Mike Kueber's Blog

February 15, 2013

John Adams and raising kids

Filed under: Education — Mike Kueber @ 7:07 pm
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Back in August of 2010, I blogged about successful parenting.  The post was prompted by a suggestion by NY Times columnist David Brooks that successful parenting was relatively simple – i.e., instilling good values and creating a secure climate.  My response to Brooks was that instilling good values was easier said than done.

A few days ago, I was reminded of that blog post while watching the John Adams miniseries on DVD.  Adams was a brilliant man who put a lot of thought and effort into being a successful parent, yet he experienced mixed results with his six children.  On one extreme, his oldest son John Quincy became the sixth president of the United States, and on the other extreme, his second son Charles became an irresponsible drunk who was disowned by his father before dying of alcoholism at age 30.

Although it is foolish to make deductions from one father, I find these facts supportive of two of my parenting theories:

  • Instilling good values by example.  As I noted in my blog post in 2010, a parent instills good values by example, and John Adams was not a good example in many respects.  Although he was brilliant, he is described on Wikipedia as “not a popular leader like his second cousin, Samuel Adams….  Adams often found his inborn contentiousness to be a constraint in his political career.”  My historian friend Robert called him “pompous, egotistical, and at times, ridiculous.”
  • Secure climate.  This term seems similar to what we often call unconditional love, and can there be any stronger evidence of conditional love than disowning a son.  Adams had great expectations for his children, and he considered any failings to achieve as a personal insult to him.

The Adams story seems to add credence to the theory that nature is as important as nurture in turning out good kids, but I disagree.  In my opinion, the fact that John Quincy turned out fine does not mean that John Adams was skilled at parenting; rather, it means that given a certain type of kid, John Adams’s style of parenting could work.  But a truly skilled parent can turn all types of material into good kids who have their heads on straight.

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