Parenting is a tough job. My mistakes are many. There are no do-overs. My children know their mom did the very best she could with the limited knowledge she possessed. Most parents agree, yet none have all the right answers.
Despite regrets, there were things done correctly without remorse. We choose to celebrate those. Helping them become accountable and responsible is a worthy investment.
Despite our flaws, our children grew up knowing they were loved and that their parents loved each other. A wise man once said, “The greatest thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” The opposite applies, too. Children need the example of a committed relationship to emulate and feel secure.
Continued dating is important. Monthly, we scrimped to save for an overnight getaway. Grandparents willingly kept the children. Don’t fail to recognize this necessity — don’t wait. It’s a No. 1 priority, crucial to building a happy home and a solid marriage.
Vacations and outings, though frugal, instill a sense of belonging and priority. We budgeted enough to rent a cottage at a nearby lake or a small cabin up north for a week, prepared most of our own meals and spent time playing and discovering together. It was a break for Mom, too, so everyone pitched in to cook and clean up.
When finances improved, vacations did, too. We never made it to Disney World, but there were day trips to theme parks and other sites. We splurged to introduce them to very fancy restaurants — the kind with mocktails for the kids, fingerbowls filled with warm lemon water and towels to dry our hands draped over the waiter’s arm.
We cooked Hobo dinners and camped, took nature walks and taught them to identify trees, plants, birds and animal tracks. We hunted for Petoskey stones and more in clear streams. We laughed — a lot.
We taught them to work — its value is a worthy prize. Living in the country, they had chores and were responsible for chickens, geese, a pet goat and the ever-present dog.
We foraged for wild foods like asparagus, morel mushrooms, wild berries, various greens and more. We maintained large gardens and berry patches. They were required to help plant, tend, weed, harvest, prepare and preserve our bounty.
We planted an early variety of sweet corn with their help every step of the way. Filling the trunk of our car, we drove to a nearby intersection to sell, with the proceeds used to purchase school clothes. That intersection is still referred to as the “Corn Store.”
We often hosted family gatherings and created memories with food, fun, games and lots of laughter. Generally, there was dodgeball, soccer, baseball, hide and seek, water balloon fights and more.
Teach them to give generously, serve willingly, appreciate creation, daydream and identify shapes in the clouds. We set goals, and once achieved, there were rewards, like an ice cream cone, art supplies or an outing.
We road bikes together, explored the woods, fished and hunted. We taught them marksmanship and gun safety. We made, repurposed and stretched our imaginations and creativity to make do. We don’t have many photos — the cost of film, flash bulbs and developing were prohibitive — but we cherish those we have.
They were taught to cook, clean and do laundry. Grumbling was not foreign but never fruitful. Though their input is considered, children don’t make the rules.
From the time they reached sixth grade, I cannot recall preparing a meal just for our household. At least one of their peers shared our meals — and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Our home was the gathering place — there’s comfort in knowing who they’re with and what they’re doing, so others were welcomed. Of course, they went places, but they typically preferred being at home because their friends were usually there.
Children now want to be entertained and sit in front of a screen. We refused to allow TVs in their rooms. Today, children rarely get outdoors unless engaged in sports programs. Work has become an archaic word.
They rarely participated in organized sports. It was much more fun — without the pressure — to gather with friends in less formal activities at home.
Bonfires were commonplace, bringing calm and peace while watching the flames swirl, dance and reach for the sky as our eyes follow tiny sparks heavenward and disappear into the night.
Make memories and teach values without delay, because the window of opportunity is limited. The goal is not to create happy children but well-adjusted adults. These are the Good Old Days, so make the best of them. There is no more important work or success than within the walls of our own homes.
— A coal miner’s daughter born in Appalachia and schooled in Michigan, she currently lives in rural Athens. Hill describes herself as a cook and cookbook author, jack of all trades and master of none, a Christian wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She shares her home with her husband, Bob, and their spoiled-beyond-belief dog, Molly.