What We Can Learn About Parenting From FDR’s Mother

I recently started reading a biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), the 32nd president of the United States. (If you’re interested, I’m reading FDR by Jean Edward Smith.) Self-assured and optimistic in the midst of hardship, FDR “rescued the nation from economic collapse” and “led the nation to victory” in WWII.  Elected for four terms, FDR “proved to be the most gifted American statesman of the 20th century.”  The author of this biography made several very interesting observations about how FDR was parented. Perhaps we could learn some lessons from FDR’s parents for our own generation. After all, we could definitely use a more men and women of character in the world today.  So, here are two lessons we might learn from FDR’s mother. (Read What We Can Learn About Parenting from FDR’s Father to learn two more parenting tips.)

Writing of FDR’s mother (Sara), the author noted that “families as wealthy as the Roosevelts usually entrusted newborn babies to the care of experienced nurses and old family retainers. Not Sara. As soon as she recovered from childbirth, she insisted on doing everything herself: ‘Every mother ought to learn to care for her own baby, whether she can afford to delegate the task to someone or not.’ And although a wet nurse was available, Sara nursed Franklin…” herself.

  • Parents learn to care for their own children through sensitive observation. Every parent becomes a student of their child through everyday interactions and careful observations made during daily childcare. This creates intimacy in the parent/child relationship that will enhance your child’s desire to please, obey, and follow in your values. It also builds security in the child, making them feel significant and important.

“Sara (FDR’s mother) was determined to keep her son from being spoiled by too much attention yet at the same time wanted to show her affection. ‘We never subjected the boy to a lot of don’ts,’ she wrote. ‘While certain rules established for his well-being had to be rigidly observed, we were never strict merely for the sake of being strict.'”  Later the author noted, “America’s confidence in FDR depended on Roosevelt’s incredible confidence in himself, and that traced in large measure to the comfort and security of his childhood. As his daughter put it, ‘Granny (Sara) was a martinet, but she gave father the assurance he needed to prevail over adversity. Seldom has a young child been more constantly attended and incessantly approved by his mother.'”

  • Did you notice the balance between structure and relationship? FDR’s mother was described as a “martinet,” a strict disciplinarian. She “rigidly observed certain rules for his well-being.” But, she was not strict merely for the sake of strictness. On the contrary, she offered unwavering “approval and constantly attended” to his needs. She pursued a relationship with FDR based on her careful observations of his needs but was not afraid to enforce the rules for his own well-being. Structure and relationship—the two pillars of strong parenting and secure children. Our children would benefit from a more careful and thoughtful balance between firm structure and deep relationship today.

Our country benefited from FDR’s confidence and assurance. The author of FDR seems to believe much of FDR’s confidence and assurance came from his childhood and the parenting he received. Our children, and our communities, would benefit from parents taking the lessons of Sara’s parenting. Our children will mature confident and self-assured as we implement the same three principles describe in FDR’s mother:

  • Become students of our children through careful observation.
  • Establish firm structures in our children’s lives.
  • And, pursue a deep relationship with our children based on approval and attention.

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