Raising Farm Kids

Spoiler alert: we don’t have it figured out either.

There’s something special about farm kids. They know far more about life than many of their peers, if for no other reason than seeing the harsh realities of farm life. They’ve seen births, experienced death, worked through meal times to prepare for a storm, and had safety drilled into them because our farmstead is rife with hazards – barbed wire, electric fencing, heavy equipment, hot cast iron, pressure canners, large animals, wild animals, and often long periods of time where the closest adult may be across a pasture or through the woods in a back field… just to name a few.

Every farm parent approaches it differently. I have friends who have a long list of farm chores for their kids and others who don’t ask for any help. We fall somewhere in-between. And that’s okay.

There are days that I want to push my kids to do more, but others where I am so appreciative of their sense of curiosity and the freedom we allow them to explore the farm and discover things on their own. My son is drawn to wood carving and blacksmithing these days – something neither of us exposed him to.

But as a parent, I think we all struggle at times. I know on long weekends spent fencing or moving animals I’ve wondered if we’re doing what’s best for our kids? I’ve had conversations with friends who want to give their kids more than what they had growing up while instilling a sense of responsibility. And for me – keeping older traditions and skills alive is important. At times, I struggle with nurturing a respect for the past while preparing them for an ever-changing future…

But can I share something that really weighs on me at times as a parent of farm kids?

I grew up barefoot more often than not. So are my kids and so did my mother. But there’s a key difference here: my kids go barefoot by choice. I always had the option. My mother, on the other hand, was raised on a rural dairy farm in the 1950s. Going barefoot in the summer was a way to preserve her only pair of shoes for the harsh New England winters. Running barefoot was not the mark of a carefree summer… it was the only choice.

I love our life on our farmstead, but the reality is we created this farm and took on the chores intentionally. My kids, on the other hand, did not. They’ve been born into this life, much as my mother was… and I’m keenly aware that she ran from the farm life based on her experiences. (I know, I know, our farm is a far cry from the rural dairy she grew up on nearly 70 years ago, but stay with me here.)

I was able to pick when and where to help on the family farm and learned quickly which aspects really interested me. While one of my cousins loved to spend time in the tractor planting, chopping, cutting, raking, I was always drawn to the animals. I worked through my teenage years at a different local farm, first cleaning the barn, animal runs and kennel, and later helping with pony rides and petting zoos at local fairs. Not only did this expose me to an incredible array of specialty and livestock breeds, but people.

In many ways, my husband’s story is similar. While there were livestock at home and he helped cut timber in the family’s small custom logging operation, he also worked at a local farm before leaving home for trade school. Having been exposed to cattle – both beef and dairy, hogs, and horses, he had an idea of the work our farm would entail.

I want my kids to have that same option. To curate their own farm experiences and find where they connect. We may have chosen this farm life, but I know there is a place for them in it as well… they just need to find it.

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