Sometimes I am envious of stay-at-home parents. I am also envious of working parents. I am a work-from-home-while-I-watch-my-kids parent. This means I work full-time and take care of my kids full-time. While this was a conscious, albeit necessary, choice, it has never been an easy one. My hope is that they learn enough about being hard working and independent that it pays off in the end.
My husband and I run a farm - not a homestead for personal use, but 15 acres of diversified crops, with over 150 varieties of vegetables and flower. We sell at three farmers markets, and we have a CSA, wholesale accounts, employees, two farm sites, chickens, sheep, greenhouses, and so forth. It's a lot to manage. It would be a lot to manage without kids in tow. But, I just never felt right shipping them off when there was so much to learn and experience right here at home.
I have three kids, each with a very unique personality. One is an 8-year old bookworm who tries to get out of work whenever possible. I also have 5-year-old twins, a girl and a boy. The girl is my extra good helper who never likes to leave my side, a blessing and a curse. Her twin brother is the extra curious, has no fear, always into trouble, never wears shoes, adventurous child.
When they were babies, it was a disaster trying to manage breastfeeding, diaper changes and nap times while simultaneously trying to stay outside working in the hot sun and blowing dust of summer, the frigid cold winters, or waiting on eager customers lined up at the farmers market. When they were toddlers it was impossible to keep them from ripping plants out of the ground just as fast as I was putting them in or from destroying just about anything I was trying to do.
Now that they are a little older, things are getting easier. They understand me when I talk to them about why we can't trample on top of the plants, even if they don't actually listen to what I say. One is in school now; two are still at home. I am contemplating homeschooling all of them next year, but I am not sure I can hack it, because I don't have any free time. At times I worry that they are missing out on a lot of the things that other kids get to do. It's hard to have kids in sports when every Saturday and Sunday you are busy working at the farmers market - up at 4 a.m.! Nor is it very easy to attend birthday parties, story time at the library, or play dates when you live far out of town and the crazy amount of work that is takes to manage a farm is never, ever done.
Despite my worries about what they are not getting, I have always known that my kids are gaining a lot from this lifestyle, too. They watch sheep give birth, knowing that those babies will grow up to become our food. My son is learning to count to 100 by gathering eggs with me everyday. This seems like it might be more meaningful than just learning to count to 100 for no reason in particular. The kids see the actual results of planting a seed and watching it grow, then harvesting and eating that plant. They see that rabbits can destroy a crop, so shooting them (and cleaning and eating them) has a purpose. My daughter is learning how to plant small seeds into soil cells, one at a time with such determination and patience. She can envision what flower those seeds will grow into because she has seen them blooming before. I am a pretty controlling person, and sometimes I don't want to let them help with careful chores that require precision, but I am usually amazed at how much more capable they are than I give them credit for. I think this is true of kids in general. They are capable and we should be giving them responsibilities that allow them to see this in themselves. I have to balance this idea with the fact that we have a business and the work we do has an economic impact on our survival. So sometimes I let them help and sometimes I don't.
Many times I feel I have neglected my kids for the sake of our business and I have been told as much by relatives. I've often come into the house after working outside for a long stint to a major disaster from the kids helping themselves to a snack, an entire box of cereal spread on the floor, milk all over the table, dirty dishes everywhere and nothing cleaned up. And I realize that I should have come in to fix them something to eat hours before. Many a night, prepping for the farmers market, my kids have put themselves to bed, because we are too busy to read them a story or make sure they brushed their teeth. My boys sometimes get naked and play king of the mountain on top of the giant manure pile - it takes three rounds of baths to get that mess cleaned up. Our floors are constantly covered in dirt, dust, food or mud, even though I sweep almost every day and I cannot fathom how other people actually keep their own houses clean, but I know they do. I often feel like a total failure as a parent. I joke that I am an "under protective" parent. And I think my friends think that of me too. Partially it is just who I am and what our life is like. Another part of it is deliberate. I am trying to raise kids who have some skills, some smarts, some independence and some work ethic.
As the kids grow, I see more and more the impact this lifestyle has had on them. My kids can tell a customer about how to cook kohlrabi, what a sunchokes is or that another name for rapini is broccoli raab. My daughter probably knows the names of over 30 varieties of flowers. How many adults know that much?
People ask me all the time if I hope my kids will take over the farm when they grow up. To be perfectly honest, I could care less if they do. I want each of them to follow their own path and do what makes them happy. That's the life that my husband and I have chosen for ourselves. Mostly what I hope they learn from growing up on the farm is the value of doing what makes you happy and that it takes a tremendous about of work to make that happen.