Raising Children to Be Ready for Life, by P.J.G.T.

It is my observation that many children are not being raised ready to live a real life. I can speak as a full time teacher for ten years and as a stay-at-home mother for the past 17 years. Here are my suggestions for how to improve your children’s education so they will be ready to think and succeed. Please do not think that our children are perfect and always wonderful. They are not! However, they are respectful, tidy and courteous to everyone. We have been told numerous times how “lucky” we are to have such delightful children. No, we are not “lucky” at all – just diligent Christian parents.

First, when your children are young decide how you and your spouse are going to raise your children. No guessing or assuming what you each want. Discuss the details face-to-face. Be pragmatic and discuss even the difficult topics, and then compromise. It is very important for your children to know that both parents are one.  I believe this should be done before marriage, but few of us do.

I cannot speak to divorce, but I can tell of the shattered lives of the children of divorce.
This essay is about examples of ways to train children so they will be equipped for success in their lives. It is not for the lazy, fainthearted or mean. No, being a parent is about diligence, patience, perseverance and mercy. It’s also about going against the perceived culture and adhering to Godly principles in a world that has forgotten them. It is about persecution and endurance. The bible tells us in Deuteronomy to first study and learn the Word of God, and then to teach our children. We are to teach them as we go about daily life, and we are to use examples from their lives to cement the lessons. However, if you beat a child with the Word, they may very well rebel. So proceed with care, kindness, mercy, patience and unwavering persistence.

I often say to our children, “What kind of parent would I be if I did not prepare you for …” In using this phrase, I train our children to be better future parents. I also provide them with another example of how seriously their parents take their God given responsibility to be parents. Raising our children is not an afterthought – it is one of our primary cares, and ranks above earning money or any extracurricular activity or hobby.

Having laid the philosophical groundwork, here are examples of ways to help your children learn skills for a successful life. I know many parents already do many of these tried-and-true activities, but it is always good to keep an eye out for more ideas. We have done our child rearing in a small college city in the East near where we were raised ourselves. As a result of our deep desire for our children to be raised around family and my husband’s job, we have lived center city in a Civil War era built house that we have reduced to a single family house from four apartments. This summer we are moving out West to one of the American Redoubt states. We will not be able to afford to take much of what we own, but we are able to take all of our skills.

1.        My children have spent years trying to sneak up on me. I am very difficult to sneak up on, and they have succeeded only a handful of times over the course of a decade. This activity improves their observation and stealthiness as well as keeping me on my toes.
2.        We not only require all our children to take the hunter safety course and have a working knowledge of every gun in the house, but we also have outfitted every member of the family with paintball equipment.  They have an intimate knowledge of the 26 acres of our family camp.
3.        Give your children tasks to do periodically that are just challenging enough that they need to think to accomplish them. And, send them to do these tasks in pairs or as a group. Than do your best to resist the urge to help out. A bit of direction (“look in the garage”) is so much better than (“Why don’t you use the wagon to move that heavy object?”).  At first, if you are starting a bit late, it will be very frustrating. However, after a while the children will begin to look at tasks that are challenging in a different way. They will seek the help of their siblings and you will find them, as I did the other day, outside managing a way to move a garbage can filled with dirt that was too heavy for the group to move. Stacking wood is a perfect young child activity as they need to use their critical thinking skills to do it properly. Of course, the children should know what a properly stacked woodpile looks like first.
4.        Every year I take the children and cousins/friends on a week-long camping trip without my husband. I expect that the children and I will be on our own should a disaster happen as my husband will be in demand.  The state campground is located on a lake with a steep hiking trail. The children have grown accustomed to making fires, cooking over fires with food from storage, tenting in the rain (one year it rained every single day), kayaking, learning bear and animal food storage skills, hiking and even working with the camp activities director to make emergency shelters in the forest.  And all this in the name of fun without any complaining.  While we are there, I am also pointing out native edible plants and their names.  Just think of the knowledge and skills they have acquired from when they were young. Of course, now, we also spend much time back country camping as well.
5.        Our children do not have the opportunity to butcher as we do not raise our own animals, however we do purchase a pig each year and have it butchered. In addition, we are usually gifted one deer a year from my brother. Often times it is not professionally butchered and we receive the venison in quarters.  As a result of this, our children are proficient at preparing meat for freezing. We make large quantities of jerky, so they have become pretty good at keeping a knife sharp and are skilled with the butcher’s knife. They also can use the meat grinder.  As their cooking skills have improved, so too has their butchering become more defined as they now know which cuts we prefer as a family. It is the only way they get their jerky as I have become “too busy” to make it. (I was told once by an elderly woman that when children learn a skill, they now own that job.)
6.        Rendering lard however was a bit more difficult to teach. I had to walk out of the kitchen and leave our thirteen year old daughter with the bag of lard to cut and render. Unexpectedly, she was rather vocally unhappy with the tears just running down her cheeks, but obediently went about the task. The next day I overheard her telling her friend how successful she had been in rending the lard – even though it was disgusting.  Next time she is confronted with a task that seems disgusting, she knows it can be accomplished.
7.        We taught our children to refurbish a house. This task has been one of the more difficult things to do for us. They started by painting in out-of-the –way places and progressed to entire rooms. We let them paint with their friends; in fact we let them paint their friends. They painted their playhouse built in the back of one of our garages, painted a cottage house and garden mural on the side garage wall and they learned to stencil in the process.  My husband has been very diligent in teaching the children how to do all that he knows – which is a great deal. Currently, they are re-roofing the four car garage. And, as a bonus, they are using his climbing gear and learning to tie the proper knots and the proper safety procedures.  They will be better prepared for our move to the mountains this summer.
8.        We insisted on piano lessons for each child from age 4 through 14. They have had the opportunity to take other lessons as they showed interest (such as guitar, drums, trumpet, sax, clarinet), but only if their piano was practiced diligently. Continual lessons and practice was done to learn diligence, reading of music, music appreciation and as an opportunity to help others. Twice a year we visit one of the local nursing homes to play music and hand out homemade cookies. The children are now inviting their friends to participate. This has become a wonderful public speaking and playing experience for the children, and the residents are so happy to see us come.
9.        We are active and strive to ensure that our children learn the skills required to be proficient at many activities. My husband and friend refinished a trailer-able sail boat that we have been sailing for 14 years with our children. They have learned to sail, the importance of learning to swim and tread water, how to remain calm in the midst of a storm, how to tie nautical knots, live in a small space (we stay on it at least one week a year), work with small engines and the importance of maintenance. We are out in all types of weather and go for extended periods of time without showering. They have learned how to sponge bath and make do.
10.    From the time our children were toddlers we have practiced the skill of sitting very still, closing our eyes and picking out sounds. We move past the obvious ones the deep small sounds. I mix this up by choosing different times and places. We also have a game where we use different colored counting bears in a circle and have one person remove one when the group is not looking. Everyone tries to remember which one was removed. This may seem simple, but it is not. The game can be made more difficult as the children grow by mixing up the remaining bears and such. We will also bike and walk different routes (especially our routes out of town) to see what is different and was missed when driving by. In the same manner, we practice the art of keeping one’s back to the wall, watching what is going on around us (it is a game we play – “what color hair did the waitress have?”), and knowing where the exits are.
11.    My husband enjoys skiing and has been a part-time ski instructor since I have known him. For 21 years we have spent most every winter weekend traveling 3+ hours to a large ski center where he instructs. Except for the years when the children were too small to ski (they started at 4 years old), we have gone as a family. We have had the experience of doing with what we had, and remembering to bring what we needed. We have never been able to afford a family ski house, but have shared space with others. Living with others has given our family opportunities to learn to be considerate, to put others first, to share and cooperate and to adhere to rules that are different. We are a very close family, and I do believe that this time together has been fundamental in building the family bonds. We ski in all weather – snow, sleet, rain, and very cold temperatures. All of us have learned how to dress for extreme weather.
12.    I chose chores based on each child’s weaknesses. I use chores as an opportunity to strengthen their weak areas. One of our children has shown a tendency toward a “weak stomach,” so this child always empties the compost and trash. Another one has shown difficulty with machines and a lack of attention to detail. This child often mows and trims the lawn (we have had many conversations about the value of a broom after mowing and emptying the mower bag – but this is the nature of training) and attends to the winter walkway. Now she is proficient at caring for the mower and gets indignant if asked about the oil and gas levels.
13.    Living considerately with one another has taken some forethought and effort. It does help that we have the skiing and sailing opportunities, but they were not enough. We also purposed to eat dinner as a family every day regardless of our busy schedules. Each family member stops what they are doing and comes to the table to eat. We have an agreement that we do not reprimand our children, allow complaining, and allow for unpleasant topics or unmannered behavior at our dinner table. In addition to an opportunity to learn common civil behavior and manners, it is also a time to improve their conversation abilities and storytelling skills. We chuckle at the number of their friends who manage to be at our house for dinner. These dinners are amazing, and give me hope for the next generation.
14.    Pets are a great for children in so many ways. Parents just have to be diligent in training their children to attend and work with the pets. Watch for signs of aggression of children toward their pets as it can be an early sign of too much stress.
15.    I insist that each child have a plant in their room. I start with easy care plants and progress to ones that require more attention. In the first place, I believe we should live with living things and learn to care for them. Also, plants help with the oxygen levels in closed spaces – especially in winter. And, having a plant around can be good company. Plants give hope as they grow day by day.  Having affection for one’s own plant will make our children better gardeners. Gardeners need to be patient, observant and have affection for their plants. It is called a “green thumb,” but it can be cultivated.
16.    Our children have cell phones now, but have to turn them in at 10:00 every night. It took our oldest child two years to agree with us about how she was going to behave before she finally got a cell phone. She is also the child who has been driving with her permit for a year-and-a-half. I always suggest that she drive when she was mad, upset, sad, and tired; and when the weather here in the east is at its very worst. She has had quite a struggle learning to control her emotions, so we have used the cell phone and driver’s license as learning opportunities. Of course my response to the questions is always, “What kind of parent would I be if I did not allow you to take as much time as you need to be a good driver?”
17.    This same daughter also decided to try out lying. Well, as God has always done with those He loves, she was caught. My husband and I decided to make it very difficult for our daughter after she was caught lying. We questioned just about everything. It finally came to a point one day when she said she didn’t see anything wrong with lying because everyone does it. My response was, “I don’t.” And, that was the end of the discussion and the lying. Now we started discussing the company one keeps and the importance of spending time with moral and faith filled people. Just remember that we parents must first set the example for our children to follow. Don’t lie and don’t take advantage of others, and that example with help in parenting.
18.    We also have never allowed an off-the-cuff “sorry.” Each opportunity for asking forgiveness includes admitting the problem and recognizing how it hurt the other person.
19.    Christmas this year saw each child receive their own tool box and some tools. In past years, they have received backpacks, ski equipment, good luggage, a hunting bow, musical instruments and such. We do not give irrelevant gifts. Each gift has a purpose and is usually much anticipated. It is good to have to wait for things. At times our children would look longingly toward the gifts of their friends, but now they see that their gifts are long lasting and useful. A good pair of boots far outweighs another Xbox game.
20.    We also encourage making cards and gifts. Last Mother’s Day, I received a cucumber and squash vertical stand-alone trellis that my husband and children made and transported to the garden.  I am much loved! We make many goodies at Christmas and the children take them to all the neighbors (even the ones that are not so nice and have caused us much misery). It is time consuming, but is building the skill of being a good neighbor.

Finally, here is a small list of other things we add into the lives of our children:

  • They work in their grandparent’s restaurant when they are needed to bus tables and wash dishes even though it is an hour and a half away. We insisted that they begin with the dirtiest jobs first.
  • We practice our evacuation procedures often. It was successful when we had a serious house fire and everyone (and their pets) was at the meeting place and accounted for.
  • Attending church is expected regardless of where we are. We also expect everyone staying with us to attend as well. We have been to some awesome churches over the years.
  • I highly suggest hosting an exchange student for a couple months if possible. It is a wonderful experience and a great idea of teenagers to share their rooms, possessions and time with another teenager.
  • We expect our children to prepare entire meals for the family. There have been some interesting dining experiences at our house.
  • I always get the most I can out of a fine layer cake! It is not held as a reward that is given only if such and such is completed with offenders not given any, but is used to facilitate the timeliness of completing tasks. We often sit around the table with such a cake and glasses of milk after long and dirty jobs have been completed for the day by the entire family. It is sort of a nice finish to the day.
  • We can, garden, and prepare food as a family.
  • Each child learns to make their beds and keep their rooms tidy. From that day on, it is expected. I have found that teenagers try to revert to Neanderthal behavior and argue possession of the room. We have none of that in our house. There is many a friend who has sat downstairs waiting for one of my children to put their room in order. Chaos is a state of mind that spills into living spaces and needs to be attended to very quickly.
  • Bedrooms are not play places and no one of the opposite sex is allowed in ever. This rule needs to be broken only once and the offender to be highly embarrassed for it to not occur again.
  • We value work in our family and expect cheerful countenance as it is being done. This is one of our greatest struggles in countering the perceived culture around us. I often test my children’s friends by enlisting their help and seeing how they respond.
  • I like to give entire jobs to children – keeping all the floors clean, cleaning out both cars, washing all the windows. That way they are able to really excel at a task and their work can be checked quickly.
  • Computer log-ins and e-mail accounts are password protected and all passwords are given to us. It is the responsibility of the child to let us know when a password needs to be changed. The passwords are areas given to strengthen each child’s area of need (i.e. Honesty100%), and we do check them periodically. Computers are located in common areas and are closely regulated. Did I mention that we do not import television? That was the best decision we ever made for keeping our home a sanctuary!

In conclusion, our family has experienced a serious house fire that kept us out of our home for 51 weeks, some serious medical issues, and persecution for our beliefs and lifestyle. Through all of this, we have grown stronger as a couple and as a family. I attribute this to the above ways we raise our children, and the kindness we show their peers. Too many of today’s children are so needy for love, attention, acceptance and boundaries. Yes, we do strive to raise our children to be the leaders of the next generation. We also look for ways to strengthen their peers and give them examples to follow. One of my greatest titles is that of “cookie mom.” Homemade cookies are worth their weight in gold!