How Does Ambleside Change Families?


In the last few days, I have been pondering what Ambleside brings to families. Time and again I have heard parents say, "Ambleside has changed our family." This has been true for my family, and one of the most powerful ideas Ambleside gives to families, mainly parents, is the idea of authority and obedience.

Mason's ideas on parental authority have profoundly influenced my thinking.

She says, "There is an idea abroad that authority makes for tyranny, and that obedience, voluntary or involuntary, is of the nature of slavishness; but authority is, on the contrary, the condition without which liberty does not exist."(Vol. 6, p.69)

Mason says the principle of authority and obedience is as natural for the human race as the law of gravity. Truthfully, we are always submitting our lives to some authority, whether that authority is outside ourselves or our own desires. She says that every parent is able to secure faithful obedience, not because of their own merit or ability, but because authority (and obedience) comes with the office of parenthood.

"Well, Miss Mason has never been to my house," you might say, as did I. Then I read further about the conditions for proper authority:

1) The parent must act as one under authority; one may not be arbitrary.

2) Children should have the freedom to choose; they should be spared of nagging, coercion, or "deadening talk."

In these two thoughts we find our challenge. As parents, we can rest in the truth that we don't really have a choice about whether to address our child's disobedience: we are under authority ourselves and we are not free to be inconsistent or whimsical. If we are, our children do not learn the meaning of "must" and become slaves to their own nature; our good intentions subject them to tyranny, not liberty, and they are deprived of the right to practice self-management.

At the same time, our children, in their response to authority, must be given free choice of heart and action. Parents do this by not standing between children and the laws of life and conduct by which we are all ultimately ruled.

Mason says, "Children are quick to discriminate between the mere will and pleasure of the arbitrary teacher or parent and the chastened authority of him who is himself under rule." (Vol. 6, pg. 69)

Essex Cholmondeley, one of Mason's colleagues wrote, "To bring up children means constant effort and loving care on the part of fathers and mothers. Two facts need to be remembered which cheer parents in their great work. The first is that the authority of parents is a very real thing, commanding natural obedience... The second cheering fact is that parents and teachers do their part in daily effort, but working behind their thought and care is the energy and wisdom of the Spirit of Truth.

It is the Holy Spirit to whom we pray to give us a right judgment, to say the right word at the right moment, to make the best decision.

Having found the right word, parents can trust to their authority and to the children's obedience...and carry the matter through with a firm hand."

Ginnie Wilcox, Head of School

1) Cholmondeley, Essex, “Christ’s Way of Peace,” in Parents Are Peacemakers, ed. by Nancy Kelly (Sage Parnassus), part 7.

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