How I made sure all 12 of my kids could pay for college themselves, by Francis L. Thompson – an engineer at Northrop Grumman Corp


My wife and I had 12 children over the course of 15
1/2 years. Today, our oldest is 37 and our youngest
is 22.  I have always had a very prosperous job and
enough money to give my kids almost anything. But
my wife and I decided not to.
I will share with you the things that we did, but first
let me tell you the results: All 12 of my children
have college degrees (or are in school), and we as
parents did not pay for it. Most have graduate
degrees. Those who are married have wonderful
spouses with the same ethics and college degrees,
too. We have 18 grandchildren who are learning the
same things that our kids learned—self respect,
gratitude, and a desire to give back to society.
We raised our family in Utah, Florida, and
California; my wife and I now live in Colorado. In
March, we will have been married 40 years. I
attribute the love between us as a part of our
success with the children. They see a stable home
life with a commitment that does not have
Here’s what we did right (we got plenty wrong, too,
but that’s another list):

Kids had to perform chores from age 3. A 3-
year-old does not clean toilets very well but
by the time he is 4, it’s a reasonably good
They got allowances based on how they did
the chores for the week.
We had the children wash their own clothes
by the time they turned 8. We assigned them
a wash day.
When they started reading, they had to make
dinner by reading a recipe. They also had to
learn to double a recipe.

Study Time
We had study time from 6 to 8pm every
week day. No television, computer, games, or
other activities until the two hours were up.
If they had no homework, then they read
books. For those too young to be in school,
we had someone read books to them. After
the two hours, they could do whatever they
wanted as long as they were in by curfew.
All the kids were required to take every
Advanced Placement class there was. We did
not let entrance scores be an impediment.
We went to the school and demanded our
kids be let in. Then we, as parents, spent the
time to ensure they had the understanding to
pass the class. After the first child, the school
learned that we kept our promise that the
kids could handle the AP classes.
If children would come home and say that a
teacher hated them or was not fair, our
response was that you need to find a way to
get along. You need find a way to learn the
material because in real life, you may have a
boss that does not like you. We would not
enable children to “blame” the teacher for
not learning, but place the responsibility for
learning the material back on the child. Of
course, we were alongside them for two
hours of study a day, for them to ask for
help anytime.

Picky Eaters not Allowed
We all ate dinner and breakfast together.
Breakfast was at 5:15am and then the
children had to do chores before school.
Dinner was at 5:30pm.
More broadly, food was interesting. We
wanted a balanced diet, but hated it when
we were young and parents made us eat all
our food. Sometimes we were full and just
did not want to eat anymore. Our rule was
to give the kids the food they hated most
first (usually vegetables) and then they got
the next type of food. They did not have to
eat it and could leave the table. If later they
complained they were hungry, we would get
out that food they did not want to eat, warm
it up in the microwave, and provide it to
them. Again, they did not have to eat it. But
they got no other food until the next meal
unless they ate it.
We did not have snacks between meals. We
always had the four food groups (meat,
dairy, grain, fruits and vegetables) and
nearly always had dessert of some kind. To
this day, our kids are not afraid to try
different foods, and have no allergies to
foods. They try all kinds of new foods and
eat only until they are full. Not one of our
kids is even a little bit heavy. They are thin,
athletic, and very healthy. With 12 kids, you
would think that at least one would have
some food allergies or food special needs. (I
am not a doctor.)

All kids had to play some kind of sport. They
got to choose, but choosing none was not an
option. We started them in grade school. We
did not care if it was swimming, football,
baseball, fencing, tennis, etc. and did not
care if they chose to change sports. But they
had to play something.
All kids had to be in some kind of club: Boy
Scouts, Girl Scouts, history, drama, etc.
They were required to provide community
service. We would volunteer within our
community and at church. For Eagle Scout
projects, we would have the entire family
help. Once we collected old clothes and took
them to Mexico and passed them out. The
kids saw what life was like for many
families and how their collections made them
so happy and made a difference.

When the kids turned 16, we bought each a
car. The first one learned what that
meant. As the tow truck pulled a once “new”
car into the driveway, my oldest proclaimed:
“Dad, it is a wreck!” I said, “Yes, but a 1965
Mustang fastback wreck. Here are the repair
manuals. Tools are in the garage. I will pay
for every part, but will not pay for LABOR.”
Eleven months later, the car had a rebuilt
engine, rebuilt transmission, newly
upholstered interior, a new suspension
system, and a new coat of paint. My
daughter (yes, it was my daughter) had one
of the hottest cars at high school. And her
pride that she built it was beyond
imaginable. (As a side note, none of my kids
ever got a ticket for speeding, even though
no car had less than 450 horsepower.)
We as parents allowed kids to make
mistakes. Five years before the 16th birthday
and their “new” car gift, they had to help
out with our family cars. Once I asked my
son, Samuel, to change the oil and asked if
he needed help or instruction. “No, Dad, I
can do it.” An hour later, he came in and
said, “Dad, does it take 18 quarts of oil to
change the oil?” I asked where did he put 18
quarts of oil when normally only five were
needed. His response: “That big screw on
top at the front of the engine.” I said “You
mean the radiator?” Well, he did not get into
trouble for filling the radiator with oil. He
had to drain it, we bought a radiator flush,
put in new radiator fluid, and then he had to
change the real oil. We did not ground him
or give him any punishment for doing it
“wrong.” We let the lesson be the teaching
tool. Our children are not afraid to try
something new. They were trained that if
they do something wrong they will not get
punished. It often cost us more money, but
we were raising kids, not saving money.
The kids each got their own computer, but
had to build it. I bought the processor,
memory, power supply, case, keyboard, hard
drive, motherboard, and mouse. They had to
put it together and load the software on. This
started when they were 12.
We let the children make their own choices,
but limited. For example, do you want to go
to bed now or clean your room? Rarely, did
we give directives that were one way, unless
it dealt with living the agreed-upon family
rules. This let the child feel that she had
some control over life.

In it Together
We required the children to help each other.
When a fifth grader is required to read 30
minutes a day, and a first grader is required
to be read to 30 minutes a day, have one sit
next to the other and read. Those in high
school calculus tutored those in algebra or
grade-school math.
We assigned an older child to a younger
child to teach them and help them
accomplish their weekly chores.
We let the children be a part of making the
family rules. For example, the kids wanted
the rule that no toys were allowed in the
family room. The toys had to stay either in
the bedroom or playroom. In addition to
their chores, they had to all clean their
bedroom every day (or just keep it clean in
the first place). These were rules that the
children wanted. We gave them a chance
each month to amend or create new rules.
Mom and Dad had veto power of course.
We tried to be always consistent. If they had
to study two hours every night, we did not
make an exception to it. Curfew was 10pm
during school nights and midnight on non-
school nights. There were no exceptions to
the rules.

Vacation Policy
We would take family vacations every
summer for two or three weeks. We could
afford a hotel, or cruise, but did not choose
those options. We went camping and
backpacking. If it rained, then we would
figure out how to backpack in the rain and
survive. We would set up a base camp at a
site with five or six tents, and I would take
all kids age 6 or older on a three- to five-day
backpack trip. My wife would stay with the
little ones. Remember, for 15 years, she was
either pregnant or just had a baby. My kids
and I hiked across the Grand Canyon, to the
top of Mount Whitney, across the
Continental Divide, across Yosemite.
We would send kids via airplane to relatives
in Europe or across the US for two or three
weeks at a time. We started this when they
were in kindergarten. It would take special
treatment for the airlines to take a 5-year-old
alone on the plane and required people on
the other end to have special documentation.
We only sent the kids if they wanted to go.
However, with the younger ones seeing the
older ones travel, they wanted to go. The
kids learned from an early age that we, as
parents, were always there for them, but
would let them grow their own wings and

Money and Materialism
Even though we have sufficient money, we
have not helped the children buy homes, pay
for education, pay for weddings (yes, we do
not pay for weddings either). We have
provided extensive information on how to do
it or how to buy rental units and use equity
to grow wealth. We do not “give” things to
our children but we give them information
and teach them “how” to do things. We have
helped them with contacts in corporations,
but they have to do the interviews and
“earn” the jobs.
We give birthday and Christmas presents to
the kids. We would play Santa Claus but as
they got older, and would ask about it, we
would not lie. We would say it is a game we
play and it is fun. We did and do have lists
for items that each child would like for
presents. Then everyone can see what they
want. With the internet, it is easy to send
such lists around to the children and
grandchildren. Still, homemade gifts are
often the favorite of all.

The Real World
We loved the children regardless of what
they did. But would not prevent
consequences of any of their actions. We let
them suffer consequences and would not try
to mitigate the consequences because we
saw them suffering. We would cry and be
sad, but would not do anything to reduce the
consequences of their actions.

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Posted in Parenting

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