August 16, 1904
My dear Margaret,
You were asking about the principle of authority in the home. Perhaps parents, great as they are and should be in the eyes of their children, should always keep well to the front the fact that their authority is derived. “God does not allow” us to do thus and thus should be a rarely expressed, but often present, thought to parents who study the nature of the divine authority where it is most fully revealed, that is, in the Gospels. They see there that authority works by principles and not by rules, and as they themselves are the deputy authorities set over every household, it becomes them to consider the divine method of government. They should discern the signs of the times too, such as the current doctrine of the unknowable God––who, if He exists, does not exist for us, because we have no relations with Him. It is extremely important that parents should keep this tendency of the day in view, and counteract it if need be.
On the other hand, it is well that parents should understand the limitations of authority. Even the divine authority does not compel. It indicates the way and protects the wayfarer, and strengthens and directs self-compelling power. It permits a man to make free choice of obedience rather than compels him to obey. In the moral training of children, arbitrary action almost always produces revolt. Parents believe that they are doing well to rule their households, without considering the pattern, the principles, and the limitations of parental authority. (And we adults, so far as the nursery and schoolroom go, are we not fatally docile ourselves in yielding obedience to anyone who will take the trouble to tell us we had better do this or that?)
It is in their early years at home that children should be taught to realize that duty can exist only as that which we owe to God; that the law of God is exceeding broad and encompasses us as the air we breathe, only more so, for it reaches to our secret thoughts; and this is not a hardship but a delight. That mothers should love their little children and make them happy all day long––this is part of the law of God: that children are glad when they are good, and sad when they are naughty––this, too, is the law of God: that, if Beatrice drops her spoon and it falls to the ground, that is a law of God too, of a different kind. Mother or teacher cannot give children a better inheritance than the constant sense of being ruled and encompassed by law, and that law is another name for the Will of God.