3 September 2010

Start early and never stop

I often write here about building up our stockpiles, creating gardens full of fresh vegetables and making, rather than buying, many of the requirements of a simple home. One thing we also have to be mindful of, and this is one of the most significant parts of our lives, is to nurture and support our families, and be the kind of person you want them to be. We have to build our families too.

My children are now 29 and 30 years old. Both have settled down with beautiful, caring partners, both are ambitious and have good jobs and both are the kindest and gentlest men you would ever care to meet. They make me one very proud mother. The past week of reading about nappies/diapers, and how to wash them, made me realise that a lot has changed in the 30 years since I was a young mother. But I am happy being at this end of child rearing, seeing my boys fully grown, out in the world, functioning extremely well in a competitive and sometimes hostile world. I'm not saying that we were perfect parents, but we did enough right to get a wonderful result, twice.

I think children learn a lot when they gather with the family around the dinner table. This is the one part of the day when everyone can sit and relax, talk about what happened that day, and listen to what everyone else did. This is the time when we show, rather than tell, what our family values are. It's important. If you don't take the time to reconnect everyday, children drift off in their own world. We need that time to let them know they're an important part of the family, you support them and if they need help, you're there. It needs to start early, from the time they're eating from a tiny bowl, and continue right through until they leave home. Each stage has its own unique lessons, each stage prepares for the next. There will be requests to sit in front of the TV and to eat in their room, but the answer to that should always be no. They don't understand the significance of the family gathering until they're older. No phones or iPods at the table. No disruptions. This family time comes first, no exceptions, all else can wait. That 30 minutes can make or break a family.

I think I was quite a strict mother, but in some ways I wasn't. I had rules for TV, movies and books - I had to approve them all, and there were time limits. I was involved in their school, was on the P&C, I knew their teachers, and let their teachers know I was involved. I knew their friends and welcomed them into our home, but was very careful about where they went in return. We took them travelling a lot, we went camping and on road trips most school holidays when Hanno could get away from work. I never threatened something I wasn't prepared to carry out. I surprised them with some freedoms they didn't expect and angered them by not letting them do other things. All the time, they knew they were loved and supported in their interests. During their teenage years, when all the normal drink and drug issues emerge, we got through them and came out the other side, stronger and closer. Even now, we have a very strong relationship and they talk to me about all manner of things. I'm not sure what the key is. I guess it's love and being strong through the tough times, while knowing when to lighten up and loosen the controls, and always, always, being there to listen with an open heart.

Remember that you have to change as a parent along the way. You will get nowhere fast if you try to parent a 13 year old in the same way you parent a nine year old, or if you expect a three year old to behave like a 7 year old. And time is important too, theirs and yours. Don't over schedule them, running around to after-school activities most days of the week will tire everyone, including you. Children need a lot of time when they can just play and use their own imagination. Structured events and activities block that from happening. Give them the gift of free afternoons when they can make a fort out of a sheet or hike in the National Park with their friends when they're teenagers.

As I get older I understand how undeniably crucial the family unit is. It's not only important that we build strong families of decent, competent, intelligent people for our own family's sake, we need to do it for our country's well being too. Children who have been nurtured by a loving family and have seen active parents working towards a greener and simpler future have a better chance of doing that themselves.

And while it takes a fair amount of money to raise children, they don't need to see that money but they do need to feel loved and appreciated. There are many things a child can do without, and you don't have to fret if you can't, or don't want to, supply iPods, phones, fashions and computers, but never be ungenerous with the love. Children want their parents' love and attention more than anything else. Acceptance, kindness and love delivered in full measure, consistently, over the years, builds character and confidence in a way no product ever can. The trick is to start early and never stop.


  1. Hi Rhonda,
    Thank you enormously for all the well thought out, considerate and so very down to earth advice that you give us all. I do think that you are a very wise person and this post on raising children made me wish everyone thought like you. We'd be in a better world if they did. I think that along with doing all the things that your suggest a child needs to have a special something as well, so all credit to yourself and Hano but also a few accolades to your boys.
    Lots of good wishes

  2. Hi Rhonda,life is so strange you know,we bought our children up as almost a mirror of your way,but we have a beautiful son that still struggles with life everyday,he has a lovely family and praise God a loving and patient wife she has been a rock for him as we have tried to be,our daughter who is the eldest has never gone off the path of life,she has a beautiful family also and a very supportive husband that recently chose to be a house dad as kate received a promotion that disrupted normal times.I do not think there is a right and wrong way ,we give every inch of our soul to our children and some can make wonderful use of all the life skills we give them and others live a life of confusion.By blogging I have been amazed at how many parents have done the same as us but have one of their children in distress,I really don't think there is anything on this earth so hearbreaking.We love our son and he loves us and after reaching 35 he started to "sort things out".I pray for him everyday.How blesed you were Rhonda that your boys are safe in mind and life. Have a lovely day.Carole

    1. I have lived my life with a mental illness.I have struggled,failed succeded, lived,just about survived and been successful in many ways.My Mother accused me of making her feel guilty and has always kept her distance. She has always blamed me for my behaviour or attitude even though I have had a career a great marriage and a fabulous son. being in distress often has a reason and some parents arent as nice as you and see their offspring as not good enough.so dont worry just be happy.sue50

  3. Hi Rhonda,

    As always, a really good post. As a highschool teacher, I really see the daily lives of teenagers and how -particularly at this time of year - how stressed they become.

    One of the things I've frequently had to do (note - had to) is take students aside and 'big sister' them about their mobiles. I ask them to turn off their mobiles, computers etc at 9pm and turn them back on at 7am. Do it for an experiment and see how it goes.

    I say to them: there is no message so important that your friends can't pick up the land line and call you.

    You see, what I see most of all in teenagers is that there is now no time barrier at all in their lives. Their friends text them at any time and we have a swathe of kids who just don't ever get a full night's sleep.

    I see this in the classroom. Exhausted children, grumpy, the effects of cyber bullying and all of that.

    If there are any parents out there that are reading my comment - why not have a 9pm family switch-off for your phones, all together as a family?

    I'm so positive you will all feel the benefits.

    That's me off my soapbox now.


  4. Well said Rhonda. Your post left a lump in my throat.Whilst some days it's hard being a working mum, I too believe that just giving your children your love and your time is the best way to build a strong relationship with them.
    I am only 29 and I have two girls aged 8 and 5. I bring them up in a very similar way. We eat dinner at the table every night [once a week we sit on a mat and have a picnic dinner but always all of us], we limit after school activities to once a week and that is on a saturday. We don't buy expensive toys and fashions and spoile our kids with our time instead.
    Someone once said to me that if you have a lot of input in your children's teenage years, hand out with them, spend time with them they are less likely to rebel. I am aiming to do this and I really hope my children turn out to be respecful, loving teenagers and young adults too :)

  5. Love is the most important ingredient.
    Love in action looks like spending time with your child, valuing your time together ( like no phones at the dinner table).
    And those family holidays together make priceless memories. It can be a simple as a camping holiday in a National Park.

  6. I am a mother to three daughters, twins 12yrs and one 14yr old. Life is full of ups and downs! I believe very strongly in the values you have blogged about. Sometimes, just being available to listen is the most important thing! It is hard in a society of consumerism to instill in them the groundedness to see what is really important, but I think modelling living simply and authentically is possible!:-)

  7. Wonderful post: agree agree agree, thank you.

  8. Beautiful, beautiful post, exactly when I need to read it. Motherhood can be a tough, tough gig but reading this helps me straighten my shoulders and keep on slogging away! Thank you.

  9. A beautiful post, Rhonda. I think that when you're in the middle of a trying time with a child, it can seem like an eternal problem, but when they're adults, it fades into a blip. I am having such a time with my 9yo boy. He is spoilt with love, but perhaps my heart could be more open to him, if that makes sense - to hasten him past this hurdle. I shall think on this more.

  10. I think you are so right about the importance of the family dinner table. A family meal can be like a mini celebration every day of the week.

    I think you once mentioned that your children when to boarding school (please correct me if I'm wrong). How did you manage family time while they were away?


  11. Kate, they came home every holiday, and during the term, we travelled up to see them quite frequently. There was one time one of them was going through some issues. I travelled up to school every weekend for four or five weeks so we could spend time together.

  12. Lovely post and so very true. It's love and support our children need the most, not things. Have a great evening.

  13. I seriously could not have imagined a better thought out post on this subject. When I was teaching the lack of family structure was evident and the influences of media and technology were overwhelming--it made my job that much harder. Family values are so key--no matter what that family might look like. Parents need to take an active participation in their children's lives and not be afraid to lay down the law---they are the parents after all. Some of my fondest memories from high school are sitting around the dining table with my parents and one of my older brothers, talking about politics and social issues. I actually was just remembering that earlier this week. So glad to see someone writing about these values. Sending you a big hug as always and hoping that you're well!

  14. Hi Rhonda,

    I don't often comment, but I appreciate your wisdom more than I can possibly say. Thank you so much. :)

    Hugs from Canada

  15. I remember reading an opinion piece recently written by a former prison psychiatrist turned writer (Theodore Dalrymple). All of the inmates in his care had come from homes in which the family meal was an entirely foreign concept. Reading it really shook me up and signalled, once and for all, the end of lap-dining in our family. Obviously not all children who eat their meals on the run, in their bedrooms or in front of the t.v will go on to become criminals, but that's not the point.

    Anyway, in my unsuccessful attempt to track down this article I came across another interesting piece (from Time Magazine online) which confirms everything you have written today. I hope you don't mind my linking to it?


  16. I love that meal time when we are altogether. A time to ask about each others days, and a time to just pause a minute. I loved it as a kid growing up and I really hope that in turn my boys will honour that time with us when they are much older.

  17. I love when other people talk about their family dynamics. It's so interesting to me how very different ways can produce the same kind of results.
    I get compliments about my children all the time. How kind and generous they are. How thoughtful they are. But mostly a lot of people are astonished on how they support each other. If one of them has an event going on ( a play, a dance show, a soccer game...) that they are participating in, then the other one comes to watch too. Even my teenage son comes to his sister dance show which never fails to attract comments like: " how did you manage to drag a teenager to this??". Well, we didn't drag him at all. It feels normal to him to support his sister who had been working hard for months.
    And yet I do things differently than you do a bit. Every night is family dinner and we do a lot of things together. But I'm not strict at all. We don't have rules really, except for one: respect yourself and the people around you. I think it encompasses most things nicely.

  18. This was a wonderful inspiring way to start my day. Dinners are a time for regrouping as a family. Can't agree more!

  19. There are no words just wishes

  20. Totally agree. Thanks for reaffirming what I am already doing at home. In a sea of people doing differently, it's nice to know there are others out there doing the same as I am. Thanks.

  21. Rhonda,

    I'm sure tons of people are giving you cloth diapering suggestions. I personally prefer good ole prefolds & I have been knitting soakers using Kelly Brooker's Vanilla pattern.

    I can't tell you yet how it's working in practical life, because Lil' Bean is a couple of days "late" & I'm still w-a-i-t-i-n-g for him arrive. ;-)

    Happy creating!
    You are an inspiration.

    (Also, I find this to be the best stay-on-hat, but I may be a bit biased. ;-) http://maehegirl.blogspot.com/2010/04/lil-bean-pilot.html)

  22. Hello Rhonda,

    Thank you so much for this advice. I have read it carefully and will keep this for ever in my heart and in my mind.

    Kind regards,

  23. Hi Rhonda,
    I very much enjoy hearing you speak. It is the motherly advice I never received.
    I decided as a very young mum, that supper time was for catching up with my children and my husband. They all had their lives outside the home with school and hubby's work. I have always been a stay at home mum. Which I am very proud of my role. Like you, I have always been there for my family. Unlike how I was raised, my children know that I love them and that they are and will always will be number one in my life.
    My youngest will be turning 18, on the the 18th of this month, and my oldest will be 27. We have never had a lot of money.We have lived on the farm all of their lives. Had a veggie garden, a cow to milk, chickens, and we always had beef, elk or a deer, in the deep freeze. My children were never raised in designer clothing. Nor did they have the latest fads regardless what it might have been. Did they suffer for it. I don't think so. They learned what is important in life. Family. We went camping almost every year. Our holidays always included the local historic museums and interpretive centres. Always took them to the science centre or live theatre in the city. We always tried to expand their horizon outside of the school. Our television viewing was also limited, to good quality programming.
    Would I change anything...only one thing. Just where my thinking has been for the past few years, with being more self reliant, self sufficient, and less of a consumer, reusing etc, so my two older girls could have benefited more from that. That is my only regret as a mum. That I didn't realise the importance of mother earth soon enough, for all of my children. But I hope that they will see and learn from my examples, and our discussions.
    Anyways, I have taken up enough of your time. Thank-you Rhonda for being such an inspiration.

  24. Hi Rhonda, I am so heartened by this post. I feel like I am on the right track, as there are many things that I am already doing (and envisage I will do) as our daughter grows older. It is very encouraging to read how your 29 and 30 year olds have turned out, with this method of "strict but not always" parenting! And the one about being wary of where your children go (after school etc) is a HUGE one for me - I am very wary of it already and don't think I will change much with my now 4yo as she gets older.... it's good to know there are others who have a healthy regard for what their children see, read and hear because I plan to do the same (and live in a generation where there seems to be a lot of free rein going on!).

  25. I don't know why, but this has given me a lump in my throat. My childhood was somewhat different, but (I hope!) with the same result. We usually ate meals in the living room with the tv or books (the table was almost always piled high with my dad's stuff), but now I think about it, it was almost always all of us.

    My mum was always very relaxed about rules but always seemed to know when to watch more carefully. She always said her worst fear as a parent of a teenager was to be woken up by police on the doorstep asking if she knew where her daughter was. We were all extremely good at letting her know our whereabouts - and I at least got mocked by my friends for that! The first time I snuck out of the house I was 18 and had finished school :) She knew most of our friends, and when she didn't like one (including boyfriends), she let us know but also let us come to our own conclusion - always the same one.

    We've managed to stay close despite each sibling living in a different country - with my dad lived in a 4th country, and there have never been major issues between us. My family is my first line of support in almost any situation, my mother is amazing in emergencies and crises. I hope to be even half the mother she is. All this without dinner-table dinners :)


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