May 16, 2014

The Fourth Commandment and the Monarch in the Home

By Allison Kieselowsky

At a recent party, I overheard a group of mothers complaining about having to continually watch two animated television shows.  They illustrated their disdain for children’s programming by mockingly singing the theme song for each one and making fun of the opening credits.  This conversation continued for nearly twenty minutes with complaint after complaint about ridiculous theme songs, tired characters, and pointless narratives.  I was under the impression that they had been forcibly tortured by some evil overlord, until it dawned on me:  these mothers watch shows they purportedly hate because their preschoolers demand it

I pledge allegiance to Tot Tyranny?

As I listened, I remembered my education professors describing the authority of the classroom teacher as that of “benevolent monarch,” a term that also appropriately describes the role of parent in the home.  One professor reminded us frequently in a classroom management seminar, “You are in charge.  Act like it.”  If you are anything like me, though, you are a mother who is not quite sure she knows how to act like a benevolent monarch. 

Women in general do not exude the confidence men do in their vocations, as described in this recent article in The Atlantic.  We women, mothers included, tend to underestimate our ability, and our minds are often riddled with self-doubt.  Mothers, like all working women, need to gather the courage to do our job to the highest standards, which means truly believing that we are in charge—not because of our worthiness or credentials, but because God put us in charge. 

Being in charge does not allow mothers to bully their children, to wield abusive power, or to set up impossible standards.  On the other hand, idle threats cannot establish any semblance of order—if you say in the cereal aisle of the store, “Stop that howling right now or you will have a time-out,” then a time-out must occur as promised. Children hear idle threats as permission to establish Tot Tyranny, and mothers pledge allegiance when they stop trying to come up with guidelines at all: 

You want ice cream?  [sigh] Okay. 

You want to watch that mind-numbing program again?  [sigh] Okay. 

You want a new toy that will break within an hour?  [sigh] Okay. 

I admit that I frequently fall prey to the doe-eyed plea of a cunning oligarch, and when my husband comes home to find me utterly frustrated, he asks, “How have you been thwarted by a toddler and a preschooler?”  Good question, Mister.  I would credit my children with conspiracy, but I’ve watched them try to organize themselves for a game of Candyland. They can barely get the board set up, let alone devise a strategy to overthrow Lord Licorice. 

The Fourth Commandment

I have a feeling that when Dr. Luther wrote his explanation to the Fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother,” he knew that parents were going to need some help.  His explanation of the commandment emphasizes delegated authority and assigned responsibilities.  Children are not commanded to honor parents because Dad and Mom deserve it or because they need the affirmation; they are commanded to honor parents because God assigned parents to be in charge.  Some days take more than a little faith to believe that God knew what He was doing when He set up this arrangement. 

One time many moons ago my mother, tremendously aggravated at a mess, declared to my four sisters and me that if we did not pick up our clothes off the bathroom floor, she would toss them in the street.  “Mom, you’re a hoot!” we thought until we came home from school and found our clothes neatly arranged down the center line.  Shoes were carefully paired, sweaters folded, pants in lovely piles on the yellow stripes.  When I asked her about this incident years later, she admitted that she debated what to do for some time.  She decided to follow through on her threat because we were being remarkably stubborn. (By the way, we did salvage most of it.  We lived on a fairly quiet street.)  I think she demonstrated a great deal of courage in this—and I learned that I better listen to the Queen Mum. 

Clothes in the street might make my mother seem harsh, but she actually had a pretty good sense of humor about all our shenanigans.  I appreciate that about her and decided with my husband early in our time as parents that we wanted to emphasize the benevolent part of our position as much as possible.  If one of the girls rudely demands something, I remind her of etiquette and then attempt to make Miss Grumpy Pants laugh and correct her request. For Miss Pokey Pants, a timer usually does the trick.  For Miss My Legs Stopped Working So I Can’t Pick Up My Toys, I pretend to call the doctor for a leg examination then repeat the command to pick up her toys.  Benevolent monarchs are also allowed to use tickling, bad jokes, funny accents, and dancing to coerce subjects into following orders as long as the end result is obedience. 

Inevitably, the girls sometimes disregard the safety of others or defiantly ignore a command, so I remove them from the room to address it more sternly.  After the punishment ends, however, and the girls ask for forgiveness and extend forgiveness to one another, I try to find ways to positively encourage them or thank them for doing the right thing. 
Recently, tyranny has been threatening our home in the form of mud.  My daughters love mud pies, mud handprints, mud puddles, and mud messages.  It all started innocently enough.  They dug a series of holes in the yard to make mud.  Holes were banned, but then a mud mural appeared on the side of the house.  Even after having to scrub the side of the house by hand, our aspiring dictators “baked” a dozen mud loaves on the front step.  Stiff punishment ensued.  I realized as I watched the girls wash the front step that I needed a little pep talk:  take a deep breath, pray to God that He establishes your authority and the respectfulness in your children, and repeat, “No more mud.”  Then make sure they don’t cake the house in mud. Being strict about this is my job, not just because I have a personal preference for a non-muddy house, but because the girls are learning about respect, obedience, and authority through my response.

The Lord Jesus Christ, Ruler of All, has placed us over small kingdoms and will give us the grace, dignity, and authority to rule in righteousness and justice for His Name’s sake.  True, my royal crown sits a bit askew and my scepter shakes when I lift it, but my subjects watch to see if I administer my decree with love, patience, and, most of all, with their eternal souls in mind.  So, fellow Benevolent Monarchs, let’s fluff the pillows on our thrones and settle in.  We’re going to be at it for a few years.


Allison Kieselowsky lives in Springfield, PA, with her husband Rob and their four daughters. She has been a daughter and sister for nearly forty years, a wife for nearly fourteen years, an English teacher and reading specialist for nearly ten years, and a mother for nearly seven years. She currently works at home as the general manager of household affairs, short-order cook, laundress, and teacher.

Title Image: "The Young Lord Hamlet" by Philip H. Calderon, 1868


  1. I really needed to hear this today. Thank you. It's something I know, but sometimes you just need the reminder. Sigh.

  2. I'm very encouraged by this article, thank you for writing it.

  3. Amen and amen!! Thank you!

  4. I just sat my three would-be tyrants down yesterday and explained (again) the whole hierarchy thing to them, that God has given Mommy and Daddy authority over them just like he's given a general authority over an army or a supervisor authority over workers. Something I have to re-explain periodically, but it does work.

    1. I can imagine that analogy being especially effective with little boys of a certain age. :-)


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