December 3, 2018

Children & Manners
Circa 1951
(part 1)

I was walking through a Walmart store yesterday evening with my wife and there was a small child having a bit of a tantrum with his mother. It's not an uncommon thing to see these days and it's always disturbing to me. 

Our children did not act that way in public. And they didn't act that way at home either. 

So why do kids act like that? I think it must be that something is not right in the family. I often wonder if such children are from broken homes. Perhaps that was a single mother in Walmart, and she had worked a full day at some tiring job, and she was only able to be a mother part time. Being a single mother, working to support and raise children, has to be one of the toughest responsibilities in the world.

I was fortunate that my own mother was a full-time mother. Her mother was a full-time mother too. I suspect that was the case for all my generations into the past. 

It was the same in Marlene's family line. Her Mother went to nursing school in New York City. She was the only one of nine children in her family to go on to school after high school. But she did not work full time as a nurse when she was raising her children. She was a substitute school nurse, and sometimes helped care for people in their homes during their final days (it was before organized hospice care came into being). But, for all practical purposes, she was a full-time mother.

Marlene and I were married eight years before we had our first child. She worked those years for a local doctor. A lot of the doctor's patients thought she was a nurse, but she had gone to college to be a "medical office assistant." 

In those early years of our marriage, when I was working for a local remodeling contractor, Marlene earned more money than I did. The doctor paid her well.

When Marlene was pregnant with our first child, we decided that it was critically important for her to leave work and be a full-time mother. I remember that was a difficult social adjustment for Marlene. And it was a big financial adjustment. Supporting a family on my income alone was challenging for a lot of years. Those were the hard years. 

I worked my full time job, then did side jobs after work and on weekends. Finding a balance between work and family wasn't easy. But the most important thing to me and Marlene was that our children had a full-time mother. And Marlene wasn't just a mother, she was a teacher. We homeschooled our kids.

I am in no way qualified to advise anyone about how to raise their children. I feel like I'm a failure at it in more ways than one. I wish I could go back in time and have a second try at it. But life doesn't work that way.

In retrospect, however, I feel like we did three things right. If Marlene and I had it to do all over again, we would, without a doubt, do these three things again. I'm not saying everyone should do these things. I'm saying that these three deliberate actions were right for us and our family.

First, I did not expect for a second that Marlene should shoulder any responsibility for the financial provision of our family. 

She offered to get a job a couple times when the money was short, but she never had to do that. Within the family economy we established, earning money was not her responsibility.

But making do with the money I was able to earn was part of her responsibility. Marlene really stretched the dollars. She made do with a whole lot less than the average two-income families around us.

The second right thing we did was not send our children to the government school. They were not indoctrinated into the secular worldview for the most formative years of their life. They were not peer dependent, and their exposure to the Pied Piper of pop culture was significantly limited. They had a far more practical education at home. 

The third right thing we did was live in a rural place, and we did real work together as a family. Cutting firewood, growing food, cooking; there is no end to productive work that a family must do on a rural homestead. And when they were old enough, our sons started working for local farmers. 

I'll never forget when my youngest son, James, was 12 years old and helped a local farmer put drain tile in his field.  It was a sunny spring day and he was shoulder deep in the bottom of the ditch, with a shovel, doing a man's work, and he loved it. Meanwhile, all the other 12-year-olds in the area were being institutionalized at the government school.

As a rule, children raised in rural settings grow up to be more resilient and resourceful than children raised in urban and suburban environments.  

We also did not have television (but we did watch some video movies), and I never allowed any video games in the house.

Those are the things I felt like we did right when raising our children. I offer them for consideration to any future parents who might read this.  

Now, you're probably wondering what I did wrong when it came to raising my children. Well, I don't want to talk about that.

This whole blog post has actually veered off  its intended course. I was going to discuss some manners for children that I found in a 1951 book (pictured above). I'll do that in my next blog post.

But before I end this post I want to share with you about the one single time that I had a temper tantrum as a child. I don't remember it, but I know about it because my mother told the story to me a few times later in life.

I was around two years old and I was sitting on the kitchen floor. Something hadn't gone my way and I was angry—out of control, screaming angry. It was a classic, red-faced, eyes closed, fists clenched, high pitched tantrum. 

My mother didn't know what to do. Then she saw a glass of water on the table. She threw the water right in my face.

My mother says I stopped screaming instantly. I looked around in shock and confusion, and I never had another temper tantrum again. 

True story.

Circa 1951 children's manners next (prepare to be amazed)....


  1. Hi Herrick,
    We always enjoy your blog. You are so right on your observations on raising kids. We pretty much followed most of your recommendations. I will mention something I could have done better with my kids. I should have encouraged both of them to find some employment at a younger age. They both have grown up to be responsible hard working young people, but some employment at 12 or 13 would have been good for them. I started working when I was about 12 and have no regrets in my life.

  2. The wife and I and our 15 and 13 YO kids are doing foster care for 3 children who are the offspring of our oldest daughter who is now living on the streets of a large city 2 hours away. Imagine having three of those Walmart kids in your home 24/7/365. It has been a slog trying to turn those urchins into grandchildren, but we are making progress. Routine and plenty of sleep go a long ways towards preventing tantrums. When they do happen though, I just walk a little further down the isle and let them scream it out. It takes a lot of energy to put on a production like that. If I get looks from bystanders, I just shrug my shoulders and with a slight smile say "Foster care" and then they say something like, "God bless you!" or, "Wow, you are really courageous! I admire people that can do that!" and move along.

  3. I am SO glad you are blogging again! I truly enjoy your commentary and perspective.
    Jennifer M

  4. Hi Herrick,

    I would like to offer another perspective on those "unruly" kids in Walmart. I have a son with autism, and while I try not to take him out in public places very often, sometimes its a necessity. Sometimes I just never know what will trigger a meltdown and once it starts, its difficult to stop. I have left stores many times with him kicking, screaming and pinching me and have heard multiple people, mostly older folks, mutter something about "that child just needs his butt whooped." Sometimes I think about wearing a T-shirt that says "He has autism". I live in the rural south where everyone thinks spanking is the answer for everything. While I have sparingly spanked my other children, spanking a child with autism does nothing but amp up the situation.

    I homeschool my two youngest, including my child with autism, partly because he is very low verbally and could not tell me if someone hurt him, and mostly for all the reasons you homeschooled your boys. We have no TV and only one computer. My son does not have screen time, as that makes his anxiety and stimming worse.

    I just want people to be aware, with the autism rate being 1 in 20 boys, that you could quite possibly be seeing a child with autism who is overwhelmed with the lights, sounds and smells in a store and to give that Mama some grace and compassion. Even though I don't need the help, its nice when someone asks me if they can help me or gives me a look of compassion other than giving me the stink eye.


  5. I wish society would return to training its children to address adults properly with Mr. / Mrs. / Ms. We have tried with our kids, but when nobody else does it, its a losing battle. Refraining from teaching kids to respect their elders, even those just 10-15 years older, had very negative, long term impacts.

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    1. Elizabeth L. Johnson said, So I accidently hit the wrong button and it was published prematurely. Now I start and finish in one paragraph. Like I was saying, Yeah for your mom, yourself, and Marlene for putting your children first. Like Dr. Laura Schelinger on the radio says, when you have children they are first now; not you, yourself. Course, in my life when I make the Lord first, and enjoy a successful marriage as example to our children, this is second priority. But, of course since children can't raise themselves, naturally they are first consideration. Myself, my mom, her mom, and her mom, and so forth were all stay-at-home-moms. Instead of feminism and career, parental responsibility was chosen. You bear the child, you raise him. Not your grandmother, or daycare. The hard times of nowadays are supposed to make a mother look up, to God, for her help (especially if single). One of my daughters is following suit. The other is expecting her first baby soon, and can't find a babysitter (She would ask me, but I live 5 hrs away, hence why we don't need to live closer). My prayer is that she'll learn suddenly at the baby's delivery, "I am supposed to raise my own child; not somebody else." Every one knows it costs an arm and a leg to hire someone else to take your place. It's a tough job, afterall. My daughter can't afford to. I hope for the baby's sake, that my daughter and her husband can never afford it.

  7. Thank you, everyone, for your comments on this blog post. Your personal insights and perspectives have greatly enhanced my commentary!