Life in the Callaghan home was demanding.There were no sleepovers; friends were not allowed in bedrooms; no one was allowed above the “Big Room” level of the home on Menlo Boulevard in Shorewood; tattling was not tolerated – if the rule was broken, it was the tattler who would be spanked; the use of the words “shut up” was prohibited and the kitchen closed after a meal. Children getting caught in the kitchen after it was closed were “run out.”
With 11 children in the household, no wonder Martha and Coyne Callaghan established strict guidelines for their brood. Yet, Bill Callaghan, the ninth child, also remembers a household filled with praise, positive reinforcements and love.
For example, when young Bill came in from playing with mud all over his shoes, he recalls that his mother calmly told him, “Oh no, looks like you brought some of the backyard with you,” instead of yelling at him to get out of the house with his muddy shoes.
“That’s the difference,” Bill pointed out in an interview with your Catholic Herald in the dining room of the home in which he grew up. “When you have the responsibility of being a parent, it’s as important to know how you sound to your children; you have the option of either reacting in a negative tone or a positive tone.”
Lessons meant to be shared
Now father to four young adult children himself, Bill, 49, felt the lessons he learned from his parents, combined with his own parenting experiences, were things he wanted to share with others.
Last December, the Eau Claire businessman, published, “Raised with Praise: How My Parents Made Me a Happy Soul,” a 402-page book he terms a tribute to his parents and their parenting approach. It is filled with humor, anecdotes and stories supporting his belief that raising children with praise leads to confident, happy adults.
“The message is if you have children, raise them with a kind tone. Be aware they are only under your wing for a short time, be their teacher, don’t be their boss, raise them in a positive light. It’s how I was raised and I can’t help but approach life in a positive manner,” he said.
The decision to change their parenting tone was a conscious one for Martha and Coyne, according to Bill, a member of Immaculate Conception Parish, Eau Claire.
With Bill’s arrival, Martha had given birth to nine children in 12 years. As the story goes, Bill said he was placed in his mother’s arms, and when asked about her parenting plans, she responded, “He’ll be raised with praise,” said Bill, explaining, “Mom and Dad wanted to change their approach and tone. They decided to change this up a bit and instead of reacting, she decided to take a more proactive approach.… How you say and what you say to children is very critical.”
Faith provides solid foundation
This approach, combined with a strong faith in God, provided a solid foundation for the family, said Bill.
Members of St. Robert Parish, Shorewood, all 11 children attended the parish school.
“A strong faith in God will give a strong foundation, and when life’s tsunamis and earthquakes hit, you will have a strong foundation to fall back on,” he said, recalling that his mother told him sometimes when the challenges of parenting became overwhelming, she’d attend Mass and pray for the strength to get through the tough days.
“I remember her clasping her hands as she’d walk out of church so relieved that her load had been lightened,” said Bill.
Sunday Mass was an automatic for the entire Callaghan family and Christmas focused on faith and family togetherness, rather than lots of gifts. In fact, each year, the family piled into two Volkswagen buses and drove to Florida for a family vacation, now the source of fond memories of shared family time.
Family bonds remain strong
The family bonds are still strong today for the family, as Bill, four of his brothers and his father continue to work together in the family business, Continental Products Corp., based in Osseo in the La Crosse Diocese. At age 88, Coyne does the purchasing for the company, and Martha, 84, had worked 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily shifts doing the company’s accounting. After a brief bout with pneumonia, she died Feb. 3.
In an interview a couple weeks before her death, Bill said, “Working with them, having the opportunity to laugh, to be with them … every day I thank God I get to give my mom a hug and see my dad and work with them throughout the company. My mom and dad are like key coworkers and it’s fun to work together as a family.”
The company, a leader in uniform mixing, blending and coating technology, began in the family’s Shorewood home in 1960. After the Callaghan children formally joined the company in 1980, during an initial business meeting, they decided there would be no formal titles, although Bill said he’s technically the director of engineering work on solids processing design.
Idea ‘landed in the whirlpool’
The idea for the book came to him in May 2000 while he was in Chicago on business at a tradeshow. As he describes in the book, “While I was sitting by myself in the hot tub at the Embassy Suites, the thought came to me to write a book about the way my parents raised their 11 children. The idea landed in the whirlpool like a cannon ball, complete with the title of the book.”
Later that day, he bounced the idea of the book off his brother and a technology professor who was speaking at the conference. Both reacted positively and for the next several years, Bill kept in his briefcase a file of his research for the book.
For seven years, he gathered photos and writings and kept them in a folder called, “Raised with Praise.”
In May, 2007, however, his plans for the book were shattered when the window on his company’s van was broken while parked on the street in front of his Eau Claire home and his briefcase stolen. The personal, irreplaceable photos and information he was gathering were gone, never to be recovered.
A month later, while attending a golf event in Alabama, Bill mentioned the loss to a fellow golfer, a Baptist minister.
“He said to me, ‘Did y’all ever think that maybe God is trying to get y’all’s attention? Y’ll been gatherin’ info on this book for seven years and that’s all y’all been doing. It’s time to get beesy and feenish what y’all started,’” Bill explained in his book.
The advice, said Bill, was exactly what he needed.
“Raised With Praise”
Renewed determination pays off
He returned home with a renewed determination to see his project through to completion. He began gathering his research again, starting with a tape recorded interview of his parents, one of 10 similar interviews. He also gathered information from his brothers and sisters, his wife, Laurel, and their four children: Elizabeth, Joseph, Michelle and Meghan.
Once it was finished, the first person to read it was his mother, noted Bill, and predictably her reaction was positive, filled with praise.
That’s the message Bill wants to share with others.
“My parents are the ones who taught me how to have a positive attitude about life and how to approach people in a complimentary way. And that was the example I followed when it came time to raise my family,” wrote Bill.
“Treat your children as God treated you – with kindness, compassion, unconditional love and understanding. Raise them with Praise.”