well, I’m just not going to do it today.” THAT has been what has thrown off my progress more times than real disruption in life. And THAT is what I want to work to avoid most this time around. I know disruptions are coming. But what I am not going to do this time is cut myself slack on undisrupted, completely typical days. “I don’t feel like it today” is not ok.

While reviewing my books before starting this series, I made a connection. Our phonics program says sight reading is a habit formed after a child has sounded out the word about 100 times. He practices decoding until he reaches mastery of the word. Several months ago I applied this principle to our math, stopped forging ahead in the book, and just gave Hans drill sheets. I am not having him memorize the math facts by rote, I am having him work the problems over and over and over again until he doesn’t need to think it through any more. And it’s working.

So, now, I see I can apply this same “mastery” principle to my housework. I need to work through my schedule, my lists, my written-down routine, my habits I want to establish, over and over and over again until I master them. I let myself off the hook too easily and too soon. After 3 weeks or so of doing a good job, I think I don’t really need to follow my list. But then after a few more weeks, we’re back to square one again and I decide what I really need is a new list. But what I need is to not stop working the system until I’ve mastered it, internalized it. 100 times, perhaps. But, actually, that’s only about 3-4 months if I stick to it. And then, when things do get off track, say Christmas week or when the baby is born, I need to jump right back into it ASAP. Everyday on the schedule is a day toward the goal. Every day off the schedule is not a day off, but a day — or maybe even too — backwards, away from the goal.

We’ve had the same basic routine for years: Up, dressed, breakfast, chores, play, school, play, lunch, quiet time, play, dinner, bedtime. I am not messing with any of that. It is entrenched. All I want is to add in picking up times, really, and get them as firmly entrenched in our household culture as quiet time from 1-3 is. There are days it doesn’t happen, sometimes because of chaos and sometimes because of a special play date, but most days it’s the natural part of the day. The times when it hasn’t been have been awful, and it always builds up gradually to awful. I want to establish our picking up times in the same vein. Not as essential as breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but one of those pieces that makes the day feel complete and right.

All my Charlotte Mason quotes in this series are taken from Laying Down the Rails by Sonya Shafer.

Establishing Household Habits series



Household Habits: Established by repetition
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