18 months ago I gave birth to twins. Those delightful blessings overflowed my arms and heart and set our world on a bit of a tilt. This summer I felt a bit like I was awaking from a long sleep. I found myself looking to bring some order to the chaos around me; needing to teach obedience to two toddling boys and refreshing the habit with my three older children. Alongside many other mothers, I found myself overwhelmed with the idea, trying and failing, feeling as though I was missing something. Then, quite by accident, while reading through the Charlotte Mason’s Principle Study put together by Brandy Vencel, I had a lightbulb moment. Obedience is only one side of the coin. On the other side is authority. Without authority there is no obedience.
Charlotte Mason wrote in Chapter 2 of School Education (Vol 3) about the story in the Gospels in which the centurion that came to Jesus for help said, "I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, 'Go,' and he goeth; another, 'Come,' and he cometh; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he doeth it." Before this, I hadn’t actually stopped to think of myself as over my children simply because I am under God’s rule. (Such as an army captain might be in command of a hundred or more soldiers, but still under the authority of the general.) I am in authority over my children simply because God has placed me in that position. As a result, I am to train the children, not according to who I think they should be, but according to what is right, and although I do not need to nag the children with these words, “God does not allow us to do such and such” they should be often present in my own mind. Do my children know that I too am under authority? Do they know that more important than being their mama, I am under God’s rule and that I MUST obey Him? Because I am under authority and the children are under authority, we are all on the same team. Instead of being against them, I can walk alongside them.
Maybe this next quote will not capture you as it captured me when I first began reading this section, but for me it was the something missing that I mentioned above.
“Authority is not uneasy; captious, harsh and indulgent by turns. This is the action of autocracy, which is self-sustained as it is self-derived, and is impatient and resentful, on the watch for transgressions, and swift to take offence. Autocracy has ever a drastic penal code, whether in the kingdom, the school, or the family. It has, too, many commandments. 'Thou shalt' and 'thou shalt not,' are chevaux de frise about the would-be awful majesty of the autocrat. The tendency to assume self-derived power is common to us all, even the meekest of us, and calls for special watchfulness; the more so, because it shows itself fully as often in remitting duties and in granting indulgences as in inflicting punishments.” (Vol 3 Ch 2, emphasis mine) This was me. I felt as though I was looking in the mirror. No wonder my home was in an uproar. What a place of turmoil, loneliness, and frustration.
In its proper place authority is gentle and steady. The focus is on principles and not on rules. Children must be allowed to choose wrong, although that doesn’t mean we look away from the wrong-doing. And with a better understanding of authority has come a greater understanding in training the children to obey.