One thing that surprised me in interviews with the Legacy Project elders was that, in general, they don’t approve of physical punishment of children. But that definitely does not mean they don’t believe in setting firm limits. Here’s what some of them told me:
Yes, you need to set limits on them, don’t wait until they are teenagers and say you have to do this, you have to start when they are quite young. In fact, from the day they’re born; you start from the day they’re born and you set limits on your children. You have to love them but you also have to be stern enough to set limits. They believe in firmness, but they also acknowledge the need to strike a balance between respect and discipline. (Jeanette, 79)
Well, you’ve got to be firm but not overbearing, you have to set a good example, and you don’t need a lot of rules, you just need to let them know what you expect and you get their respect. (Manuel, 83)
It’s a case of being consistent. When you’re raising a bunch of kids you’ve got to be consistent in your discipline and your handling of them, and yet at the same time understand them and help to see their point of view and help them along the way with what they want to do with their lives without being too pushy on the whole subject. (Guy, 72)
Well, if you’re going to raise children, you’ve got to raise them right. You can’t turn them loose and let them go and do things that they want to do because they get into too much trouble. Discipline is important. I don’t like no squabbling in the house, if they’re going to do that, let them get in the yard and fight it out. (Queenie, 85)
Rick, 78, had clear views about child-rearing that may seem traditional to some, but made sense to many of the elders.
As we now observe our grandchildren’s progress, successes, and problems, we are more convinced than ever that firm family procedural rules are useful. Requiring regular family gatherings without tousled hair, bare feet, bare tops etc. for friendly exchanges and communication can be a crucial benefit to maturity. Having it at a planned, prepared evening meal makes it easy. And, as the years pass by, the regular gatherings with communication become enjoyable habits for all. For a variety of good reasons, our 5 children have been inconsistent in this regard in their own homes. But, we continue to believe that those who have enjoy a superior rapport with one another. It leads to happier lives, which we believe that is what we all seek.
We make child-rearing unbelievably complex. We read books, attend classes, go to counselors, make ourselves sick with worry. The elders I interviewed in the Legacy Project raised about 3,000 children, have watched their own offspring rear grandchildren, and were themselves raised by parents — and have had a good, long time to think about their own upbringing.
One thing they believe is that child-rearing is more than just making children happy. That’s important, but they also want children to be strong, purposeful, and moral.
Shirley, 90, is an award-winning teacher and mother of two. She told me:
We need to help the child to prepare for living. We need to show the child how to become a good citizen. To be honest, to be patriotic, to be loyal for the country, and to stand up for what is right, and never to give in with social trends. Because each person is different but we all are together and we’re all a part of one another. A poet said, ‘No man is an island by themselves, everyone is a part of the whole.’ So in keeping with that situation, it’s necessary that every child learn to get along with others. To learn that he has a responsibility to use his God-given rights to the best of his ability. And we should guide them and direct them and really make them the kind of Americans that we needed. And that’s just about it really.