Proven parenting advice from parents of 10

All Woman

CHILDREN want adults to recognise and validate their worth. May is Child Month, and this week we are pleased to get tried and true parenting strategies for raising whole, confident children from Major Neil and Jan Lewis, who have been married for almost 40 years with 10 children and several grandchildren in their quiver.

Their strategies have become even more relevant as parents around the world have to now grapple with spending more time with their children and supporting their schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

FFM: How were your 10 children schooled?

Major Neil and Jan: The first five children were schooled at a Christian preparatory school, with numbers six and seven attending prep school up to grade two. Thereafter, these and subsequent ones were home-schooled.

FFM: What factors influenced your decision to school your children in that way?

Major Neil: Jan was very involved with our children's education even to the point of joining with two other persons, acting as headmistress of the school while the principal was on a six-month sabbatical. She participated in bringing the Abeka home-school curriculum to the school. She also acted as principal of a prep school sponsored by our church and our children attended that school during that period. So, all in all, the last five children were home-schooled. This home school developed into Redeemed Preparatory and Reading Centre operating out of our home.

We made conscious decisions to home-school the children up to grade six, then send them to public high school for secondary education. These were Ardenne High and St Andrew High School for Girls, Jan's alma mater, and Wolmer's Boys, my alma mater.

FFM: Some of your children are now grown up. How do you now feel about your choices for them? Did it pay off? Are they becoming the people you have trained them to be?

Major Neil and Jan: Excellent, without exception, for the girls, and the older group of five. Less so for the boys who had difficulty with socialisation and adjusting out of the home-school environment into the public school environment.

The first four earned full scholarships to the US Military academies (three Navy and one Air Force).

Several have paid their way through university and others have secured exceptional international scholarships at prestigious universities.

FFM: Share two effective ways in which you motivate your children.

Major Neil and Jan: We eventually, as we discovered the principle, divided the children's lives into seven-year blocks as follows:

•First seven years — motor skills and communication/language skills development. This involved ensuring they learned to read very early and were encouraged to maintain a high academic average of 95 per cent in preparatory school.

•Second seven years — formation/development of supervisory and home management skills, that is, cooking, cleaning and sibling leadership/discipline. Each one had responsibility for a younger one, especially during travelling, or supervising all younger siblings if the parents are out for hours, such as date nights.

•We bring them into adulthood at the age of 13. First they take a 'coming of age' hike to Blue Mountain Peak (as part of a group), on return from which their status in the family changes as follows:

— Corporal punishment ceases as a disciplinary method.

— They can take part in major family decisions and are privy to confidential family issues and discussions.

— They must be prepared to supervise and manage the entire household in the event of absence of the parents over days, rather than hours.

•Primarily through the prep and early high school years, we encouraged them to try different sports and skills such as competence in music.

•Additionally, we told them we would ensure that they got a first class secondary education, but that they had to earn scholarships for their tertiary education which we regarded as compulsory, or they must pay for it themselves.

FFM: In general, what are the top lessons you have learned about parenting over the years?

Major Neil and Jan:

•Pray for them individually. Now that they are all adults, resident in many different time zones, our family WhatsApp group is very helpful as a tool of encouragement, prayer and counsel for our daily lives.

•The larger the number of children, the easier the parenting responsibility socially, educationally and financially became. The older siblings helped raise/teach/pay for the younger ones, etc. Having this large number of children prepared our household to always include at least one foster child who benefited from our parenting and family bonding. We found that consequently there was always a reserve of persons on whom to call in times of need.

•“Train up a child in the way he should go and in the end, he will not depart from it.”

For more about the Lewis family, visit

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