Posted by: itneverrainsinseattle | October 22, 2012

Teach Your Children Well

One thing that my ex and I always had in common was a desire to have kids. Lots of kids. And for a variety of reasons — none of them particularly scientific — we always expected that we would end up having girls. Lots of girls.

So, of course, we ended up with boys. Lots of boys.

Only boys.

Not too long ago, on the occasion of our oldest’s birthday, Penny mentioned her observation that our first-born is already “more than halfway out the door.”

The notion caught me off guard. Wait! Wait a cotton-picking minute!

Back in the beginning, back when my ex was my fiance and our lives before us were filled with promise and hope and opportunities and boundless possibilities (ie, you know, before reality and all that), we had all kinds of ideas of things we wanted to teach our daughters. Such as: it’s okay to be smart. It’s okay to pursue your interests, regardless of how society has typically categorized them. It’s okay to have sex if you want to, and to not, if you don’t. It’s okay to be strong. And it’s also okay to be feminine. We wanted our girls to be as fluent in the languages of math and science and literature and pop culture and history and love and philosophy and self-respect and respect for others, as deeply as their talents would allow. Penny and I had both, in our separate experiences, seen how pre-conceived gender roles (and sexual repression and so many other issues, including disrespect and incivility, the growing celebration of ignorance in our country, etc.) can harm both individuals and society as a whole.

And then we had boys, and that was fine, too. Boys, like girls, are awesome.

And I always knew, in the back of my mind, that to honor what we had in mind if we had raised girls, we would need to have a corresponding set of guiding values for raising our boys. In general, I think we’ve been doing okay. We’ve nurtured our boys’ natural love for science and math and stories and history and physical activity and music and movies and so on. We’ve worked on dignity and respect and politeness and kindness and “playing well with others.” They’ve been introduced to religion and philosophy, and we’re starting to get into politics as well. We also expect, one of these days, to deal with more advanced concepts, like closing the @#$%! door and picking up the @#$%! laundry off the bathroom floor. And peeing *into* the toilet instead of all over the floor. I imagine that girls grasp that last concept much earlier than boys, for reasons that have nothing to do with brain development.

As they get older, gender roles are also starting to become a more relevant topic, as well as sexuality, romantic relationships, and picking appropriate nursing homes for their aging and decrepit parents.

I was making dinner for the boys the other day when one of them asked to help. Making dinner is a little different experience from whipping up a box of prepared brownie mix, where all the boys really do is help stir and then fight over the whisk or spoon when it’s done. And it occurred to me… there are a lot of specific things I want my kids to know by the time they leave the house. Beyond the generalities of having “a love of learning” and “playing well with others.”

With Penny’s remark about how we’ve already gone past the half-way point as far as our oldest is concerned, it’s time to get serious.

So, it’s time for me to flesh out a list of “things I want to teach my children (or make sure they learn) by the time they leave the nest.” And I’m asking you, dear reader, to let me know what’s missing from the list.

Teach Your Children Well:

General Concepts:

Critical Thinking — using logic and assessing evidence to arrive at good decisions

Creative Problem Solving — adapting to change and making the best of it!

The Scientific Method

Character and Relationships:

Respect for yourself

Respect for others

Right and wrong

Being a good partner (business, romantic, creative collaborator) and, on a related note, being a good friend

Understanding different kinds of relationships and roles, and how they can change

Principles (integrity, dignity, kindness, generosity, loyalty, honesty, self-confidence, humility)

Facing tough choices

Acting decisively

Taking stands

Having a sense of humor

Balancing taking risks with playing it safe (or, “Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em”)

Subject matter:

The basic academic subjects (math, science, history, literature, language, social sciences)

Popular culture (a basic familiarity with the classics as well as contemporary movies, music, dance, literature, video games, spectator sports)

Creative arts (play an instrument, compose a song, write a poem, act, orate, paint, photograph, design a page layout, sing, dance, draw, animate, script, cook)

Religion, Philosophy, Spirituality, and Skepticism — in theory and in practice

Government — in theory and in practice

Special topics: racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry — recognizing and avoiding/combating

Technology and tools

Animals — identifying, plus general care and feeding

Plants — identifying, plus general care and cultivating

Specific skills:

How to study / how to learn the answer to an academic question

Survival skills (swimming, first aid, CPR, starting a fire, tying knots, building a shelter, mountaineering, martial arts, jump starting a car)

How to cook at least five different meals

How to perform at least one magic trick

How to drive (stick and automatic)

How to pick locks

How to negotiate

How to compromise… up to a point

How to navigate

How to recognize, handle, and use weapons (also, as appropriate, how to avoid/defend against same)

Hunter safety — even if my kids never hunt, this is a must

How to use the internet safely

How confidence schemes work, and how to avoid them

How to build a book case

How to write a computer program

How to play card games

How to pick what wine goes with dinner

How to make an elevator pitch

How to deliver a speech

How to prepare for a job interview

How to wash dishes. And laundry. And perform all those other chores that make for a more pleasant home.

How to win with grace

How to lose with dignity


Wow. That’s a long list. And I know I’m leaving a lot of things off of this list by sheer oversight. It’s also not overly specific. Just as I was beginning to prepare this post, a friend and fellow blogger posted to her site some thoughts about how boys need to be raised to treat girls/women with respect. Her points are dead-on. But if I were to get to that level of detail on every point on my list, I’d be typing for days. Still, I’d like to hear what you think. Be as specific or general as you like. I’m sure I’ve left some things off because I just took them for granted (“don’t eat the yellow snow”). But others I may have left off the list either because I simply forgot to mention them, or perhaps hadn’t even considered them. Maybe you think I should take something off the list?

My ultimate goal is to give my boys the tools they will need to be good men. What are your thoughts?



  1. I think your list is plenty long enough, but I think it’s important to teach them that life doesn’t always turn out how they’ll expect it to, that it’s okay to fail, and that there will be low points during which it’s okay to ask for help. I wish someone had taught me that!

  2. This is great. Wow. It’s fantastic to see someone put this much thought into parenting and what they want their children to know before they become adults. One thing that I would personally add, under “character and relationships” is compassion. And maybe even “When to keep your opinion to yourself”. Those are two skills that seem to be lacking in today’s society….

  3. He’s BACK!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. It appears to me that your parents did a pretty good job with you, so I would say, just do what they did! Kids learm most everything from watching you; what you do, not what you say. Don’t over-think it. They’re going to be fine young men.

  5. After making sure teaching them to drive a stick shift is on there, I would say, teach them about taking risks, the good and the bad of it, and to not be afraid of the outcome. Things happen, then more things happen, and sometimes one thing MUST come before another thing, and sometimes one thing wouldn’t have happened at all if not for the first thing. Because of that, one might want to appreciate a “bad” thing, rather than regret it.

  6. Hi Inris, good list. I’m currently compiling similar points for my kids to write into a letter. I’m not too concerned with specifics – the world is generally changing too fast anyway.
    My key question for them to ask themselves every day:
    What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

    And the key advice I have to give (given what I have learnt in my own peculiar circumstances):
    Learn the difference between compromise and sacrifice, and recognise when the former becomes the latter.

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