How to not spoil your kids in five easy steps

Don’t let your children act like one of those trust-fund kids.
Don’t let your children act like one of those trust-fund kids.
Image: AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

You know the trust fund kids. Or the sports players just “retired”—with still years to live and millions to spend. There’s a reason they are always in the news, usually the wrong reasons: no job, failed marriage, multiple arrests.

Just what is a parent with resources to do? How do you make sure your kids don’t end up like them?

Fortunately, there are ways that even children of parents with resources can grow up responsibly, successfully and aware of their opportunities—they require discipline on the parents’ part and the will to not always be liked by their kids. But these values and methods are guaranteed to raise better persons, and will eventually earn children’s recognition.

We, my wife and I, have 12 kids. We could have paid for their college education, but did not. This and other decisions helped us raise highly educated, successful people we am proud of. We had specific goals for my children, and this is how we made sure they achieved them:

1. We wanted our kids to have an easier life than us.

But what value does it do for a child to have an easier life or the advantages we did not have, if they do not appreciate that easier life? Unless the children have had some struggle or hard work, they do not know or recognize their advantages. We made our kids do their own math homework, repair their own cars, make their own (many) mistakes along the way.

2. Be a contributor to society or a public servant who benefits society.

We lived in a 3,000-square-meter home, with many luxuries. The children did not know that we had luxuries unless they saw how others lived differently. We had a project where the children collected used clothing (some of their own), toys, and other non-perishable items. We took these clothes and items to Mexico and distributed them to families across the border who were in great need: we did not just drop them off at a welfare center, but we took these items into the homes of the families. Our kids saw the homes where these families lived, and witnessed the joy and happiness first hand. On that day, they came to realize what great privileges they had in life.

I love the example Bill Gates and his wife have set.  Even though they have billions, they are one of the largest donators to good causes.  They just don’t give money, but they set up organizations that provide service and resources for others.  They work hard to see that their resources are used for good and not make themselves look acclaimed or have grand publicity.

3. Achieve a great education.

My wife and I expected the children to go to college and graduate school. Because of this, they have had goals that are focused on careers that add value to society and accomplishments that help others. They are lawyers, engineers, scientists, mathematicians, artists, and leaders in their fields.

From the time they were old enough to talk, all the way through high school, our children understood that college was an expectation.

We backed it up: the children could not live at home, unless they were in college; when they graduated from high school, they had to either enroll in college, or move out.  That is harsh in some people’s eyes, but it put teeth into the expectation.

We did not just expect education for the children: we showed them by example. My wife has several degrees in math, accounting, business, statistics. I have multiple degrees in math, physics, chemistry, business, and relativity.  My wife went back to school when she was 48 to get her math degree.

4. Pay for that education themselves.

They worked, got scholarships, borrowed money. It was not easy. Some ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches—a lot. Often my wife and I would question whether we should just pay for their tuition, but then we would come to our senses and realize that would not be in their best interest. Sometimes, our kids did not like us as parents as they believed that we owed them an education. They often thought we hated them.

However, at around 25 their attitudes significantly changed. They realized that the pride they felt for having made it by themselveswas a great gift we gave them: it made them self-sufficient, and helped them become mature adults taking responsibility for their own actions.

5. Be happy with their lives, see their children grow up, find their soul mate, raise their own successful family.

To be happy, have wonderful families and have recognition, the children need to see some examples of how to live.  We have lived the following examples for the children to see.

a. We loved each other, and showed it.

To love your spouse more than the children is a real example.  Some parents think that they must sacrifice their time together when having children. We would not. We let the children know we were going out on a date. We let them know that Father bought Mother special chocolates that the children could not eat.

If each spouse devotes 100% to the marriage, then there will be harmony.

An example is when we would go camping.  My wife cooked all year long, every day, holidays, Sundays, always. So when it came to the two or three week family vacations, we agreed that she did not have to do any work. It was her vacation. The children saw that when planning the meals, I included what my wife wanted first.

The comment that when the wife is happy, the family is happy, is absolutely true. I suspect wives have a similar statement about husbands. This sets an example to the children as they grow up, get married, they expect to treat their spouses the same way. This unselfish behavior translates into happiness.

b. We were always faithful and put our family first.

Children are much happier if they know that the spouses are always faithful to each other. Our children never learned that there was any other way until they got older and learned that there was such a thing as divorce.

Further, they knew that Father and Mother were always going to be there for the two hours of homework. We turned off the TV even though there was a football game when the two hours of homework started.  They knew that we would have someone at their activities, sports events, and school parents night.  They knew that we would tuck each into bed every night.  They knew that we would have family night once a week.

c. We incorporated religion in our family life.

Most of the world religions teach ethical and honest behavior as well how to treat others. These religions provide a basis for life and a foundation in good actions. My wife and I are religious and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. We think that everyone should incorporate their choice of religion into their child’s development. Some say they do not want to bias their children with one religion. With no religious upbringing, they have no way to measure the goodness of other organizations, as they have no foundation. We said prayers with the children every day, both as a family and individually when we tucked them in. We went to church weekly. They participated in the religious activities: we were the parents, they did not have a choice. This gave them a basis for making their own decisions and living their own life as they grew into adults.

d. We did the best we could at work.

I build satellite systems, and one day my boss asked me if I could support the thermal vacuum testing which would last for three weeks, 24/7.  As I was leading the effort, I would often be at work for 16 hours at a time.  But I told my boss that if my daughter was having a play or a sport game, I was going to leave to attend.

“You would leave a space vehicle worth hundreds of millions of dollars to watch your child?” my boss asked.

“Yes, and if you think that I should find another job, then so be it.”

He immediately changed his tone: “No, go right ahead, as I know you will insure that someone responsible will be here to handle it until you get back.” That space vehicle at the time was the Galaxy 7, the largest communication satellite ever built by man.

Even though I had my family priorities over work, my boss knew he was next in line and would always have my best. The children saw that as well. I would get up before 5am to go to work so that I could be home by 5pm and be with them. They saw this dedication to work and have made it part of their lives as they are now adults.