Roosevelt on Parenting

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From Morris’s Roosevelt biography, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, came this quote:

…the highest idea of the family is attainable only where the father and mother stand to each other as lovers and friends. In these homes the children are bound to the father and mother by ties of love, respect, and obedience, which are simply strengthened by the fact that they are treated as reasonable beings with rights of their own…

Theodore Roosevelt

Roosevelt is a fascinating case study in family dynamics, and a regular preacher of moral virtue, especially seen in the relationship with his alcoholic, philandering brother. But he was not without his own massive faults.

His first wife died days after giving birth to his first daughter, in the same house and on the same day that his own mother died. Roosevelt went into such a long period of internalized mourning that he gave his daughter to his sister to be raised and hardly looked at her or talked about her for the first few years of her life.

It wasn’t until he remarried (to his childhood sweetheart) that he began to have more kids and turn into the father figure who would eventually write the lines above. His own father was described as both loving and imposing, charitable and demanding, and was always seen by Roosevelt as a genuine specimen of a good man.

Roosevelt himself was raised without formal education for the majority of his early childhood, but being the son of a wealthy New York family, he still had plenty of access to a large family library where he taught himself to read and write. He didn’t attend an actual school until adolescence, and was always said to be the most passionate, energetic, and articulate as compared to his classmates. In his life, he’d become an important academic scholar, prolific writer, and famous legislator, as well as a capable cowboy, rancher, scientist, and soldier.

It’s hard to know exactly how Roosevelt raised his own children, but they are said to have been given a lot of freedom to, like him, follow their curiosities without the overwhelming structure and responsibility hoisted on kids today. They weren’t in preparatory kindergartens or given constant homework. It’s not that respect and obedience aren’t expected, but true respect and obedience can only be cultivated in the presence of free will rather than dogma.

For Roosevelt, one of the most important values under his umbrella term of Americanism was freedom– often seen as expansion into new frontiers outside of the strictures of society. In those days, East meant the stuffy, formal, and even effeminate life of London and the rest of Europe. Roosevelt was a doer- someone who constantly pushed West towards the wilderness. For someone with such a strong internal moral code, he really seemed to believe that morality come from inside, and a man proves his morality when faced with the open freedom of the frontier, and apt metaphor for releasing our own children into the world around them.