Updated: Mar 4, 2020
Rarely do kids appreciate the rewards and benefits of their upbringing at the time. After all, they say hindsight is 2020 for good reason. I think most of us agree: the moment the malt-o-meal solidified in the bowl hardly appeared as an important lesson in obedience, humility, or stewardship. We only learn to become reflective as we are taught to do so and as we mature in age and wisdom. So it comes as no surprise that tales of my youth on the farm are riddled with the expected whining and mutiny. I didn't appreciate the lessons of farm life until I was a bit older and could really compare my childhood to that of my friends and peers. Boy was I blessed! And while I have loved to visit cities across the globe, (there is much which is appealing about city life) there is something special about the experience of growing up a farm kid.
When Casey and I settled on building our homestead here on this corner of my grandparent's farm, it was with the intention of raising our children in this lifestyle - to be farm kids. We wanted to give them opportunities like those I enjoyed in my youth - complete with dirty boots, fresh air, and responsibility. Nationwide there is a growing trend towards rural living as people see the incredible benefits of this simple life we so often take for granted. For those of you dreaming of this life for yourself and your family, I encourage you to take the leap with the expectation of these benefits for your kids and family:
I remember a conversation I had with my dad not long after Elaina had started kindergarten. He encouraged me to give as much responsibility to my girls as I could, as early as I could. A good friend of mine has taught her girls "daily habits" rather than an allowance pay-out; I've employed both pieces of advice. Daily habits include: brushing your own hair and teeth, making your bed and picking up your laundry, feeding animals, and reading your Bible. So, early on the girls have helped out with whatever they could, and more and more we trust them with bigger tasks, knowing full-well they may fail at some of them. They surprise us more often than not. As a teacher, I wanted my students to experience challenges which helped them grow in confidence. As a parent, I want my daughters to develop authentic self-esteem and courage as they tackle more and more responsibility and challenge. 4H is a primary way we accomplish this last task as the girls are fully responsible for feeding, watering and caring for their project livestock. They also keep records to set goals, track progress and develop fiscal responsibility.
Respect for Life and Wisdom:
Many moral and ethical lessons come with the culture of an agricultural lifestyle. Rural communities continue to promote honest living and the value of learning from one's elders. My girls regard adults in their lives with respect and see them as the authority on important subject matter like land stewardship, cooking, or proper animal care. This respect and knowledge allows them to be critical consumers of media messages particularly as it relates to growing food and environmental issues.
On the farm, the kids learn about raising a variety of farm animals as well as respecting wild creatures - from cattle and chickens, to grizzly bears and mountain lions. We've had the all-important discussions on the birds and bees in the context of livestock breeding and the natural world around us. There are few secrets about the process here, so be warned if you think our chicken eggs will hatch without a rooster, my nine-year-old will not hesitate to straighten out your understanding of biology.
On the same note, my kids are learning about hatching eggs, and how baby chicks and all baby animals are delicate and require extra care. They see first hand the structure of a seed, the magic of DNA and the purpose of thoughtful selection. They understand the privilege and responsibility required to care for a little life which depends upon us entirely for its survival.
And then unfortunately, they learn that death is inevitable and necessary. Despite however many times we have been introduced to it, it really doesn’t get easier. It isn't supposed to. But understanding death and loss as a part of life is helpful for our children. Even the pain of losing a favorite animal can allow kids a baseline for dealing with future grief.
The girls are often asked how they can raise a 4H hog. They pick a piglet days after it was born in Pop's barn, knowing it will be butchered at the end of the summer. I get it. It seems harsh, but my girls are so grateful for what they eat. They respect the animal, the life given to nourish their own, and they are developing an ethic for the care and stewardship of the resources for which we are responsible.
Creativity and Problem-Solving:
Obviously, a significant bonus of rural life is living close to nature. The ability to connect with the natural world is so important for health and well-being. Every day we praise God for the beauty of our back yard. Additionally, I see my girls' creativity flourish as they are inspired by the world around them. So many researchers point to the importance of boredom and free-play in the development of children. Evie loves the flowers in the garden; she enjoys painting pictures of them, and she bought her own camera to photograph them. Last year she started her own business and planted a cut garden which she artfully arranges bouquets herself to sell at the farmer's market. The kids work as engineers to build forts or imagine castles in the high stacks of hay in the barn. Many times they've had to find solutions for problems on their own, like the time Elaina got her UTV stuck in a mud puddle out on the farm. She had to either find a way on her own to "unstuck" the vehicle, or walk the mile back to the house. She doesn't carry a cell phone, so this problem required her own thought and decision-making. I think this is essential for our kids to learn how to survive the world without us, which is a pretty important goal of raising kids to adulthood. Of course, I was watching her the whole time with binoculars, but she didn't know that!
Importance of Family:
Truly one of the most important values for us is the priority of God and family. We spend a lot of time together with our kids working and playing on the farm and in the mountains. Growing up on a family farm and especially living a rural life, children develop special friendships and bonds. While certainly not isolated, it is clear that my kids have a closeness with one another and especially their cousins who live just across the field.
Because we are a multi-generational farm, my kids see the entire family working together, playing together, and making a life together. They understand the importance of family loyalty and of serving one another. We pray for one another and offer forgiveness and grace. And I love when they are quick to offer their help too - when Elaina picks up the sticks out of my grandma's yard or volunteers to drive the hay wagon for my dad. Evie wants to pick weeds in the garden and is excited about helping feed the cows.
We are thankful to God for this special place and this incredible life we live, and as we gather daily to share a meal or plant the work before us, my girls' hearts rejoice with gratitude for the blessings of this life. A joyful, thankful child is such an incredible reward as a parent.
My kids get dirty. I mean really dirty. I'll never forget the time the girls were SO dirty from playing outside that I stripped them off in the mudroom and ran them to my shower. While I was busy outside hosing off their clothes, the girls decided to make a swimming pool out of the walk-in shower (they were three and five at the time). You can imagine how well my bathroom floor was mopped that day! Children need dirt to stay healthy; microorganisms found in soil are beneficial to overall health. This article explains more. While Elaina seems to struggle with seasonal allergies, as a general rule fewer farm kids have allergies or asthma. Living a simple, rural life is also beneficial to diet and helps to reduce stress. I mean they literally stop to smell the flowers! My kids have access to healthy, fresh food and are learning to prepare nutrient-rich meals straight from the garden. Kids who like vegetables -you really can't beat that!
For a number of years the buzz word in education was grit. Grit is our passion and perseverance towards reaching a long-term goal. Resilience is the optimism to keep bouncing back from failure. Both of these traits for success are rooted in a growth mindset, and everyone can learn, develop and build resilience and grit. Successful people persist through failure and challenge. They learn patience - seeds take time to sprout - and it takes time to learn a new skill. On a family farm, children learn grit (and we aren't just talking about the dirt between their toes). They must learn to work hard, everyday. They must put the needs of farm animals and others ahead of their own needs. Chores must be done every single day, and if you mess up, there are significant consequences (like the time someone didn't latch the door on the chicken coop). There are no days off. Even in the heat of summer or the piercing cold of winter. Animals have to be fed; eggs collected. These experience are real life opportunities for my girls to develop a strong work ethic and grit; traits which will help them regardless if a rural life is part of their future.
I know it can be scary. Just the other day a guest was horrified when the kids went out to play in the dark by themselves. "There are coyotes! They could get hurt!" My inner helicopter mom is constantly screaming warnings and temptations too: if I would just work with the 4H hogs maybe my girls would have a better chance at the coveted purple ribbon. (Oh pride!) If my girls help weed, they'll hate gardening (insert guilt). That horse could buck them off! (Hello, fear). I curse myself when the egg that ended up in the Carhartt jacket solidified because someone accidentally forgot they put an egg in their pocket and it broke. I should have checked, or at least noticed the smell in the mudroom (failure!) It is good for us too, moms. But I suppose that is another blog post.
From the Red Barn,