Several years ago I read a book called Ideas Have Consequences. The title says it all: ideas (good or bad) do affect our lives, for better or for worse. We act based on what we believe to be true. Our beliefs come about through the ideas that we allow to enter and grow in our minds.
If this is true, then it is also true that we must carefully consider what ideas help to shape our own lives and even more importantly we must also give careful thought to the ideas that we allow to enter our children's minds. Charlotte Mason says,
[We must]...attempt to set a noble child's heart beating with the thought that he is required to be perfect even as his Father which is in Heaven is perfect.
It is time we set ourselves seriously to this work of moral education which is to be done, most of all by presenting the children with high ideals. "Lives of great men all remind us that we can make our lives sublime," and the study of the lives of great men and of the great moments in the lives of smaller men is most wonderfully inspiring to children...
Vol. 3 p. 133
This concept of sowing ideas in the minds of children so that they will be inspired to be like the great men and women that they hear about is very striking. I wonder how much of what we ourselves have become (or are becoming) has been inspired by great ideas we've picked up through the years...
We entertain the idea which gives birth to the act and the act repeated again and again becomes the habit. "Sow an act," we are told, "reap a habit." "Sow a habit, reap a character." But we must go a step further back, we must sow the idea or notion which makes the act worth while.
[A child's] nurse or his mother knows how often and how ingeniously the tale must be brought to his mind...she knows too how the idea must be made at home in the boy's mind until it becomes a chivalric impulse which he cannot resist.
Vol 6 p. 102
This shows us why it is so important to expose children to, and feed them on, the good, the true and the beautiful - so that they can become like these things and these people they are breathing in, so to speak. I can think of many examples of people (both from books and from real life) who have inspired me to change my behavior and have resulted in habits that were either new or different from my old habits. I am reminded of A Little Princess - how Sarah behaved like a princess throughout all her trials because she knew how a princess ought to behave and the idea inspired the habits that she formed.
This means I need to pay close attention to the ideas that inform my habits. Why do I do what I do? What can I change to conform to the high ideals that I look up to?
I find myself becoming more and more like my own mother as the years go by and in turn I see more clearly how very much like my grandma my mom is. I also see my dad becoming more like his mother. Once again I am reminded of what Andrew Kern likes to say: "you become what you behold". Really, our children "behold" us daily at our best and at our worst during the most formative years of their lives. They can hardly help becoming like us. So if I believe all this to be true, then it is absolutely essential that I behave like the kind of person that I want them to become. I must be attentive myself (i.e. put down my kindle!), and speak kindly myself (so often I catch myself telling one child or the other to speak nicely to his siblings in a very mean tone of voice). If I want them to develop the habit of daily Bible reading then they must see me reading my own Bible, etc.