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Twenty-First Century Parenting: Raising a Daughter With Character

Seafarer Mama/Karen is a joyfully home-schooling parent who holds a B.A. in Psychology and M.Ed. in Elementary Education.

When our daughter was born, my husband and I decided to raise her differently than the way we were raised by our authoritarian parents. We set out to let her know that she was loved and valued as an individual person, and that her ideas are worth listening to. We bonded through play, sharing meaningful experiences, and enjoying each other.

When she makes mistakes, we encourage her to keep trying different ways to do things. When she's learning how to keep safe in the city or to interact with others, we gently guide her. We accept the limits of the amount of information she is capable of taking in at any given moment, and work with that. When she is ready to move on from one activity to something else we accept that. We do not expect her to be a "mini me."

Active Child = Happy Child

Toddler with attitude

Toddler with attitude

A Word about Empathy

In order for children to learn empathy, they must be shown such behavior by the caring adults who are closest to them. Some children may take longer to learn empathy, but it is worth the energy to teach them. It is important for adults to remember what it was like to be a child and to see things from a child's point of view, so that we can show children empathy when they are sad, hurt, frustrated, or angry.

Even unexpected, spontaneous expressions of happiness can come from a young person when other adults are serious, like at church when reverence is the predominant sentiment. But the spirit moves children in unique ways and it is important to acknowledge their present state of mind when they cannot share ours. Eventually, children learn what is expected of them in a variety of situations, but it takes time and patient guidance to help them get there.

Food = Love: Breastfeeding and Bonding

I breast-fed her from the beginning. It meant that her grandparents did not have the chance to feed her from the bottle, but there were other ways for them to bond with her: holding her, talking to her, and playing with her. They began to share in the responsibility of feeding her when she began to eat solids. In the meantime, I was committed to giving her the best start along her life's path, including the strengthening of her immune system.

While I breastfed her, I sang to her. We listened to quiet music, or to my folk radio station. When she was not eating, we moved to more energetic music together. I played guitar, mandolin, and flute for her to dance to. I walked with her close to my heart in a wrap, or in a stroller. There were many beautiful places to explore around where we lived.

When my husband arrived home from work, he played with her while I prepared our supper. When she was old enough to start eating solid food, I pureed what we ate in the blender, so that she would have the experience of eating at the table with us. In this way, she enjoyed a sense of belonging in every aspect of family life.

Together in the Kitchen

When I baked cookies and breads, I let her "knead" the dough, or roll it out for cutting shapes. I spoke to her about what we did and she responded vocally in her own baby language. This was another way we enjoyed spending time together. Over the years, she has gradually taken a more active part in the food preparation process, and we enjoy the time we spend making food together. Now that she is older, she makes some of our meals herself.

Sharing Stories and Poetry Together

I also read to her lots of board books. So did my husband. At a very young age, she began to enjoy making up stories of her own. She makes up her own stories now, and tells them to me when we are traveling in the car. It is one of many personal gifts she freely gives.

Exploring the World: Spending Time Playing Together

Once my daughter was more mobile, we did more activities together outside the house. We did not watch television at all, so we found other things to do close to where we lived: visiting the library and local parks, attending folk music and storytelling festivals, or attending puppet shows at our local puppet theater. We also took a parent-child art class together when she was two.

Continue Reading Together

At home, we read longer books, built with blocks, baked, and engaged in seasonal activities such as building snow people and making snow angels in the winter. In the fall, we rolled around in piles of leaves and threw them in the air together. In the spring, she walked around making the sounds of animals she saw returning to the landscape (like honking geese). In the summer, she dressed in her bathing suit and ran through water fountains built for that purpose. When she was 3 years old, she began to take swimming lessons at our local YMCA, and we took advantage of the parent-child "free swim" times that were offered there. Now she takes swim lessons at a local beach and enjoys playing in the sand afterward.

Singing Together

Eventually, she learned the words to the children's songs we listened to, so we began to sing them together as we traveled outside the house, either by foot or by trolley. Most of our playing was developed through games that she initiated. There is still one we love to play on the train when traveling around Boston. It involves shaping our hands like animals to make "puppets" that interact with one another.

Mutual Respect & Appreciation

Also, from a very young age, my determined toddler decided that she knew best which clothes she wanted to wear each day, so I let her choose her outfits and dress herself, which she has been doing ever since. She has also learned to bathe herself, tidy her room, clean up after spills, sweep around her chair, clean up toys and art materials, separate garbage from recyclables and compost, and put her clothes in the wash. She helps put her clean clothes away, too. She has learned what is expected of her and knows why her actions are important.

Children belong with Nature

My daughter looking closely at flowers budding in Spring

My daughter looking closely at flowers budding in Spring

Budding Artist

My young daughter drawing  in chalk on the wall of a water fountain at our local park

My young daughter drawing in chalk on the wall of a water fountain at our local park

One Parent's Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood

One of the values that I wanted to imprint upon my daughter's childhood was the importance of real-time involvement with the world, which is much healthier than 24/7 engagement with media. I strolled and walked with her to local parks and brought her to age-appropriate puppet shows, music festivals, and art classes. Our foundation was the absence of a television in our home. We played and cooked together, sang together, went on adventures together. We visited our local park and puppet theater. We attended free family-friendly music concerts and storytelling circles in parks and local folk festivals. We explored our local arboretum and zoo.

One example of a cooperative effort between us at an early age is the parent-child art class we attended at the YWCA in Cambridge, MA. The teacher introduced color combinations and craft projects and my daughter had the chance to choose what she wanted to do. We worked at the table and the easel together to create lovely pieces of art together. We displayed them at home for a while, then I took pictures of them before we used them as pieces of home-made wrapping paper. Some of that art can be found in the hub featured at the bottom of the list of links titled "Sites with Helpful Information for Parents."

Sites with Helpful Information for Parents

Interactive Play with a Friend

Playing with a neighborhood friends during a pajama brunch party

Playing with a neighborhood friends during a pajama brunch party

Making Friends and Problem-Solving

As she grew older, our daughter made friends at the park, and with children who lived on our street. She had more playmates to have fun with and learn from, with whom to practice her relationship skills. Because of this, there were ample opportunities for her to learn how to play fairly and to show caring to her playmates.

Since we have moved, she misses those playmates, but has the skills to make new friends. This road was not easy, since she encountered some frustrations with children being unkind to her in Kindergarten, but she has bonded with some other children around her age enough to call them friends.

A Sideshow: Home-Schooling in the Fifth Grade

Learning New Skills

Learning to weave a winter scarf for herself at a recent local craft fair

Learning to weave a winter scarf for herself at a recent local craft fair

Expectations and Limit-Setting

Over the years, our expectations of our daughter have been age-appropriate, and have grown as she grows. We do not give her much exposure to television because we feel that most media entertainment, even those programs considered "educational," often give the wrong message about how to treat others, and such screen time is not good for the healthy development of her brain. Television is also a way for corporations to market to children, and we do not feel she needs to be exposed to this.

Our daughter knows that she must tell us if she changes her location in our co-housing village when we are not physically with her. She knows that there is a schedule that she is expected to follow, and knows that all of her needs will be met. My husband gives her a weekly allowance, which she saves up and spends on things that are meaningful to her. She is expected to tell the truth, even when she thinks we would be displeased with it, and we reward her for doing this by talking calmly with her about a situation that causes conflict. In this way, she is encouraged to continue practicing personal integrity. She has grown into a considerate child of 7 years and we know that she will grow further in the right direction with our attention and guidance.


Finally, teaching our daughter at home has been one of the most prevalent means by which we raise our daughter that diverges from our own upbringing. Both my husband and I have a M.Ed. in education. Mine is in elementary education and his is in adult education. We both love to engage our daughter in thinking about what she is learning. Building with Legos and wooden blocks are as much a part of the curriculum as books and other materials. My husband teaches her philosophy through books, projects, and field trips. He has also been listening to Spanish conversation tapes and she has been learning the language.

Sharing Faith as a Family

Though I was raised Catholic and my husband was raised Presbyterian, we have decided to "meet in the middle" and have become members of a local Unitarian Church. The community we have joined is very active in social justice ministries and it is now our spiritual home. Our daughter has met new friends there, including one who is also home-schooled.

One thing that is part of our home-schooling experience is one thing I remember fondly from my childhood: gardening. I enjoyed cultivating and harvesting a small postage-stamp garden as a child, and encourage my daughter to take an active part in growing our food at home. This includes watering the growing plants and harvesting some of the fruits of her labor straight from their sources. Since growing one's own food organically will become an important part of providing for one's family, we want to engage our daughter in becoming active in this endeavor.

Our current path

Winter Play with Neighborhood Friends

When she walks out the door she has lots of neighbors to play with.

When she walks out the door she has lots of neighbors to play with.


Being members of a co-housing community, we are involved deeply in the community life of our neighbors, including eating meals with them. The older children watch over the younger ones and the adults work together to create self-sustaining, safe places to grow. We have community vegetable and herb gardens, fruit trees, berry bushes, and will soon be raising chickens. In May and October we host BBQs, and most Sunday afternoons there are inter-generational Ultimate Frisbee games on our playing field.

The idea of living in an intentional community such as we do is an idea that our parents have found hard to get used to, but they accept our decision. We believe that we have given our daughter the best place to play and grow. There is much more freedom for her here than if we continued to live in the city.

Seasonal Bliss

My daughter wearing a Harry Potter robe as she falls into a pile of leaves at the Ecotarium in Worcester, MA

My daughter wearing a Harry Potter robe as she falls into a pile of leaves at the Ecotarium in Worcester, MA


As our daughter grows, our parenting will combine with her environment to form her experiences and her personality. She has a core cadre of caring peers and adults to talk to and play with, and we hope that she will always feel surrounded by love no matter what she chooses to dedicate her life to. We hope that she will be able to retain her zest for the magic of everyday life as she prepares for greater responsibility in the adult world, and that she finds enchantment in it all. We are ready to walk that road with her whenever she needs or want us to.

© 2012 Karen A Szklany

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