Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I'd Like to Speak to His Wife

Several days ago a young friend tagged me in a post on Facebook. He had just read an online article about rearing kids, and he wanted to know my opinion. I read the article, and stewed for a while. Then I stewed a while longer. If you're not into stewing about rearing kids, you might want to go ahead and skip out this post, but if you've thought about this issue, I'm going to give you my opinion. (I have an opinion? How shocking!)

Okay, go read it. It's provocatively titled "How I Made Sure All 12 of My Kids Could Pay For College Themselves."  That title, my friends, is pure Google bait. I bet he gets a gazillion views because what parent doesn't want to know the secret to that? Anyway, go! Read!

(humming and filing my nails)

Are you back? Good. Let's discuss.

I found this article perhaps one of the most supremely irritating articles on child-rearing that I have read in my entire life, but for a long time I couldn't pin down exactly what I found irritating about it. Finally I realized it's because this screed apparently was written by a man who believes wholeheartedly that he has FOUND THE SECRET TO PARENTHOOD. That if you follow and check off these things that he (and, we assume, his wife, although she's barely mentioned) did in raising their 12 children, that you, too, could have offspring who are college-educated, married, "thin, athletic, and very healthy," and able to pull the engine of a '65 Mustang. The article said to me "We had perfect children because we did this, and your children are LOSERS because you did not check off this checklist."

Husband and I have only four children, not 12. We are different from this man in that while we are more than fortunate to have good jobs and have never been homeless or hungry or even truly worried about where the next mortgage payment was coming from, we could not have written out the checks to send our children through the colleges of their choice. But mostly we're different from him in that we knew we didn't have all the parenting answers. We did the best we could every day, then we got up the next day and did it again, praying all the time that we weren't screwing the Boys up too badly while they were under our watch.

All parents raise their children according to what is important in their own lives. In our case, that meant that I read to any child who asked me, any time and no matter what else needed to get done. The Boys had to take piano lessons until they were in eighth grade. They could sign up for any activity, but if they signed up they could not drop out until that season was finished. The Boys had paper routes as soon as they were old enough to carry the bags, and part-time jobs when they turned 16. They did not have cell phones until they had their unrestricted driver's licenses, and they didn't have their learner's permits until they had taken driver's ed. We had set meal times and didn't watch television while we ate. They had savings accounts as newborns and checking accounts as soon as they could sign their names in cursive, and what they earned went into college savings with only a fraction kept out for spending. Each Boy did his own laundry after the age of 10 or so, and help with the house and yard was assumed. Church and youth group were not optional, and each Boy was expected to go to church camp.

So which of these things do I credit with the fact that we raised (in my totally unbiased opinion) the greatest kids in the world? None. They're productive, good-hearted adults through God's grace and sheer luck.

If you have children, you will know that your children often are reflections of what is important to you--in our case, faith and work ethic and music and fiscal responsibility and so on. Our kids are not athletes because quite frankly, I find throwing and catching a ball the most boring thing in the world. They are not mechanically-inclined because Husband and I are not bent that way.

We were lucky that they're smart and good test-takers, and that my job provides for tuition exchange at many fine colleges so they had options in education most students only dream of. We were lucky that they were able to find part-time jobs in this era when jobs for teenagers are harder and harder to come by. We were lucky that quirks of nature did not leave them with random diseases (mental or physical) that would changed their life trajectories as children. We were so, so blessed.

As for the article? I'm glad the author was blessed as well, because it gives him the illusion that he controlled how his children turned out. (Parenthetically, I'd like to talk to his wife, who I'm fairly sure was the one tasked with carrying out the child-rearing methods he lists so proudly.) Personally, I find the thought of 5:30 a.m. breakfast appalling, especially for teenagers whose circadian rhythms have been proven to be different from those of adults. The thought of sending a five-year-old on an airplane to Europe by herself makes me hope they tipped the flight attendants generously, and apologized to the person sitting in the next seat.

I'm glad your children turned out so well, author. You, like all the rest of us parents, did the best you could every day and then you got up the next day and did it again.

It's all any of us can do.


  1. I refuse to read that article and give him the satisfaction of a click. That said, I totally agree with your take. The minute I start to think that I'm totally kicking butt at parenting, karma bites me in the rear and I realize again that you do the best you can, but it's a crap shoot. Wonderful parents have kids who are a disaster, terrible parents have kids who turn out beautifully, most parents do what they can and the kids turn out fine. That's my story and I'm sticking to it ;-)

  2. I'm also not going to read the article. My blood is already boiling just reading the title.

    If I've learned anything about parenting (and I hope I have), is that it's like baking a cake. Sometimes when you follow a recipe, it will turn out great, and other times you do exactly the same and it's a flop. Maybe the oven wasn't working, or it was too humid, or you thought you used baking powder but by mistake you put in baking soda. Some things you can't control, no matter your intentions.

    When I was younger and stupider (last week?) I used to think if I just followed the tried and true recipe for raising kids (my family recipe) all would work out. Now I realize how silly that thinking is.