Like most of you, when I need help, I turn to my mother! Jeanne raised four kids, runs a successful business, has mentored countless young women, and manages to have insight into just about every challenge.
This year I’m delighted to share some of her advice on parenting for all the mothers out there who need it! So grab a cocktail (you earned it) and take a moment to get some encouragement and advice.
Motherhood is often characterized as either picture-perfect or pure chaos. How did you find a balance between these two extremes in your life?
Everything you do in life has thrills, challenges, plateaus, and slogs, but it’s an amazing privilege to bring another person into this world! Each child has unique potential. I just can’t think of anything else so full of risk, but also full of incredible hope and lasting joy as guiding a child through to adulthood and beyond.
But of course it’s hard work! Parents of young children are physically exhausted; parents of teenagers are emotionally exhausted. Even parents of adult children have to handle letting go, becoming in-laws, incorporating those new spouses into the family, wondering if you did enough to help your children overcome their mistakes and be people of integrity.
Today people seem more focused on the hard side of parenting. It’s there, but so are the joyful things. When you get to the tough parts, focus on happy memories of each child’s journey to adulthood. The funny things they do and say, the memories and relationships within the family, and the love you have for them that doesn’t quit no matter what choices they make.
You raised two boys and two girls. How was your experience different between the two? Should parents adjust their approach between boys and girls?
Well, this seems like a loaded question! Honestly, I never really thought about boys and girls as much as I thought about personalities—strengths and weaknesses! All kids need to get outside, get dirty, run around, make stuff, read good books, embrace music, think of others ahead of themselves, learn to give, be responsible, work hard, and not be jerks. So I’d start there: think about strengths and weaknesses, affirm the strengths, build up the weak areas.
What is your philosophy on discipline? How did you apply this philosophy with children of different ages and temperaments?
Parents who love their kids are duty-bound to correct them, and train them to do better next time. Thinking about parenting as training helps to avoid major disappointments. Your own flesh and blood will turn out to be real kids, who mess up often.
Don’t go overboard with the rules; make the rules and the consequences clear. Be consistent. Think about what really makes you crazy (that will be easy!). The two big ones for me were disrespect and lying, so I focused on those two issues the most as you were growing up. I got that from the big 10, figuring God knew a thing or two about what was important for the people he made.
Remember to work on good traits, too. We came up with activities that taught behaviors we were working on—a favorite of mine was the boys being the waiters at one of the girls’ birthday parties. Be creative and purposeful to reinforce the things you want to see, and tackle what you don’t.
You chose to homeschool for most of our childhood. What led you to that decision, and what advice would you give parents making similar choices about education for their kids?
Schooling is a critical decision, and we made choices based on the opportunities we saw and again the personalities, strengths, and weaknesses of our kids. I wanted my kids to love learning, to remain curious, and to find their particular areas of interest.
We started with a quick and voracious learner. As I read about educational philosophy, I gravitated towards programs focused on a thorough knowledge of the basics, but with high expectations of what kids could learn—and especially those that provided a feast of knowledge for kids to explore and enjoy.
Not finding that locally, we chose homeschooling, first with a mix of curriculum and then The Calvert School by second grade. No school arrangement is perfect. Try to match your individual child’s needs with an academic environment that will be able to challenge and support them.
Extracurriculars were a big part of our life growing up. I’m so grateful for the time and effort you spent giving us such a well-rounded childhood! How important do you think the “extra” stuff we do as parents matters in raising a child?
Because we were homeschooling, we wanted to provide opportunities for you all to learn from other teachers, and to learn from being in a group. Academics provide a lot for kids to chew on mentally, but the soul needs feeding, as does the body, and that’s where the extracurriculars come in.
It’s also great to learn from other adults. Those coaches, music teachers, 4-H leaders, and ballet mistresses became beloved and wonderful additions to our team.
How important is work for young children? How did you teach work ethic when we were growing up?
Work is an integral part of life, and the world does not owe a kid a life in a hotel! Housework is repetitive and not exciting, but the results are great! Make it a game, mix up the responsibilities, whatever works for your crew.
You kids did chores early on, and not for pay. You needed to contribute! With six people, homeschooling, and a mess of pets in the house, there was way too much work for one woman to do, so everyone chipped in. Moms and dads working full time need this help even more.
Have your kids do whatever they are capable of (it’s always way more than most people think). Spell out the job clearly, and be gracious on quality to a point as long as they make a good effort. Give your older kids opportunities to earn money through extra work when they have something they want. Saving and working for what they want will make them more invested in making good choices with their money.
I’ve struggled with some of my kids growing bitter about having the responsibility to earn money to pay for the things they want. How would you recommend countering the entitlement culture that seems to be growing among American youth?
See no. 6. Start early with the attitude that chores must be done, because that’s life. But money can be earned by working harder! Anything worth having is worth the effort and the time to wait for it.
Kids will benefit from seeing their parents living within their means, waiting to make those purchases, or go on a vacation. But, in the end, don’t give in to their bitter complaints. Be dispassionate about whether they choose to work for what they want or not. They’ll get the idea eventually.
Most parenting books focus on young children and teens, but in my experience there’s a lack of good advice for parents as their children transition into adulthood. You’ve survived this with four kids. How did you navigate that transition from an authority figure to friend?
All your parenting efforts have been focused on getting them to a point where they can make wise choices from here on out. But kids mature at different levels, and sometimes the kids aren’t as mature as we think or hope they are (or they think they are). Choose to stick with them, even when you both admit they chose poorly.
Remind your kids at this stage that you will always love them, no matter whether you love their choices. The tricky thing is, you really do still want them to listen to your wise advice! Start thinking of how you would give advice to a friend. Help them to know you have confidence in them, even if you know there is a better option for them. But always remember at this point, the choice is theirs, both to make and to live with.
We’ll end on an easy one. You’ve been celebrating Mother’s Day with your children for more than three decades. How did you handle bad gifts or poorly behaved kids on your day?
Oh mercy, I have no memories of bad gifts!
Once you all decided we would go to the art gallery together because “mom loves the art gallery.” After about 10 minutes, four out of the six were sitting on benches looking at their phones, and only one stalwart museum-goer (a kid) hung in there with me. But it didn’t matter, because I enjoyed that art anyway!
So my advice is spend time with your kids, but be sure it’s doing something you love, even if they don’t. Happy Mother’s Day!