I used to tell my kids, "Get yourself an elephant. People will look up to you." What I meant was that a child should do things that are difficult to do. Some parents actually discourage their children from doing what would be beneficial to them. It’s a form of protectionism that hinders growth.
I was pretty free as a child. I could do about whatever I wanted to do. There were two things that I could not do. The first was that I could not have a paper route nor could I sell papers on the street. I could earn money in anyway whatsoever but having a paper route was not one of them. I delivered papers just about everyday with my friends, but they had the routes, not me. The only day I sold papers on the street was VJ Day. I made $13.50. My pockets were so full of nickels and dimes that I could hardly get on the bus to go home.
The second thing I could not do was play football for the high school. I could play tackle football all I wanted after school with my friends. We had no shoulder pads or any other form of protection. By the end of our season, my knees were like mush. But I could not play where I would have some protection. Were my parents being cruel? No. My mother was anything but cruel.
We lived in the Depression. Sometimes kids didn’t handle paper route money carefully or the subscribers did not pay their bills. The family would then get stuck with the bill for the papers and there would be little or no profit.
As for selling papers on the street, the problem was that my cousins sold papers on the street and my aunt would rush them out of the house as fast as she could after school to get into the city and sell those papers. My mother said, "She doesn’t even let them grab a bite to eat." My mother protected me from that hassling world.
The Depression was part of the reason I was not allowed to play football. If I were injured, how would my parents pay for hospital and doctor care? My sister had 13 operations (as I remember), and the care was sometimes given by the Primary Children’s Hospital or the Shiner’s Hospital and she was eligible for treatment. (My sister had polio at age three and passed away at age nineteen.) But what about a sports injury? Who would pay for that?
The point I am trying to make is that parents have to make decisions and sometimes those decisions affect the potential growth of the children. That is just part of life.
- When Should You Start Preparing Your Child for a Career? Yesterday would be good. You cannot start a child too young on his career path. I taught my children to follow these three steps in career selection:
- Make sure that the career is difficult to prepare for to cut down the competition and to increase the need for your services. Not everybody can cut Quantum Mechanics and Solid State Physics. The more difficult your career is, the more you will be appreciated by society and business.
- Make sure your chosen career is something that you enjoy. There is no reason to work a life of drudgery. You should want to go work everyday. Some folks like hard physical labor, some like to make things, some like to ponder the universe. Whatever it is, make sure you like it.
- Do something that helps other people so that you will achieve satisfaction in your work. There are lots of ways to help people. You do not have to be a policeman, a fireman, a doctor or a nurse, etc. If you are making someone’s life better, you will be happy in your work. Can an undertaker be happy? Some are because they are helping bereaved families. Others leave the profession because of the stress. Every person must evaluate his own desires and abilities, right?
So, how did your kids come out after following your advice? Are you talking to me, dear reader? Here is the score: Two doctors, one veterinarian, one attorney, and one portrait artist. The boys are Eagle Scouts and they served on foreign church missions. Our son-in-law and are four daughter-in-laws are of the same caliber. Like attracts like.
- Teach Your Children at Home. I’m not talking about home schooling, although my son and daughter-in-law here in Idaho have chosen that route with their 13 kids. I’m talking about taking time to teach your children even if they are going to a public or private school. What should you teach them? I’ll make a little list:
- Morality, Ethics and Personal Conduct. Successful living means that citizens should conduct themselves properly in business, school, church, and at play, etc. Yes, your children are taught moral principals in school and church, etc. Are they listening?
- How to Read. Reading is the basic skill of learning. You should have your children read to you until you are satisfied that they are reading with high skills in reading and comprehension. You should read to the little ones and to all at family gatherings.
- Personal Health and Hygiene. It goes without saying that children must learn how to keep themselves clean and healthy. They should learn to keep their room clean and orderly.
- Writing Skills. My third son wanted to write before he could read. I was always writing, especially during Iowa winters, and the kids thought that writing must be fun. So how did my son overcome his desire to write? Easy! He just dictated to me, and I typed out his observations. We still have his writings on ants and other critters. They are precious. I write poetry at times: Encourage your children to give it a try. Who knows, you might have a born poet living with you. My children are very good poets, much better than me. That sounds good to me.
- Arts. I started painting when my children were young. I wanted to see if they were talented in art. My daughter is a professional portrait artist and my neurosurgeon son also paints. Have you a little Rembrandt? By the way, artistic talents, though meager like mine, can be developed. I never had formal art training so last year I signed up for a three-year correspondence course. Hey, I have over a B average so far. I know I’m 75 years old. Learning is an eternal process, isn’t it?
- Crafts. If you have a special skill, don’t let it disappear from the family. Teach it to your children. My wife taught my daughter how to crochet and knit and sew starting when she was a 4-year-old, the same age I taught my children to play chess? Can you repair a watch? Can you beat your 10-year-old at chess? (Don't even try!)
- Music. Again, I have little talent in music. My Welch heritage left me with the love for music but forgot to leave me what is really important. But our children have talent, as do our grandchildren. We always kept music in the home. I would strum on my old guitar and sing Old Blue, you good dog you. We didn’t have to tell our kids to play in the school orchestra and band. They just did it. We made sure that they could take private lessons on the instrument of their choice. My veterinarian son is a flute nut and sells flutes at his Irish Flute Store on the Internet. Yes, he has a family band and his children have wonderful singing voices and great instrumental talent. How many instruments does my son play? He can play any instrument and most of his children can play three or four.
- Family History. America is a hodgepodge of stragglers from other nations. Only Native Americans can truly claim an American heritage. The rest of us must find our roots in other lands. Your family has a heritage. Learn what it is (if you don’t already know) and teach it to your children.
I’ve been indexing the 1900 United States Census for FamilySearchIndexing.org so that family researchers can find the census information without looking at the actual census record. I learn a lot indexing. If I see a woman that had 12 children but only 2 are alive, and I realize that she immigrated to the United States in a certain year, and that the two living were born in the United States, I can surmise that the other children died in the Ireland Potato Famine. When I see widows of a certain age, I can surmise that husbands were dying in the Civil War. When I see a widower with tiny children, I can surmise that the mother died in childbirth.
My grandparents often lived in our home. From them, I could find some links to the past. My paternal grandfather went to the mines in Wales when he was nine years old, after throwing his slate and hitting the schoolmaster in the head after a beating by the schoolmaster. The slate slinging was followed by Grandpa Jones throwing rocks through the schoolhouse window. My maternal grandmother was premature. The doctor said she would soon die. Her mother placed her in a sugar bowl (they were larger in South Wales) and then a shoebox. At first she was fed her mother’s milk with an eyedropper. My grandmother was only 4 feet, 2 inches tall. I always thought she was tiny because she was born premature. Then I remembered that her sister was identical in build and looks. They were like twins. Prematurity had nothing to do with her height.
The information that you share with your children continues the rich oral tradition of your family.
- Have Family Activities. There is a list of family activities with descriptions of how to plan them at my site: HomeChurchInternational. This is not a church or church site. It is just a site where I place Lessons for Life to be taught at home, children's stories, and family activities.
- History. You could drive up to the place where your grandfather homesteaded in 1908. My wife and I drove up to Ten Mile Pass here in Idaho where my father and his grandfather about starved to death while sitting on a homesteading claim in the early 1900s. I ran my van off the road when the bank gave way and we had to be towed. The rancher said to me while looking at my leaning van, "There are two kinds of people up here; those that have driven off the road and those who are going to drive of the road." I actually backed off while trying to read an Oregon Trail sign. When the tow truck came, the driver dug the gravel out from under the van and drove it down on the real Oregon Trail. I then followed the Oregon Trail up to a point where I could drive it up onto the road. While we waited for the tow truck, we talked with a rancher and his wife and learned that cattle could not be raised in that country in the wintertime. The rancher trucked his cattle to American Falls every fall. What was it that my grandfather and father were trying to do at Ten Mile Pass? You guessed it!
- Recreation. My grandfather taught me how to play an American Indian game when I was a boy. We taught it to our children. Kids need fun, so take them swimming in a mountain lake. Just remember to use all safety precautions.
- Museum Tours. Museums often let kids get their hands dirty, touching old bones, and testing their skills and such.
- Let Them Explore. There are so many things you can do with your family to generate interest and to generate memories of good times together. What are you doing next week? Oh, the planetarium. What a great idea! I thought you were going to photograph the ducks down on the lake.
- Have a Weekly Family Meeting. And what do you do at this meeting? I suggest the following subjects be covered in a casual, friendly manner:
- Family Schedule For the Week. Who will be where when? Is there an important soccer game that all the family will want to attend? Will there be a family outing? What is going on at church? Are there scouting events? What is going on in the community? Who needs what/when to get to important events? (Okay, I mean: Who gets the car keys?)
- Plan Family Activities. Is there a special family activity in the near future? Who will be doing what when? Don’t forget family service projects. Could the family paint your widowed neighbor’s porch, cut her lawn, pull her weeds, mend her fence, invite her to dinner, give her a hug, groom her dog, shovel her snow or take her flowers on her birthday?
- A Lesson on Ethics, Religion, History, or a Special Family Interest. The lesson should be given by a different family member each week. Tiny children can give a mini-lesson after the main lesson. At any rate, part of the lesson should be geared to the little ones. You may use my Lessons for Life at my almost unknown site: HomeChurchInternational. I designed the site for home or away-from-home teaching for those who cannot get to church because of special reasons. Some lessons give Biblical references but it is strictly non-denominational. Except for a few lessons, there is a story for the little children. I have also included a list of family activities you can use as a guide for your own activities.
- Fun and Games. You know what they say? "A family that plays together stays together." Or is it, "A family that prays together stays together?" Oh, do both!
- Yum,Yum Time. Who gets to make the dessert this time? What? Your kids can’t cook? Can they run the washing machine?
Shouldn’t you probe the minds of your children to determine what their interest and special talents are? Shouldn’t you teach them to work hard, play hard, and to enjoy life? Shouldn’t you help them to give community service? You should prepare your children for life.
Don't miss the other two installments of this 3-part series--how to nurture children and how to handle special situations such as child illness and behavioral problems.