How reading Anne of Green Gables helped me chill out as a parent

How reading Anne of Green Gables helped me chill out as a parent
Written by Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool and blogger at Steady Mom

“There, there, Marilla, you can have your own way,” said Matthew reassuringly. “Only be as good and kind to her as you can without spoiling her. I kind of think she’s one of the sort you can do anything with if you only get her to love you.”

As a 12-year-old I spent hours under the influence of a red-headed orphan. We had plenty of exciting adventures together, and she taught me plenty of lessons. Basically she changed me. And perhaps Anne (with an “e,” of course) planted seeds in my life that later grew into a pretty full harvest–seeds of adoption, of love for books, of writing, and of being an unapologetic starry-eyed dreamer.

I owe a lot to her.

I read the entire Anne of Green Gables series a few times as a teen and young adult. I also read pretty much anything else I could get my hands on by L.M. Montgomery. Her writing spoke to me.

Years later as a newly married woman, I found my life profoundly impacted when I read all five volumes of L.M. Montgomery’s journals. (If you are a serious Anne fan, you must read these!)

Once again, this author’s words altered my life. This time it wasn’t quite so starry-eyed, however. These were grown-up entries of joy mixed with deep sorrow, happiness side-by-side with heartbreak. I wasn’t sure I could ever look at Anne in the same light again.

But it turned out Anne had a few more lessons up her (puffed) sleeves for me.

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“Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive–it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we knew all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?”

I once read that when you read a book, especially a classic that has impacted others for generations, you should go to it with a question–a specific question in mind relating to your life.

As I read Anne of Green Gables, this time as a parent of three, I asked myself: What can I learn about parenting from this book? And the surprising answer is something I’ve tried to implement ever since:

Loosen up and let maturity do its work.

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As a tween and early teen, Anne is constantly getting into mischief of some sort: making up lies (“stories”), dying her hair green, falling off the ridgepole of a roof, accidentally getting her best friend drunk.

To name a few. Have any constantly mischievous children of your own?

Anne has a fierce temper as well, which shows itself in full fury when she breaks her slate over Gilbert’s head after he teases her about her red hair. Though he apologizes, Anne also has a tendency to hold a grudge:

“Gilbert took from his desk a little pink candy heart with a gold motto on it, “You are sweet,” and slipped it under the curve of Anne’s arm. Whereupon Anne arose, took the pink heart gingerly between the tips of her fingers, dropped it on the floor, ground it to powder beneath her heel, and resumed her position without deigning to bestow a glance on Gilbert.”

Tense and stern Marilla, who (with her brother Matthew) adopts Anne, gradually softens in spite of Anne’s behavior. In the incident with the broken slate, she allows Anne to stay home from school (i.e. homeschool!) until she decides she wants to go back:

“Marilla took Mrs. Rachel’s advice and not another word was said to Anne about going back to school. She learned her lessons at home, did her chores and played with Diana in the chilly purple autumn twilights…”

In spite of Anne’s mischief and misbehavior, there was genius inside: imagination, creativity, intelligence, character. It just needed a little more time to find its way to expression.

At the right season, it blossomed into brilliance.

Photo by Tourism PEI

Considering Anne’s maturing process brought to mind another quote I read recently in Unschooling Rules: 55 Ways to Unlearn What We Know About School and Rediscover Education:

“The truth here is that maturation is magic. Irrational teenagers do become rational. Calmness and focus return. All of childhood is filled with times of equilibrium and disequilibrium.

Children’s bodies do each have their own clock. Each clock just may not match the expectations of the structures around the children.”
~ Chapter 40, Maturing solves a lot of problems

Has homeschooling made you a little too tense–a little too stern? What would it mean if you allowed maturity to do its work?

Maybe if we trusted the process, we could relax a little bit more, laugh a little in the midst of the mischief, and allow ourselves to enjoy the journey.

“… a little “appreciation” sometimes does quite as much good as all the conscientious “bringing up” in the world.”

Do you need to loosen up? Do you have a story to share about watching maturity do its work? Any other Anne fans out there?

This post originally published on August 13, 2012.

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She serves as editor of Simple Homeschool, and blogs about mindful parenting at Steady Mom. Jamie is also the author of two books: Steady Days and Mindset for Moms.

Comments

  1. Oh Jamie! I love this post! I too love Anne with an “e” with al of my heart. :) I loved the “Emily” books equally, in a very different way – what did you think of them? I need to read those journals. I am not a homeschooling mama, though once upon a time I thought I would be. But this post is such a good reminder for all of us, no matter what kind of education we’re giving our children…and a good thought on how to handle ourselves, as well. Grace. Patience. Grace. Patience. :)

    • Oh yes, definitely applies whether you homeschool or not! I did love the Emily books, too, though it’s been quite some time since I’ve read them!

      And oh yes: grace, patience.

  2. I think I need to re-read that book today. Thanks, Jamie!

  3. Oh, Jamie! What an excellent post! I think I’ll go back and re-read those! :-) I definitely think that I need to lighten up. Sometimes I am so excited about what my kids could learn, that I forget to give them the time to get excited about it themselves.

    Thanks for a great (as always!) post!
    Johanna @ My Home Tableau’s latest post: Establish Home Routines that Make Life Simpler

    • “Sometimes I am so excited about what my kids could learn, that I forget to give them the time to get excited about it themselves.” Exactly! This is completely how I am! Sometimes they’re so busy staring at the crazy Mama extolling the opportunities to explore, they forget to look at what we’re exploring!

  4. I’ve just been in the middle of an Anne reading marathon…what with moving to a new home, hubby starting a new job, halfway through the pregnancy of my fourth little one, and about to officially embark our homeschooling journey with our soon-to-be five-year-old twins, Anne has been my escape and lifeline to remembering how to live a simple, beauty filled life. I loved this idea of reading with the mindset of parenting…thank you!

  5. I love Anne of Green Gables and can’t wait to share the stories with my daughters. In my youth, I used to take solo walks through a botanical garden and totally channeled Anne and gave crazy descriptive names to all the ponds and different sections in there. Those were some of my happiest childhood moments. :)

  6. As a carrot top myself, I always felt connected to Anne in a special way. Thanks for the reminder to lighten up and let maturity run its course. I find this easy some days but other days I feel judged when my kiddo isn’t where others think she “should” be.
    Steph’s latest post: Some Date Night Strategies for Our Not-So-Perfect Lives

  7. Great post Jaime – thank you. Anne is our first read aloud slated for this coming school year and I feel giddy about it! I love your perspective and I for one could stand to loosen up a bit. Thanks for the reminder.
    Cari’s latest post: A Life Reflected

  8. Loved reading this…thank you!

  9. YES, I need to loosen up! Homeschooling 6, from pre-K to a fifth grader makes me feel often like a stern task master rather than one attempting to inspire my children to love to learn! Thanks for the encouragement. I hate to say I have never read the whole series of Anne books- I think it’s time :)
    Rachel Marie’s latest post: They must all have tapeworms

    • It’s so easy to feel that way, Rachel. It could be a great time to read it with your 5th grader–I don’t know if your eldest is a son or daughter, but I refuse to think of Anne as a “girl’s” book.

      In fact my almost 8-year-old son is practically begging me to read it to him. I think all of Anne’s mischief appeals to children of both genders.

      • Agreed, Jamie! So glad you brought up Anne not being just for girls. I read it aloud with my sons a few years ago and so many things about the book transcend gender. Such a great book, and a wonderful read aloud–for girls and boys!

  10. Anne was my hero growing up and I know had a great impact on my worldview, my imagination, and my love of learning. I am so thrilled to see her spunk being applied to homeschooling as I start the journey myself. Long live the kindred spirits for they are not so scarce as I used to believe!

  11. Oh, I love Anne of Green Gables! I read the whole series several times as a girl too. I have been dreaming of reading these with my girls when they get old enough, but this post inspired me to read them again on my own, and L. M. Montgomery’s journals too. Love this post! -Amy
    Amy’s latest post: Stay-At Home-Mom – What Do I Do All Day Anyway?

  12. Oh my goodness – what a walk down memory lane this morning! I can still remember bringing those books home from the library the first time . . . I devoured them all, as did my mother! I now have almost everyone of L.M. Montgomery’s books, many of which were out of print long ago. I even went to Prince Edward Island the year I graduated from high school. (Which is quite a jaunt from Nebraska!) I took my aunt and we visited all of the L.M. Montgomery museums and homes. I’m pretty sure that there was no author that influenced me more than she when I was growing up. But other than a quick read here and there when I needed something easy and relaxing, I have not thought to let those favorites influence my world of parenting. What a great reminder of how something classic is timeless. Thanks so much for connecting my parenting world to my childhood.
    Roxy Schow’s latest post: potatoes

  13. I love all of the Anne books. I listen to the audiobooks nearly every night. Librivox has an EXCELLENT free version (all Librivox stuff is free). I find it so relaxing to escape to a kinder, more sane world before closing my eyes for the night..

  14. I’m currently reading a chapter of night to my seven year old and she loves it. Already I’m finding there are a lot of life lessons in the book to offer to the both of us including how living a life rich in imagination offers much magic to our experience and to those around us and the importance of taking in the beauty of the world with fresh, romantic eyes. And for some reason I can’t read Matthew’s words without a thick Texan drawl ;)
    Kathy’s latest post: Simplicity Parenting You Part Four ~ The Dream Come True

  15. Thank you so much! I reread these about 8 months ago just as we were beginning our homeschooling journey. They spoke wisdom into my heart and mind, as well as reawakened dreams long ago laid to rest. I’ve been so amazed that as I pursue this journey I feel myself returning. I don’t know where I was, but I’m glad to be back!

  16. I love Anne and I loved this post! I was just thinking yesterday that I need to stop scolding and being frustrated at my kids and their “childishness.” What a silly thing to get worked up about – the fact that they are not adults yet! My eldest has a temper (I can completely see her breaking a slate over a boy’s head, no problem!) and my middler is a starry eyed dreamer, and my youngest is mischievousness as the day is long. :) Thanks for the reminder, especially as “school” is going to start up soon and my lofty, sophisticated expectations will be totally shot to pieces, as they are every September !
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  17. xoxo

    You know everything I might say but I will add this: I am so glad you have found joy again in Anne. I know the journals, as wonderful as they are, had altered your feelings about reading Miss Shirley in the same light. Happy to know she’s as vibrant and rich as ever.

    I haven’t re-read since my teaching days. There was so much to glean there!

    Re-reading Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books as a teacher and then as a parent taught me to be compassionate and patient, to remember how young minds work, and to honor their worlds. Have you spent any time with the Quimbys since having your three?

    Wish you were closer, dear friend.
    Caroline Starr Rose’s latest post: For All Writer Mamas

  18. My girls and I love Anne of green Gables. We listen to our audio story and they love read and re-read the books.
    I love Matthew’s kindness and grace towards Anne, but I think I respond more like a Marilla towards my kids at times! Thanks for your gentle reminder to loosen up and enjoy my children!
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  19. Linda Kristin says:

    I love, love, love Anne!!! I so badly wanted to write about Anne in my master’s thesis in English literature. Instead I ended up comparing women’s roles in Emily trilogy and Little House series. (i got stuck when trying to write about Anne.) . I so LOVED every moment of doing research and was so proud and happy when I was able to finish. I love both Montgomery and Ingalls as writers and their lovely works of fiction. Though Anne is hardly fiction, every time I read the novels, she is alive. I guess she is alive because Montgomery poured so much of herself into her novels, we recognise the pain and rejection she experienced and the dreams she had for her future. The only sad thing about reading her novels is realising Montgomery’s own life was far from as happy as the heroines she brought to life… I hope the angels tell her about the impact of the legacy she left.

    • I know, Linda. Knowing parts of Maud’s life, even after becoming such a famous writer, it was hard for me. You wanted someone who could bring such beauty in the world to know such beauty herself.

  20. Anne with an E is exactly why I gave my little girl an “e” after her middle name…even though she has three grandmothers named “Ann.” :)

    This is such good advice, especially in the heat of curriculum-choosing season. I worry sometimes about whether I’m “doing” the right things for my kids, but I realize that time and maturity (and God) are doing their work on me, as well.

    Thanks, Jamie.
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  21. Another Anne Fan here. I must read those journals ; didn’t know about those.

    • Oh my. You really, really must. She started one when she was an early teen and kept journal writing until a month before her death. Absolutely incredible stuff there.

  22. I LOVE Anne of Green Gables and grew up on her… although I have yet to read the books! We nicknamed my sister AOGG because of her obsession. :)
    Karla’s latest post: Five in a Row {aka FIAR}

  23. I love Anne Shirley. I read about Anne for the first time when I was a teenage. Then any time PBS would run the movies, my mom would let me sit for hours and watch them.

    I always saw so much of myself in Anne. Not quite able to fit into the mold. A little quirky, but always with good intentions. I also wanted the man I married to be like Gilbert. What persistance!

    I have a 16 year old daughter and for the first few years of teenagedom, I fought to control the irrationalness. This last year I have learned that my kid is going to make mistakes and yes, she should walk out the consequences of those, but in the end, my job is too keep loving and guiding her. Guiding, not directing. Because one of these days, she will have to walk out on her own and live her own life. She will need to be the director. My job is to teach her how to do it, not do it for her. It has been challenging, but also rewarding. I have seen her mature in ways I had despaired of and I think it is because she feels like she can take the reins of her life and I am there to support her not control her.

    • Wow, Jessica, that is so true. And yet, sounds so challenging, too!

      • Very challenging. And I must say, I do not always succeed. There are still days when the controlling mom comes forth, but there are just not as many. I just don’t want to see her hurt or go through the struggles I did as a kid. But I realize that those struggles and hurts made me who I am for the good and the bad. She needs to develop who she is and that is done through trials as well as triumphs.
        Jessica’s latest post: 31 Days to a Happy Husband

  24. I adore the Anne books!! I have just recently started the Emily books :)

  25. I absolutely adore this post. It truly inspired me to retread the series and see what I can gain in order to chill out myself. Thank you!

  26. Because of Anne, I have a Bosom Buddy friend and a Kindred Spirit friend. They both mean different things to me!
    I read the Anne series when our first daughter was born…..and was thrilled to see the movies much later on……even though they didn’t stick to the books.
    I wonder if reading the books affected my mothering? We’ll never know.

  27. I recently re-read those after not having read them since I was a child and I was surprised at how much wisdom was in there. I kept wanting to grab a pen and underline stuff! As a mom now, I really appreciated the later books where she is a mom and wrestling with parenting them.
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  28. Yes, I think homeschooling and being with my kids’ 24/7 does make me tense … and I think you’ve described the reason well. I see their immaturity and think I should be teaching it out of them, rather than trusting the process.
    Christie’s latest post: Brownies

  29. “After all,” Anne had said to Marilla once, “I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.” (Anne of Avonlea)

    This quote has deeply affected the way I view life. I am trying to practice having soft, sweet and simple days. I’ve learned so much from Anne. I think all girls should read these books it gives deep perspective and reverence to out door play, imagination, respect, the importance of community and of friendship.
    Mary– The Yellow Door Paperie’s latest post: For Today: A Short List

  30. As an Anne WITH AN E with fiery red hair, I instantly identified with these books when I was younger. My mother, who worked fulltime, read me a few chapters every night. It is probably my fondest memory of her/my childhood. You have inspired me to revisit these before it is time to read then to my own daughter! And I will definitely be checking out those journals.

  31. Great post! I love Anne and I did need the reminder. Thanks!
    Michelle’s latest post: Dress Like A Celt

  32. is there anything quite like anne with an e?

  33. I love Anne with a fierceness and pride that comes from having lived in PEI when I was little, and having bright red hair just like Anne. My mom says that tourists used to ask to take a picture with me when she put my hair in braids :) I\’ve been to Green Gables many times, read the books tons, and watched the movies. The TV special where Gil goes off to war, though… (totally not in the books!!) well that\’s just sacrilege ;) I loved this post so much!

  34. I gave one my daughters “Anne” as her middle name, and she has not disappointed that spirit! I wonder at what age I should begin exposing them to these books?
    Christine’s latest post: Free? Ask me…

  35. I am an Anne lover as well and really appreciated this post! Have you heard of “Before Green Gables” by Budge Wilson? She wrote it in 2008. I recently discovered it at my library and I just finished reading it. It was SO good! It filled in a lot of holes about who her parents were, what she was like as a child, etc. She worked with the Montgomery family to write it. Someone else may have mentioned it in the comments already, but I didn’t read through them. Just thought I’d pass on this bit of info to another Anne lover! You can find the book on Amazon.

  36. I LOVE the Anne books and the movies (the first two – don’t get me started on the third one!) One of my favorite quotes from the first movie is when Anne’s teacher tells her that “Each day is fresh, with no mistakes in it.” That is something I try to remember each morning as we go through our first year of home schooling.

  37. what an inspiring post. i grew up in canada and wanted to be a writer, so naturally i was an anne fan. i’ve never thought to read the journals but just checked them out (and read some of the first few pages) on amazon. now i’m hooked!

  38. I just read Anne of Green Gables to my 10 year old son this summer. We both LOVED it! My son got such a kick out her innocent mischief. He couldn’t wait to discuss the book with his grandmama whose read all the classics.

  39. I adore Anne and LM Montgomery. Actually I am also very fond of Emily and Story Girl and many other of her characters. We are reading Story Girl right now and I am reading Akin to Anne, a short story collection, myself.
    I have often been inspired as a mom by Anne but this is great reminder for the start of the school year and I start working more deliberately with my five yo. I know maturity facilitates learn, my oldest proves it over and over.

  40. Wonderful post! I too, love Anne and can’t wait to share her with my own kids (I still have #8 to read this year!). I love the insights you had with this reading, and I am guilty of these often, especially since mine are so little. How does it come about that we expect them to be so big and understand so much?
    Sarah M
    Sarah M’s latest post: Playful Learning “Around the World” Interview

  41. Jamie, this is a brilliant post. A friend of mine does a coming-of-age ceremony with teenagers. He has each young person bring in certain things that have shaped their lives: a song, a picture book, the very first memory, and of course, the chapter book they read over and over. These early impressions say a lot about us. They also shape us. Personally, I call The Secret Garden the book that saved me. http://lauragraceweldon.com/2011/03/25/how-the-secret-garden-saved-me/ I read it over and over in times of turmoil. Only now, looking back at it, can I see how profoundly this book affected the direction of my life.

    Thanks for this post. Sharing!

  42. um, yes. i estimate that i have watched anne of green gables and sequel over 100 times. i used to watch it on VHS and then rewind and watch again. our second daughter’s middle name is anne (of course with an e). i think i have the entire movie memoriezed word for word. i amaze my daughters with this skill (or annoy them). this post inspired me to pull out the books and start reading again. i have never thought about parenting in light of Anne and her life and story, but this resonates deeply with me. i could def use a heavy dose of chilling out as a mom. thanks for this!!
    chelsea’s latest post: News, News, News….

  43. Oh Jamie, I’m so glad I read this post. It’s been years since I’ve read the Anne books, but I’m starting again right now. I have a 14 year old daughter and I feel as if my inability to relax has driven a wedge in our relationship. She’s a wonderful person, creative, funny, and smart and the last thing I want is to stifle that personality. I believe fear drives so much of my tendency to major on the minors. Maybe, at the core, I’m so afraid I’m going to “miss” something in her schooling/upbringing that everything becomes a huge issue in my mind, and unfortunately I often respond from that place instead of the quiet sanctuary God offers if I would but trust Him. Thanks for the reminder. The journey counts as much as the outcome – the journey may count more because it informs the outcome. God bless!

  44. Oh, I love Anne! I, too, have fiery red hair & after reading Anne as a girl , I often wished my middle name, Ann, was “Anne with an E!” Thank you for this reminder to allow maturity to blossom.
    Beth’s latest post: A Day In The Life – Watsons

  45. What a good read! Although I don’t homeschool my children, I do have two toddlers at home and I love Anne of Green Gables, too! I completely understand your point here…I think our own worries and stress can hinder our parenting if we aren’t careful, despite our efforts. There are so many great, wholesome messages that come from the story of Anne. :)
    Blessings,
    Leslie

  46. I love Anne of Green Gables too! I come from PEI, so I know her house and the setting very well! I just started the parenting journey a year ago, so as I get into more challenging parenting, I will have to think of Anne thanks to this article.
    Adriana

  47. I’m also in the middle of an Anne marathon! I’m loving the books with Anne as a mother right now. They help me breathe :) Though I must say, I find myself longing for Susan Baker to come to my house. I wouldn’t have to do the dishes! I think I could be as patient as Anne if I had Susan as my sidekick.

  48. I love any chance to talk about or read anything Anne-related. Now to apply it to parenting??? Oh, yes! What a fun and helpful post. I have a few kiddos that could use a mama who is patient enough to let maturity take it’s time. Thank you.
    Amanda’s latest post: Confessions of a Pollyanna

  49. Thank you for your post. As a girl I loved reading the Anne of Green Gables series. Now I am inspired to pull it out of storage to read aloud to my son. I think we will both enjoy! I also love your reminder that children need to be given the time to mature. A wise educator once told me that my child needed to be given the “gift of time.” How right he was! As mothers we panic when our children seem to fall “behind,” but we must ask ourselves “behind according to whose standards?” Children cannot be behind, they just are. Some learn things quickly, others at a slower pace. Thank you for the gentle reminder to myself and the rest of your readers to relax and let our children develop because they will develop, mature and learn in their own time.
    Best,
    Heather
    Heather’s latest post: Just to Clarify, Are We “Real” Friends, “Mommy” Friends or Facebook Friends?

  50. This is awesome! I absolutely adore Anne of Green Gables. I love the idea of looking to the past for insight into the present :) I think my kids would love to do this series as a read aloud. Thanks for reminding me of my love for Anne!
    Sherry’s latest post: Shhh…..

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