My wife and I had 12 children over the course of 15 1/2 years. Today, our oldest is 37 and our youngest is 22. I have always had a very prosperous job and enough money to give my kids almost anything. But my wife and I decided not to.
I will share with you the things that we did, but first let me tell you the results: All 12 of my children have college degrees (or are in school), and we as parents did not pay for it. Most have graduate degrees. Those who are married have wonderful spouses with the same ethics and college degrees, too. We have 18 grandchildren who are learning the same things that our kids learned—self respect, gratitude, and a desire to give back to society.
We raised our family in Utah, Florida, and California; my wife and I now live in Colorado. In March, we will have been married 40 years. I attribute the love between us as a part of our success with the children. They see a stable home life with a commitment that does not have compromises.
Here’s what we did right (we got plenty wrong, too, but that’s another list):
- Kids had to perform chores from age 3. A 3-year-old does not clean toilets very well but by the time he is 4, it’s a reasonably good job.
- They got allowances based on how they did the chores for the week.
- We had the children wash their own clothes by the time they turned 8. We assigned them a wash day.
- When they started reading, they had to make dinner by reading a recipe. They also had to learn to double a recipe.
- The boys and girls had to learn to sew.
Education was very important in our family.
- We had study time from 6 to 8pm every week day. No television, computer, games, or other activities until the two hours were up. If they had no homework, then they read books. For those too young to be in school, we had someone read books to them. After the two hours, they could do whatever they wanted as long as they were in by curfew.
- All the kids were required to take every Advanced Placement class there was. We did not let entrance scores be an impediment. We went to the school and demanded our kids be let in. Then we, as parents, spent the time to ensure they had the understanding to pass the class. After the first child, the school learned that we kept our promise that the kids could handle the AP classes.
- If children would come home and say that a teacher hated them or was not fair, our response was that you need to find a way to get along. You need find a way to learn the material because in real life, you may have a boss that does not like you. We would not enable children to “blame” the teacher for not learning, but place the responsibility for learning the material back on the child. Of course, we were alongside them for two hours of study a day, for them to ask for help anytime.
Picky eaters not allowed
- We all ate dinner and breakfast together. Breakfast was at 5:15am and then the children had to do chores before school. Dinner was at 5:30pm.
- More broadly, food was interesting. We wanted a balanced diet, but hated it when we were young and parents made us eat all our food. Sometimes we were full and just did not want to eat anymore. Our rule was to give the kids the food they hated most first (usually vegetables) and then they got the next type of food. They did not have to eat it and could leave the table. If later they complained they were hungry, we would get out that food they did not want to eat, warm it up in the microwave, and provide it to them. Again, they did not have to eat it. But they got no other food until the next meal unless they ate it.
- We did not have snacks between meals. We always had the four food groups (meat, dairy, grain, fruits and vegetables) and nearly always had dessert of some kind. To this day, our kids are not afraid to try different foods, and have no allergies to foods. They try all kinds of new foods and eat only until they are full. Not one of our kids is even a little bit heavy. They are thin, athletic, and very healthy. With 12 kids, you would think that at least one would have some food allergies or food special needs. (I am not a doctor.)
- All kids had to play some kind of sport. They got to choose, but choosing none was not an option. We started them in grade school. We did not care if it was swimming, football, baseball, fencing, tennis, etc. and did not care if they chose to change sports. But they had to play something.
- All kids had to be in some kind of club: Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, history, drama, etc.
- They were required to provide community service. We would volunteer within our community and at church. For Eagle Scout projects, we would have the entire family help. Once we collected old clothes and took them to Mexico and passed them out. The kids saw what life was like for many families and how their collections made them so happy and made a difference.
- When the kids turned 16, we bought each a car. The first one learned what that meant. As the tow truck pulled a once “new” car into the driveway, my oldest proclaimed: “Dad, it is a wreck!” I said, “Yes, but a 1965 Mustang fastback wreck. Here are the repair manuals. Tools are in the garage. I will pay for every part, but will not pay for LABOR.” Eleven months later, the car had a rebuilt engine, rebuilt transmission, newly upholstered interior, a new suspension system, and a new coat of paint. My daughter (yes, it was my daughter) had one of the hottest cars at high school. And her pride that she built it was beyond imaginable. (As a side note, none of my kids ever got a ticket for speeding, even though no car had less than 450 horsepower.)
- We as parents allowed kids to make mistakes. Five years before the 16th birthday and their “new” car gift, they had to help out with our family cars. Once I asked my son, Samuel, to change the oil and asked if he needed help or instruction. “No, Dad, I can do it.” An hour later, he came in and said, “Dad, does it take 18 quarts of oil to change the oil?” I asked where did he put 18 quarts of oil when normally only five were needed. His response: “That big screw on top at the front of the engine.” I said “You mean the radiator?” Well, he did not get into trouble for filling the radiator with oil. He had to drain it, we bought a radiator flush, put in new radiator fluid, and then he had to change the real oil. We did not ground him or give him any punishment for doing it “wrong.” We let the lesson be the teaching tool. Our children are not afraid to try something new. They were trained that if they do something wrong they will not get punished. It often cost us more money, but we were raising kids, not saving money.
- The kids each got their own computer, but had to build it. I bought the processor, memory, power supply, case, keyboard, hard drive, motherboard, and mouse. They had to put it together and load the software on. This started when they were 12.
- We let the children make their own choices, but limited. For example, do you want to go to bed now or clean your room? Rarely, did we give directives that were one way, unless it dealt with living the agreed-upon family rules. This let the child feel that she had some control over life.
In it together
- We required the children to help each other. When a fifth grader is required to read 30 minutes a day, and a first grader is required to be read to 30 minutes a day, have one sit next to the other and read. Those in high school calculus tutored those in algebra or grade-school math.
- We assigned an older child to a younger child to teach them and help them accomplish their weekly chores.
- We let the children be a part of making the family rules. For example, the kids wanted the rule that no toys were allowed in the family room. The toys had to stay either in the bedroom or playroom. In addition to their chores, they had to all clean their bedroom every day (or just keep it clean in the first place). These were rules that the children wanted. We gave them a chance each month to amend or create new rules. Mom and Dad had veto power of course.
- We tried to be always consistent. If they had to study two hours every night, we did not make an exception to it. Curfew was 10pm during school nights and midnight on non-school nights. There were no exceptions to the rules.
- We would take family vacations every summer for two or three weeks. We could afford a hotel, or cruise, but did not choose those options. We went camping and backpacking. If it rained, then we would figure out how to backpack in the rain and survive. We would set up a base camp at a site with five or six tents, and I would take all kids age 6 or older on a three- to five-day backpack trip. My wife would stay with the little ones. Remember, for 15 years, she was either pregnant or just had a baby. My kids and I hiked across the Grand Canyon, to the top of Mount Whitney, across the Continental Divide, across Yosemite.
- We would send kids via airplane to relatives in Europe or across the US for two or three weeks at a time. We started this when they were in kindergarten. It would take special treatment for the airlines to take a 5-year-old alone on the plane and required people on the other end to have special documentation. We only sent the kids if they wanted to go. However, with the younger ones seeing the older ones travel, they wanted to go. The kids learned from an early age that we, as parents, were always there for them, but would let them grow their own wings and fly.
Money and materialism
- Even though we have sufficient money, we have not helped the children buy homes, pay for education, pay for weddings (yes, we do not pay for weddings either). We have provided extensive information on how to do it or how to buy rental units and use equity to grow wealth. We do not “give” things to our children but we give them information and teach them “how” to do things. We have helped them with contacts in corporations, but they have to do the interviews and “earn” the jobs.
- We give birthday and Christmas presents to the kids. We would play Santa Claus but as they got older, and would ask about it, we would not lie. We would say it is a game we play and it is fun. We did and do have lists for items that each child would like for presents. Then everyone can see what they want. With the internet, it is easy to send such lists around to the children and grandchildren. Still, homemade gifts are often the favorite of all.
The real world
- We loved the children regardless of what they did. But would not prevent consequences of any of their actions. We let them suffer consequences and would not try to mitigate the consequences because we saw them suffering. We would cry and be sad, but would not do anything to reduce the consequences of their actions.
We were and are not our kids’ best friends. We were their parents.
Francis L. Thompson與妻子的努力下，在15年當中生了12個小孩。Thompson夫妻沒有對任何一位小孩給予金錢上的補助，但除了在學中的小孩以外，全都是自己付學費並擁有學士學位。他是怎麼做到的？
規則一：家事 - 在Thompson家庭當中，小孩三歲後就開始給予做家事的責任。八歲之前除了烹飪和縫紉都是自己負責。有能力看書之後，自己看食譜做料理，輪流負責晚餐之外，也開始學縫紉。家事的「Performance」將會影響到小孩的零用錢。
規則一：家事 - 在Thompson家庭當中，小孩三歲後就開始給予做家事的責任。八歲之前除了烹飪和縫紉都是自己負責。有能力看書之後，自己看食譜做料理，輪流負責晚餐之外，也開始學縫紉。家事的「Performance」將會影響到小孩的零用錢。
規則二：讀書時間 - 在Thompson一家裡，讀書是最被重視的。平日的晚上六點到八點為讀書時間。沒有學校的功課時，需要唸書給幼小的弟弟或妹妹聽。讀書時間禁止電視，電腦，電動遊戲，但過了晚上八點之後，除了外出，就是什麼可以做的自由時間。
規則三：禁止偏食 - Thompson一家的早餐5點15分，晚餐在傍晚5點30分。大家都要坐在一起吃飯。菜色由肉，乳製品，穀類，水果以及蔬菜組合成的健康料理。為了避免偏食，當小孩開始有偏食的狀況，就會給小孩不喜歡吃的食物。小孩可以選擇不吃，或是剩下，但當小孩餓的時候，父母將會把上次小孩吃剩的菜拿出來加熱。小孩當然可以再次反抗，但下一次用餐時會出現同樣的菜，所以久而久之小孩就會克服偏食的問題。這樣的飲食習慣，當然讓全家人都非常健康。
規則四：課外學程 - 小孩一定選一類運動。此外還需要參加童子軍，義工等活動。一家也會搜集家裡的舊衣，帶到墨西哥寄送給貧窮的人們。讓小孩體會以及思考即使是家族不需要的東西，也可以讓很多人幸福這件事情。
規則五：獨立 - 當小孩16歲的時候，父母會買一台車給小孩，但由於每一台都是故障，不會動的車，父母也會給予小孩車庫，修理手冊以及修理所需要的零件之費用。所有修理都需要自己來。實際上要讓車可以動，有時需要花費將近一年的時間。其中一位女孩成功地把Mustang Fastback 1965給修好之後，成為就讀高中開最酷的高中生。
規則六：家族互助 - 需要念文章的功課，家族互相交換閱讀。小弟小妹在做家事的時候，如果來不及的話，哥哥姊姊會幫忙。讓12小孩可以互助互補是Thompson夫妻很重視的一環。在Thompson一家裡有非常多的規則，但每一個月都有規則追加或是修正的機會。例如臥室需要保持乾淨，玩具需要留在玩具小屋裡等。小孩提議，通過的規則也會讓所有家族遵守。
規則七：假期 - Thompson一家在每年夏季都會有兩到三周的全家假期。露營時，會培養搭帳篷，生火等技能，讓小孩也有能力在野外或突發狀況時維生。另外，當小孩五歲的時候，Thompson夫妻會讓小孩一個人前往在歐洲親戚的家。不過，前提是小孩自己想要做這件事情時，父母就會讓小孩做。為了五歲小孩可以旅遊，Mr. Thompson有事先從航空公司取得特別的許可。
規則八：沒有金錢支援 - 就算小孩長大，買家，教育費，婚禮等所有費用Thompson夫妻都不會提供。從小到大教育小孩自立，以及自力所需要的技能和資訊，小孩有能力自己選擇「過什麼樣的人生」。不過，生日和聖誕禮物則是例外。所有小孩都可以得到他們想要的禮物。
規則九：現實世界 - Thompson家的小孩從小就學習許多事物，也獲得可以單飛的能力，所以不管小孩選擇的未來如何，Thompson夫妻都不會反對。當小孩要離開家庭時，為了不要讓小孩猶豫或反悔，不管再怎麼的悲哀惜別，Thompson夫妻都不會展現出來，而是做身為爸媽該做的，祝福小孩的旅程。