Kids, Self-Reliance, and Parenting: Thoughts?

Kids, Self-Reliance, and Parenting

We hope everyone enjoyed the weekend! We just got back from DC, where Sally got one final weekend of good ol’ fashioned spoiling in before she’ll have to give up her only-child status next month. With that trip done, we’re officially in countdown mode with less than five weeks until baby #2 is due.

Speaking of kids, we wanted to share an interesting article we read recently. It’s got one of those click-baity headlines that most personal finance geeks can’t help but click: How I made sure all 12 of my kids could pay for college themselves. We’d actually read about this family previously, but this article outlines how this couple helped all of their 12 children become totally self-reliant. Johnny and I have discussed on more than one occasion how we plan to help our kids through college, so we enjoyed reading this man’s perspective.

All of his children attended college without any assistance. What made the difference? Here are a few of his claims, in list form:

  • Chores and allowance starting at age 3
  • Washing their own clothes by age 8
  • Study time every day from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Taking every AP class offered in high school
  • Getting along with their teachers (no parental intervention)
  • Making them eat their vegetables before being allowed to eat anything else at dinner
  • Requiring sports, clubs, and community service
  • Buying them a broken down car at age 16 that had to be fixed up to be drivable
  • Buying them parts to build their own computer at age 12
  • Giving them information on how to grow wealth, but not helping with homes, education, or weddings

He lists several others, which can be found in the article, but those are the ones that stood out to us. Johnny and I are all about teaching our kids responsibility and self reliance, and we agree with some of what this father recommends. We hope to give our kids chores, block off some regularly scheduled study/reading time, and be actively involved in school and the community. But then there were a few things that had us scrunching our faces in the “that’s kinda weird” way. As of right now, we have no plans to require our children to build their own cars or computers, for instance.

The thought of not helping our children at all financially once they leave home doesn’t appeal to us, either. We plan to set rules for receiving help from us, such as working and maintaining a certain GPA while in college. But we definitely intend to help some. And not helping with weddings? Ain’t nobody got a heart that cold for that. Or we’re just soft.

I’m sure his kids were very responsible and self-reliant, but I’d be very interested to know how many of them are implementing or plan to enforce such strict rules on their own children. Some of his guidelines seem unnecessarily extreme to us, but you can’t deny the results.

Chances are good most of us won’t be jumping on the 12-kids bandwagon anytime soon. But that doesn’t change the fact that this is a worthy topic to discuss with a spouse, fiancee, first date (always a winning topic), the woman/man in the mirror. What do you think of this family’s guidelines? Where do you agree or disagree? Will your children be going to bed without dinner if they don’t eat their vegetables?

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  • Reply Tabitha Nelson March 9, 2015 at 7:45 am

    Super interesting – I haven’t read the article yet (opened it in a tab so it should happen eventually) but your comment about helping with weddings had me thinking of how my parents handled that issue. With each of us that have gotten married (3 out of 4 two girls one guy) my parents said, ” pay for this wedding yourself,” you know budget, pick a venue, the dress etc. that’s in your ability to do – and then when the wedding was over they asked us to show our expenses and they wrote each couple respectively a check for the cost of the wedding. So mega perks – you know you had an affordable wedding, your hitched to your best friend, and because you had budgeted/paid for the wedding up front after the ceremony you have this ”extra” money to start your days with as a couple.
    And anyone who is saying – I couldn’t pay for a wedding – you can when you have to. Also you quickly figure out what is most important to you, what you’re willing to spend more on vs. scrimping or cutting all together, friends and family help a lot, and can I say Pinterest?

    • Reply Johnny March 21, 2015 at 3:54 pm

      Oh man, your parents are freaking awesome! What a smart way to do weddings! Seriously, Joanna and I are going to steal this. Fist bumps for your mom and dad.

  • Reply Carly March 9, 2015 at 8:24 am

    Wow! I like most of the things the guy encouraged – especially doing laundry by 8! I remember that once we were tall enough to reach the dials, our mom made us do our own laundry. I don’t agree with making kids build their own computer, I’m sure I would’ve given my parents a massive eyeroll if they told me that. I too am curious if the kids today appreciate the guidelines their parents put in place!

    • Reply Johnny March 21, 2015 at 4:16 pm

      I would have hated the laundry rule as a kid, but I think it’s a great idea now as a parent. 🙂

  • Reply TT March 9, 2015 at 8:45 am

    Lots of thoughts, so I won’t try to share them all. I read your bullet about the car, and my first thoughts were “I see where they are coming from, but probably not for me.” (Thinking of a broken down Tommy the Tercel here, Johnny) Then I read their article… holy cow, a ’65 Mustang Fastback with Dad buying all the parts I want?!!!?!!! In case you missed it all their kids’ cars had at least 450hp–mine in high school had less than 100. As a car enthusiast this is a dream scenario for both the kids and the parent in my mind. If I have the time and money, I am definitely doing this with my kids.

    Also, I’m all about them building a computer. It is easier than most people think these days–plug and play.

    • Reply Johnny March 21, 2015 at 4:36 pm

      Good ol’ Tommy. I really don’t miss that beater one bit. But I agree, I’d love to get some basic engineering and problem solving going with my kids. The car thing is probably out of my depth, but I’d love to do some Raspberry Pi (little computer the size of a credit card) kits and build some cool basic robotic devices. Here are a sample:

      Reminds me that I’ve been meaning to buy a LEGO Technic set for the last 10 years. Do you remember doing those in 5th grade with Mr. Popperwell? So freaking awesome.

      • Reply TT March 23, 2015 at 8:52 am

        Man, I loved those Lego kits! I wish I could find them or something similar for my kids.

  • Reply Taylor Lee @ Engineer Cents March 9, 2015 at 8:46 am

    There are some things on his list I’d totally do (laundry at 8, required physical activity and community service) and some I’d never do (chores for money, 4 year old cleaning my toilet).

    However I think the premise of the article is something I don’t really agree with, i.e. not paying for your children’s education. For context my folks didn’t pay for my education. But the difference is that they couldn’t. Which meant I got great scholarship money which covered everything to go to a really good private university.

    If my parents had the money but refused to pay, I wouldn’t have had the same grant/scholarship opportunities. Sure, I could have gone to my state school but frankly, having taken classes at my local college, I’d have been bored. Not to denigrate state schools at large, of course, but our own system was severely lacking. No amount of self-reliance or self-sufficiency really would have changed the fact that not funding my education would have meant much more limited opportunities. And that’s ultimately what I want for my kids — opportunity.

    • Reply Johnny March 21, 2015 at 4:42 pm

      Totally agree with you, Taylor. I think there are circumstances where parents who have the means to pay for their children’s education and don’t is justifiable. But when parents do nothing to help their children prepare for college costs AND hinder their child’s ability to have access to grants and/or subsidized loans, I think it’s lame.

  • Reply Brittany @ Fun on a Budget March 9, 2015 at 8:54 am

    I’m all about giving my kids opportunities to become independent, responsible, and self-sufficient; but I want them be kids while they are kids. I’m hoping there are some more warm and fuzzy ways to nurture them into becoming good , successful adults as opposed to all business. Asking them to fix a broken car with having no tools or guidance to offer seems a bit much to me…..and I have to say it: 12 kids?!?!? I know I don’t have the ability to pull that off well no matter what my financial teaching methods. I have to tip my hat to that feat.

    • Reply Johnny March 21, 2015 at 5:01 pm

      Haha. Agreed on the 12 kids front. Joanna and I both come from big families, but 12 is beyond comprehension. And I agree — kids should be kids. Give them instruction, lead them by example, and then let them make mistakes.

  • Reply Danielle March 9, 2015 at 9:57 am

    It’s an interesting article and I have to say I agree with a lot of the things being said. We had chores very young and did our own laundry plus our parents very young as well. My mom co-signed on a pretty cheap car when I went to college but it was reliable because I was living far away and having some junker really would not have been safe. We all paid our own way through college as well, with minor help for that unexpected huge book bill or such. But honestly our parents taught us to fend for ourselves very early on.

    And as for the paying of weddings…my family has not paid for anyone’s wedding nor will they pay for mine in a couple years. We are adults and weddings can be extremely frivolous to say the least. Now if parents want to dictate a guest list or venue, etc then yes they should be contributing to it but honestly grow up and pay for it yourself. Don’t make your parents save for it, go into debt, etc just so you can have some fancy wedding. It’s absurd.

    • Reply Johnny March 21, 2015 at 8:46 pm

      “But honestly our parents taught us to fend for ourselves very early on.” To me, that’s the key. I respect parents who fight to create a good upbringing but who also help to teach along the way so that there’s no surprises when their children are faced with a tuition bill.

      I think I’m probably too soft on not helping (assuming we’re able) on our daughters’ weddings, but I really loved what Tabitha’s parents (comment above) did.

  • Reply Rachel March 9, 2015 at 10:22 am

    Wow. When I was reading the article it seems much more like boarding school than a family home.

    Yes it’s important to teach self reliance and responsibility and all that I don’t think I would do it this way. Two small examples, each kid doing their own washing seems really inefficient to me, either everything gets thrown in together (not good for clothes) or each family member has to do muliple part loads to keep their clothes clean. Also, I believe that making kids eat their veggies first says ‘vegetables are nasty but necessary’ and how boring to eat all your carrotts, all you peas, then all your potatoes then finally that juicy steak which is now cold… why not mix it up? And breakfast at 5:15am makes me want to cry! It sounds very individual too, everyone has their own computer, everyone has their own car – what about sharing?

    Whatever I thought of the methods the writer has what he wanted, adult children who are thin with a degree they paid for themselves. What made me really sad though was that the family haven’t all been together since 1998, they are perhaps too self reliant to need each other? I’m not part of a perfect family but I couldn’t let one year go by without us all being together let alone 17.

    • Reply Johnny March 21, 2015 at 8:48 pm

      I hadn’t thought about the inefficiencies. Good point. Thinking of some of that waste makes me cringe. I also think there’s something to passing things down from child to child. I always thought it was cool that different items had a legacy from my dad (ties, shirts, etc.) or my older sister (beater car, backpacks).

  • Reply stephanie March 9, 2015 at 10:39 am

    Wow, that’s an interesting article – my kids are 7 and 8 and my little one has been cleaning all of our toilets since he was 3! And I agree with their assessment about it – by 4 they do a pretty passable job. My kids both fold and put away their own laundry as well as bring it to the laundry for me to do – my goal was by middle school (still 3-5 years away) they would be doing their own laundry. However, I COULD probably move this up. I have begun to teach both kids to cook and my goal is for them to be able to start preparing a family meal once a week starting in middle school.
    I think as parents raising self sufficient kids is a gift to them. They really are pretty proud of themselves for being able to do so much and it really makes life so much easier at our house. My own parents (who weren’t too big on self sufficiency – I’d never down laundry when I went to college) are always amazed and impressed with all they do on their own.
    I think being intentional when raising kids is half the battle.
    btw, I plan to pay for half or less of their college . . . some help but probably not a lot. no loans allowed . . .

    • Reply Johnny March 21, 2015 at 8:50 pm

      Very cool. From the little that we’ve tried with Sally, I agree that kids seek tasks to prove themselves to parents. If I tell her something is very heavy (it isn’t) and I need her help carrying it, she will drop everything in a heartbeat to help her dad.

  • Reply Meg March 9, 2015 at 10:51 am

    Very interesting article, but I think it’s important to point out that just because the parents didn’t pay for college doesn’t mean the children didn’t take out loans. “Didn’t pay” and “debt-free” are different in this context.

    As someone who works in higher ed and sees what happens when young adults are set free without the proper scaffolding to be independent, I have lots of opinions on setting children up for independence. I agree with some specifics of the article and disagree with others (not because I think they’re bad but simply not necessary to achieve the desired result.) Ultimately, I think the goal of parenting is to raise healthy, self-sufficient adults who do not need you to do things for them. When children become adults, I think the goal is for them to want to be around you because they love and respect you, not because they NEED you. So, you do whatever that means for your family.

    In terms of teaching finances and also in the context of contributing towards “society” (in the following example, “society” is “family”), I’m against the idea of equating chores with allowance. I think that chores should be assigned and completed because that is what you do to make a family run. I do not get paid for my chores, neither should my children. Everyone contributes towards a healthy, functional environment. I think that children should receive a small allowance in order to practice being financially responsible, regardless of whether Susie took out the trash. Now, that’s not to say that I wouldn’t pay my children to undertake larger projects around the home that are mostly labor, like cleaning a basement or trimming hedges, or splitting firewood. That would be extra.

    And I certainly think that letting children suffer the consequences of their actions and learning to get along with adults and other children alike are huge in terms of teaching independence. Of course, you as a parent are a sounding board, adviser, and encourager, but if children never do it for themselves… well, they never do it for themselves.

    • Reply Johnny March 21, 2015 at 8:55 pm

      Super sensible advice, Meg. I found myself nodding my head through your entire comment. I also loved your point about your kids wanting you around because they love you, not because they need you. I almost feel like this family in the article went too far in the opposite direction where the children might be too independent to desire a strong relationship outside of their new families. There’s a happy medium.

  • Reply Anne March 9, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    I like some of these like the laundry, chores- though 3 might be a bit young and not sure about them being for money, teaching finances, and the concept of learning cars in terms of DIY oil changes and basic maintenance, but others are not my style- especially not helping with school. I would like to pay about half during their studies because I think it’s important they have some “skin in the game” either from working PT and/or taking on modest loans, but I want to keep their loans reasonable and if we have the funds pay them off for them at graduation so they can start their careers debt free.

    • Reply Johnny March 21, 2015 at 8:56 pm

      We fee the same way about helping with school. It shouldn’t just be expected, but it also shouldn’t set them back their first 5-10 working years post-college.

  • Reply Maria March 9, 2015 at 1:15 pm

    Talk about extremes- why have parents if at times a warm heart and assistance is not given. Sad that people would value money more than relationships!!

    • Reply Johnny March 21, 2015 at 8:57 pm

      Yeah, it’s a good point. There’s certainly an absence of emotion from the article. Hopefully financial independence wasn’t taught at the expense of a connected family.

  • Reply Tarynkay March 9, 2015 at 2:52 pm

    My first thought was, “wow, they haven’t all been together since 1998?” I think I value a close-knit family above thinness and education level. On the other hand, I would do some (though not all) of these things. I don’t give my 3 year old allowance, but he does have some small chores. I think we will start allowance after he has some concept of money. We aren’t planning to even insist on college, but we will help him pay for college or get established in the future

    Dinner is dinner. If he doesn’t want to eat it, that’s fine, but there is no alternative dinner. He can also eat just the parts he wants, but he does have to finish what’s on his plate if he wants seconds on something.

    My siblings and I also did laundry and ironing by age 8. We were responsible for one family meal per week as well- planning it, adding what we would need to the shopping list, and preparing it. This started out with a LOT of my mom’s help around age 5 and progressed to complete culinary independence by junior high.

    I love the idea of having my son build his own computer and I am totally copying that one. I don’t think that’s crazy at all- my nephew built one around age 12. I love the car idea as well, though I don’t know that we can practically do that.

    • Reply Johnny March 21, 2015 at 8:59 pm

      I love the family meal planning. That’s an awesome one that I hope we steal. I pity my family on my nights. 🙂

  • Reply Rob March 9, 2015 at 5:45 pm

    Hi Joanna!

    Well, if we had a family of 12 (like the guy that you mention) then maybe I’d go for all the things that were mentioned but since we only had 2 kiddos, we didn’t follow all of his points. I kinda find it hard to believe that this man bought all 12 of his kids each a broken down car by the time they were 16 (unless he was a used car salesman – lol). And I doubt that they are were all computer nerds by the time they hit 12 (all busy building their own computers)! And I rather doubt that I’d feel like paying a water bill for my kids to each do their own laundry (we tended to combine our washes all together into a manageable number of family-size laundry loads). But, not to be too “picky”, we tended in general to follow most of his other ideas. Our kids had their chores (to earn their allowances – no free lunch). Like ourselves, they both earned their own way through university (they worked their little butts off, working summers, got good grades and fortunately received 4-yr scholarships, which helped a lot). Eventually they both grew up to have successful careers, each married today with really smart little grand kids (just like their grandparents)! 🙂

    • Reply Johnny March 21, 2015 at 9:01 pm

      By the fruits of your labor, it certainly seems like you did an a-ok job. My takeaway from the article was that extremes exist on all sides (extreme coddling and extreme self-sufficiency) and that the key to it all is moderation.

  • Reply Debra March 9, 2015 at 6:32 pm

    I was brought up with 8 kids in the family when all was said and done (many were adopted). We knew that with limited resources, we had to learn to be resourceful. We all did laundry, chores, basic car maintenance, even grocery shopping, but that is a way of life in big families. Everyone has to chip in or it’s madness!

    I only have two kids of my own, and while I don’t make them do chores other than cleaning up after themselves, they do eat their vegetables. Not because I force them to–they actually like them! I never made a big deal about vegetables, and we always have them available, so they eat them without a fuss. We were enjoying a picnic one day when one of their cousins observed them happily snacking on cut veggies said, “You mean you don’t have to tell them to eat their vegetables?!”

    • Reply Johnny March 21, 2015 at 9:04 pm

      Please send whatever magic potion you’re giving your kids that makes them not despise vegetables. Sally was cool with them up until a few months ago and now she refuses to touch them. I think I was the same way and I ended up okay, so I guess I can’t blame her. But seriously, congrats on having veggie-happy kids.

  • Reply Michelle March 9, 2015 at 8:51 pm

    This is absolutely fascinating!! I am still thinking about this…

  • Reply Megyn March 10, 2015 at 11:37 am

    The author does things differently than I would, but what bothers me the most is the part where he brags that none of his kids are overweight; thus he MUST have done something right! It makes me wonder how he’d treat his child if s/he became overweight and why he has a stigma against overweight people. Also, he fails to factor in genetics here. I’m sure there are families that could follow his same food/meal tactics, and their children may still be on the heavier side. The piece came off as very braggy and cold-hearted. I’m happy for the success his children have achieved, but I also hope it didn’t come at the cost of feeling loved.

    • Reply Johnny March 21, 2015 at 9:05 pm

      Ugh, yeah. I guess I glossed over that part. That is a pretty claim.

  • Reply Ms. Mintly @ MintlyBlog March 10, 2015 at 12:49 pm

    I found this article very interesting – thanks for sharing!

    In reflecting on it, I have a few thoughts/reactions:
    – Having 12 people in a family would make running a household way more challenging (well, I guess we could all have guessed that), so I don’t judge the techniques they employed to keep things going smoothly and efficiently. Heck, I can barely manage a household of three people!
    – I don’t assume that each child in the family was doing his or her own laundry independently of others – when I read it, I imagined that multiple children would be doing their laundry together (he says they were assigned days of the week, right?) – and that probably cuts back on some of the waste other commenters mentioned.
    – I think a lot of his ideas are good, but I wouldn’t know how to implement them. If I assisted in the building of a broken-down car or a computer, I would sure learn a lot, but those would be substantial (and to me, scary) projects. The car would be especially daunting to me!
    – I highly doubt that his family is lacking in familial love – I am an only child in a much different situation, but I know from experience how challenging it can be to get even a small family together when the members are scattered across the country.

    • Reply Johnny March 21, 2015 at 9:08 pm

      I had a similar reaction with the computer and car thing. The computer thing is totally doable — I remember installing new hardware when I was teenage closet nerd. The car thing? That seems so out of my league. And actually, somewhat impractical.

  • Reply Kalie March 10, 2015 at 1:39 pm

    I like the ideas about the paid chores, doing your own laundry, getting along with teachers on their own, volunteering, etc. But taking every AP class offered in high school? The high school in our town offers over a dozen AP classes, including art, and I think it would be putting way too much pressure on our kids to require that. Some kids may be more interested in certain subjects and at the AP level, it’s okay to pick and choose based on your strengths. I think the post-secondary education option is better, because the credit depends on the normal coursework rather than one high-stakes test at the end. We want to help our kids with college, without paying for all of it, and I imagine we’ll put some conditions on the help as well.

    • Reply Johnny March 21, 2015 at 9:12 pm

      One thing is for certain — I would have hated my parents if I was forced into all AP classes.

  • Reply Kristin March 11, 2015 at 7:29 am

    Love it. *Love*

    Kids are spoiled and entitled. They think the world owes them and they have to do nothing to get what they want. I see it in my son’s elementary school all the time. What people are teaching their children is their business; but the real world is hard, cruel even. Building their own car? That’s amazing to me. Even at the ages of 4 & 6, my children take pride when they accomplish something without my assistance.

    • Reply Johnny March 21, 2015 at 9:15 pm

      There’s certainly a different generation being raised right now, but I think we’re all prone to be hard on the next generation. While I think that a lot of criticism being levied against Gen Y is fair, I also think it’s ironic that it’s coming from a generation that will grossly underprepared for retirement. But to your point, kids deserve a lot more credit — they’re smart and capable and they need to be given the ability to accomplish things.

  • Reply Ry March 11, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    Oh bother, I can’t remember which name I used last time I commented. Oh well. I suspect a fair amount on this list comes of having twelve and therefore a massive increase in the degree of importance placed on self reliance and independence. Also, with that many sibs, I’m sure those kids helped each other a lot. I would not make my kid build a car but do plan to have her build her first computer….with her uncle’s help. It really isn’t so hard and will hopefully leave her with a better understanding of how the hardware aspect works. My kid does not do her own laundry at 8 because we don’t have our own washer and dryer but she does cook (pancakes, pasta, and chicken soup mostly). I like this family’s principles but I think the application is gonna look different for everyone.

    • Reply Johnny March 21, 2015 at 9:20 pm

      That’s a great point about family size. I hadn’t thought about how that would change the dynamics and necessitate a lot of the things they implemented.

  • Reply Alexis@Fitnancials March 11, 2015 at 8:16 pm

    I remember doing chores when I was little, but not nearly as much as I believed I should’ve been doing. I’ll definitely be incorporating many different chores into my children’s lives because it creates structure and discipline as well. As an adult paying for my own college as well, I’m not sure if I’ll create a savings for my children. I would obviously love to help them with the burden of tuition/fees, but paying for my own has definitely created responsibility for myself.

    • Reply Johnny March 21, 2015 at 9:23 pm

      I actually like another reader’s comment regarding chores and that money shouldn’t be tied to them. Kids should feel some sense of responsibility to the family and have things that they just do. An allowance could still be paid to help them learn about money, but that could be tied to other things like school, extra chores, etc.

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