So I began the section in The Great Tradition: Classical Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being of selections from Aristotle this week, which included portions of Nicomachean Ethics. And that’s amusing to me because I have two different translations of that title here on my desk still. I read different selections in preparation for the Scholé Sisters podcast episode “Making the Most of Summer with Habits and Virtue.”
The section I read in The Great Tradition is different from what I read for the podcast, but Aristotle is still harkening back to “habituation.”
Habituation begins when young and never ends.
First, I want to begin with a quote I pulled from what I read in a selection not included in The Great Tradition:
It makes no small difference, then, to be habituated in this way or in that straight from childhood, but an enormous difference, or rather all the difference.
Because you become what you repeatedly do – an Aristotle paraphrase I haven’t found the source of yet along the way – what we train up our children to do matters enormously. So then I was piqued to read this from the Great Tradition section:
It is not enough for people to receive the right nurture and discipline in youth; they must also practice the lessons they have learnt, and confirm them by habit, when they are grown up.
So, Aristotle is saying we cannot neglect how children are brought up – what they are accustomed to do and delight in as they grow – but those habits are only habits of character if that habit continues into adulthood.
What does this mean for us?
Habit training begins in childhood, but is confirmed in adulthood.
Certainly we are to watch and train the habits of our children and our household, but that is not all the work to be done. The confirmation of the habit into a character is work done by the person himself when he is independent.
The test of character comes when each person is an adult – will he confirm the habits he was brought up to? Will he practice what he has been taught?
The result is not all on us. We are smoothing the path and preparing our children for life, but they must be the ones to own it when they move into adulthood.
Habit training is for us, too.
Good habits make character, and that is not only for children. Habits are for moms, too.
And, I think that brings home the help we are giving our children when we teach them good habits. How hard is it to change a habit? To learn a new pattern of doing things? Very difficult.
For us, it was easy to follow the daily pattern of breakfast – chores – math, because that is what I grew up doing myself. That I was habituated to that pattern made it simple to return to when I had my own children.
For myself, it has been difficult to learn to make my bed in the morning – because not only did I not do that when I was a child, but I mocked and despised the habit as well. That made it all the more difficult to repent, turn back, and learn.
However, it is possible. Adults are not beyond either sanctification or learning new habits.
That should encourage us for ourselves and also encourage us for our children.