BETWEEN PARENTS AND CHILDREN
[continued from yesterday]
...We come next to the question of obedience.
The obedience of children toward parents has its reason in the idea of family government. The family is the foundation of the community and of the State. If, therefore, men are bound to obey the laws of the country in which they live, and if they are bound to observe the by-laws of their community, much more are they bound to attend to the commands of parents in all matters pertaining to the well-being of the household. The very existence of a State is dependent on the due observance of its laws. So also is the very existence of family life dependent on the due respect for parental authority. Anarchy in the family tends to anarchy in the community, and anarchy in the State. Filial obedience, therefore, is an exigency of the law of nature.
It is an exigency also of the divine law. "Children," says St. Paul, "obey your parents in the Lord, for this is just." Nay, the parents have a sanction given them to enforce obedience if need be. They must avoid arbitrary and harsh treatment, yet at the same time they must be firm in maintaining their rights and insisting on parental authority.
"And you, fathers, provoke not your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and correction of the Lord."Therefore it is that St. Paul says again:
"Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing to the Lord."Perhaps, however, the children may ask: "Is there no limit to this parental authority? Surely the time must come when I must think and act for myself!" Yes, there are limits which it is well to know. But first let us be clear as to the extent before we speak about the limits.
First, it is manifest that parents have supreme authority in the management of the household. The children have not the right to choose the kind of house, the quality of the food, the hours of the meals.
Secondly, the parents have charge of the children's manners and education, and therefore they have the right and duty of demanding obedience in behavior about the house.
Thirdly, they have the right and the duty of looking after the spiritual welfare of the children. Consequently, they are entitled to say who are fitting companions, what are permissible amusements, whether it is good to go to this dance or to that theatre.
Further, on account of this spiritual oversight they have a right to warn the children when the time draws near for the Sacraments, or when there is any other religious duty to be performed. Again, it is the right and duty of the parents to see to the proper education of their children in fitting them for the battle of life in temporal matters. Consequently, there is a corresponding duty on the part of the children of corresponding with the means provided, of careful attendance at the school chosen, of availing themselves of all the opportunities for the improvement of mind and body which a thoughtful parent has afforded.
Now we may consider the limits of parental authority. First let us recall the root principle of this authority: the parents, in the exercise of it, are only supposed to be carrying out the work of God. If, therefore, any of their commandments are manifestly contrary to the law of God, then the parents have gone beyond the limits of their jurisdiction. In such cases it is not only lawful but of obligation to lay aside the command of the parent. Such a course of action is not disobedience, but rather obedience to a higher law. But notice that this is only allowable when the thing commanded is manifestly against the law of God.
If there is any doubt the presumption is always in favor of the parent; for a wayward child might easily persuade itself that it was following out God's will, while it was in reality only following out its own perverse will. Conscience certainly is supreme, but there is need to guard against a false conscience, and the only practical rule is to obey the parent in case of doubt.
Among the several kinds of cases in which the rights of God, the rights of parents, and the rights of children seem to clash, there are two which are constantly arising, and concerning which the Church has made definite arrangements. The question concerns the choice of a state of life. Is the child bound to obey its parents in choosing whether to get married, or to become a priest or a religious?...
From Marriage and Parenthood, The Catholic Ideal
By the Rev. Thomas J. Gerrard
Author of "Cords of Adam," "The Wayfarer's Vision," ETC.
Copyright, 1911, by Joseph F. Wagner, New York.