It’s discouraging for me as a parent to see how much right and wrong have become blurred. There’s no longer a moral code that all children should learn: right and wrong is arbitrary to the world. When I read Charlotte Mason’s words, it amazes me how relevant they are to our times. In her third volume, School Education, she writes about docility and authority.
Understanding Authority: Three Types of Parents
Mason writes about three types of parents in this section. She mentions that educational thought ebbs and flows, and once one tide rises, it will fall again. (pg 3). This is so interesting to me, because I can see the ebb and flow in the parenting styles she mentions in this chapter.
The “Because I Said So” Parent
The Authoritarian parent was common before the 20th century. These parents expected obedience, “because I said so.” With the exception of a few rebellious children, most kids knew to obey immediately with no questions asked. Charlotte Mason described these parents as loving, but that they were used to this type of parenting and didn’t question it. She told the story of a boy who walked miles in the cold and eagerly returned home to warm up. When he arrived, his very loving father asked, “Did you shut the gate?” Since the boy wasn’t sure, his father asked him to go back and check. He headed back into the cold for the mile-long walk.
Early in the century, authority was everything in the government of the home, and the docility of the children went without saying, that is, always excepting the few rebellious spirits. (School Education, page 6).
The Anything Goes Parent
This type of parent is often driven by the thought that there is no God to establish a definite right and wrong. Since they view authority as arbitrary, each person has to decide what they think is right. They let children learn right and wrong through experimenting and consequences. They don’t want to encroach upon their child’s sense of self by telling him or her what to do.
From the dethronement of the divine, follows the dethronement of all human authority, whether it be of kings and their deputies over nations, or of parents over families. (Volume 3, pg 6.)
The Parent Under Divine Authority
The final type of parent is what I am called to be as a Christian. A parent who recognizes divine authority has the duty to teach her child right and wrong according to The Word. Since he made me a parent, I have the duty to be in authority over my children. My authority isn’t because I’m a grown up or because of anything I’ve done to earn it.
We know now that authority is vested in the office and not in the person; that the moment it is treated as a personal attribute it is forfeited. We know that a person in authority is a person authorised; and that he who is authorised is under authority. (Volume 3, page 12.)
What Does This Authority Look Like?
A parent under divine authority is gentle and reasonable. When challenged, she’s willing to reconsider her commands and accept that her child’s perspective might be right.
We need not add that authority is just and faithful in all matters of promise-keeping; it is also considerate, and that is why a good mother is the best home-ruler; she is in touch with the children, knows their unspoken schemes and half-formed desires, and where she cannot yield, she diverts; she does not crush with a sledge-hammer, an instrument of rule with which a child is somehow never very sympathetic. (Volume 3, pg 23)
Learning this idea of divine authority has been so helpful in my parenting. It has shed a new light on the phrase, “pick your battles.” Before giving my children directions, I think about how important it really is. Cleaning up? Important. Not dragging the dog leash around the house? Not so important.
How to Respond to “Why?”
“Why?” seems to be every young child’s favorite word. I should keep a count to see how many times I hear it every day! Miss H often asks why I give her the directions that I do. Although Charlotte Mason says that children shouldn’t get into the habit of questioning their parents’ commands, she also says:
But just to know that you can ask and tell is a great outlet, and means, to the parent, the power of direction, and to the child, free and natural development. (Volume 3, page 5).
I’ve also learned that tying my answer into God’s divine authority is a good way to respond. When Miss H asks why she can’t ride her bike in the street alone, I tell her that it’s because God gave me the job to protect her. This lets her know that I’m not ruling arbitrarily- I’m fulfilling the position that God gave me.
There is so much to read on this topic! You can read this chapter of School Education here.
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