Raise Up A Child

Just a few meandering thoughts on personal family history.

When my daughter was approaching her third birthday, we went down the street and filled two 5-quart ice cream tubs with buckeyes. Back home, I took 26 sheets of paper and made an alphabet, upper-case and lower-case, and taped them along two walls at the ceiling. I worked with her at that age to build the letters out of the buckeyes. We would spend as much as an hour a day sometimes with me telling her the name of the letter I wanted her to build. Then she’d build a letter and see if she got the right one built and if she built it right. She had a blast doing that and she gave me a great feeling of pride in her intellect.

After my daughter finished kindergarten in a Christian school, I began preparations to home school her. Knowing the public schools were abject failures long before she was ready to attend, I needed to make sure my daughter was more properly and better educated than the public schools would permit. I also needed to be certain the anti-Christian tenor of public education would not poison her before she had the chance to have a Christian foundation. In three years, I gave her four grades of education and five grades of math, using material from Bob Jones University Press.

When I entered her into public schools at the fifth grade level, she was not only younger than everyone in her class but much more advanced. She was even further advanced in math since the school system was not interested in giving her any advanced math curriculum. This necessarily led to boredom for her and ostracization of her by her classmates. Being among the smartest in the class is never a good thing for socialization. Being by far the youngest as well as among the smartest only amplified the problem. But I had already foreseen the ostracization and planned for it.

Before my daughter ever started attending school, I started playing a game with her. I would speak gruffly to her, pretending to be all mean and stuff. I didn’t tell her it was a game. This was intentional. I would look mean and say something like “you’re dumb and ugly and I hate you.” Of course, she’d get a tortured expression on her face. So I’d make my face look as mean as possible, hoping she’d see the ridiculous expression for what it was, and repeat even more gruffly “you’re dumb and ugly and I hate you.” Suddenly her face would light up and she’d retort “you’re the dumb one and I hate you more!” If I said “hey, dugly” she’d retort “you’re the dugly one.” When I told her “pack your bags and leave” (when she was under eight) she’d say either “fine, I will” or “no! You pack YOUR bags and YOU leave!”

The whole intent of this was to prepare her, in a safe and loving environment, for hateful words. I wanted to make certain she had thick enough skin to not take hateful words so personally. And I believe I was rather successful. And, while she was still young enough for me to be the smartest man in the world, it was fun for both of us. As she got older and I got dumber, the fun dissipated and I backed off. But it was fun while it lasted.

There was a time when my daughter came sulking into the house, whimpering. “Dad, everyone’s calling me whiny-pants.” Hearing that from my daughter hurt me. I really felt her pain. And I could’ve done what I instinctively wanted to do, rush up to her, drop to my knees and give her a loving hug while supporting her victim mentality. But I shocked myself. And I shocked her even more. I stood there, looked her in the eye, and asked “Well, are you?” Her jaw hit the floor. After letting her think about that for a couple seconds, then I explained people can be mean. If she let them find out they were hurting her, they would really attack TO hurt her. I did empathize with her, but only after I pulled her out of victim mode.

Don’t get me wrong. The ability to cry is not a sign of weakness. I will never forget the hundreds of times my own father said “that’s not a reason to cry.” I decided I would never use that line with my own daughter. When she was emotionally distraught, she cried. If something didn’t go the way she wanted, she cried. And I allowed it. But I also told her when crying time was over. It never does any good to sulk for long periods of time but it does a great deal of good to allow emotions to move their way through.

When a child is growing up, she will get lots of boo-boos and whatnot. She and I would wrestle around a lot and sometimes things didn’t go as planned. She might trip and fall or I might trip over her and fall on her. Some of those events were very scary. Of course she’d be crying and I would in a half-panic quickly check her over to make sure nothing was broken or sprained or anything like that. Once I was satisfied there were no real injuries, I’d tell her she was alright and pick her up and dust her off. Most of the time, that marked the end of the rough-housing for a while. But I was intent on not “kissing the boo-boo to make it all better.” I believed, and still do, that it was important to know the difference between an “owwie” and an injury and to fight through the “owwie.”

When my daughter was nine to twelve years old, she was involved in organized slow-pitch softball. Her coaches learned quickly never to rush to her side if she may have possibly maybe been hurt. She would run them off. There were only two times when she actually did get hurt and one time when it may have been a true injury. She has a fatter index finger to this day from that one. But those two times, the coaches knew she was actually hurt and they did what they needed to do. Everyone knew if she went down and didn’t come back up, it was real. Her stoicism and competitiveness was well known.

Physical Education is part of the government requirements of any home school curriculum. To meet that requirement, I took my daughter on bicycling trips. She was almost six when we started, her on her one-speed and me on my 16-speed. Our first trip was two miles long. It gradually built from there. By the time she was eight years old, she was riding her one-speed on 28-mile circuits. She liked seeing those “entering a new county” signs as we touched two counties in addition to the one we live in.

From the time of her birth till she was about eight years old, her mother and I delivered those door-to-door bags of advertisements. We would pick up all the ads, stuff them all and deliver 1100 bags over the weekend. When my daughter was old enough to run around, she started “helping” by carrying some of the light bundles of ads. As she got older, she started carrying heavier ones. Nobody was going to tell her something was too heavy for her to carry, she’d have none of that. At six years old, she was carrying the heaviest bundles, one in each hand. And they weighed more than a 24-pack each. It is important to note that she is 5’1” tall as a fully-grown adult and she was always on the short, slender side.

While she and I were doing our cycling thing, I was trying to get into a little bit of weight-lifting, buying cast-iron dumbbells. She was also doing a little bit with them. In the process of building up the weight of the dumbbells, we went into Champs Sporting Goods. There was a 75-lb dumbbell there and I pointed it out to my then-ten-year-old daughter. And a well-meaning young woman working there said something wrong. “Oh, honey, that is way too heavy for you.” My daughter walked over to the dumbbell, grabbed it with both hands, picked it up, and stood there with 75 pounds sitting on her thighs, her face expressionless.

As she was growing up, I drilled it into her head that there is no such thing as “race.” All people alive today can trace their roots back to Noah, Ham, Shem, and Japheth. Since there is no such thing as race, racism is stupid. I repeated it constantly. And she took me at my word. Race has never meant anything to her in her social life or her dating life. She has dated white guys, guys from India, and black guys. And I couldn’t be prouder of her for her “pigmentation is irrelevant” approach to life. She is very outspoken about that.

I taught her there are things that are wrong and there are things that are right. There are things I don’t like and there are things I like. And whether I like things or not has no impact on the rightness or wrongness of things. It was very important to me that she know she could like things I didn’t like. And she learned that. I did most of the clothing shopping with her as she was growing up. She would try things on and ask my opinion of them. I was very honest. “I think that shirt is ugly.” “Well, I’m going to get it anyway.” “Alright.” I think she actually based her decision on whether to get clothing on whether I liked it. If I didn’t like it, that meant it was something to buy. Of course, there were those items where I said she couldn’t buy them. Things like shirts with a playboy bunny on them. Those were wrong things, not things I just didn’t like. It was important to me that she learned opinions are opinions and everyone has the right to his or her own opinion.

I also taught her about the sliding scale of “you’re not allowed to, I don’t want you to, I don’t care either way, I want you to, you have to.” “I don’t want you to” meant she was allowed to but I’d rather she didn’t. It also meant the final decision was hers and there would be no repercussions in making the decision I didn’t want her to make.

There is no easy way to close off this sort of meandering and it has already gotten too long so I’ll just close it by saying I think I did a pretty good job of raising up an independent-minded young adult who can discern right from wrong and avoid most of the peer pressure. Or more accurately, I hope I did.
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Cross Posted on Truth Before Dishonor (a while back)

10 Comments

  1. John, thanks for this. I have a 19-month-old little girl and I’m trying to figure out how to raise her as a strong, independent-minded young lady, and there’s some good stuff for me here… hey, even liberals like me can learn something from what you have to say :)

  2. Before my daughter ever started attending school, I started playing a game with her. I would speak gruffly to her, pretending to be all mean and stuff. I didn’t tell her it was a game. This was intentional. I would look mean and say something like “you’re dumb and ugly and I hate you.”

    can’t believe a person, let alone a father, would think this is a good idea

  3. oh but wait she didn’t collapse outright or turn out completely insane so I guess it was an awesome plan

  4. TT:“can’t believe a person, let alone a father, would think this is a good idea”

    I had exactly the same reaction, TT!

    Added 01/13/2010: Upon rereading this, John, although there are some things we did differently with our own two daughters than what you did, your narrative suggests that you always had the best interests of your daughter at heart and did the best you could for her, with well thought out reasoning, and carried out with love. For that, I commend you! As an adult now, your daughter will be all the stronger a person for your dedication to her.

  5. It depends on the vaccine!

    That said, we are talking about raising a child, which is not analogous to a generic vaccine, as I do understand exactly the point you are trying to make. I just plain do not agree with your approach regarding the specific example that TT brought up from your monologue about raising your daughter.

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