Friday, August 15, 2014

Raising Kids in the Country

This is a guest post from my amazing husband, Doug.

I recently read an article in the National Post (a Canadian paper) entitled, “Child labour or just chores? Debate rages after Saskatchewan bans kids from working on family farm."

Naturally, this incident raised a bit of debate about child labor, and whether or not government intervention was appropriate in cases like this. Fortunately, the government backed off somewhat after the case hit social media. In her defense and explanation, the mother, Janeen, made the observation that:

"Farm kids used to be in demand because they have amazing work ethic."

True statement. That's why Lindsay and I moved to the country soon after our first child was born. Not only are we going to home school our kids, we're going to give them just this sort of childhood where they will acquire a good work ethic, maturity, and a healthy dose of independence – and learn some useful skills while they're at it.

For most of my adult years, I wanted to live on a farm in the country, but I always put off making that move. Still, I told myself that as soon as I had kids, I was going to get out of the city because I really wanted to raise my kids on a farm where they could have the same sort of experience that I had growing up. I really believe that there is something about farm life that cannot be reproduced in the city, and that’s why Lindsay and I made it a priority to find a way to move to a small farm in the country when we started having kids.

Children do not learn confidence and self-esteem from being told they are special or smart over and over. They don’t learn it from getting participation trophies or playing games where no one wins or loses (so that no one gets hurt feelings). They don’t learn to be self-sufficient, hard-working, and strong by being soothed and coddled and flattered by everyone around them.

Children develop a real and lasting confidence when they have real, valuable skills and know that they can make a useful contribution. Children are happier and more confident in their own abilities when they actually have abilities to be confident about. False and empty praise doesn’t fool kids. They know whether they deserve praise or not. And while they will usually accept empty praise, when fed a steady diet of it, they tend to become dependent on others to uplift them rather than becoming self-sufficient and independent. When children have real skills and work to provide something of value (whether that’s as simple as carrying a hammer for daddy or as big as raising farm animals or building a fence on their own), they develop true confidence and a sense that they can take on whatever they set their mind to do.

On a farm, you have many such opportunities to build that sort of confidence and maturity. I recall a time when I was around ten years old that my dad took me and my two younger brothers with him around the farm fixing fence. On this occasion, we hiked well beyond our own property (which I knew quite well), and on to a neighboring farm which we rented. By mid-afternoon, we were well over into a remote area of woods that I had never seen before. Then, we ran out of fence wire. So Dad decided to hike back to our farm for more, and knowing he could travel faster alone, he left us there. After he was gone, my ten year old mind got to thinking, “What if something happened?” I was the oldest. Could I get my younger brothers and myself back home? I didn’t mention my concerns to them, but while they were exploring the woods, I mentally retraced our steps all along that fence we had been working on and convinced myself that it connected up with that of our own farm in an area that I knew I would recognize. So I came up with a plan to use it as a guide for getting us out of there if need be. That’s how independence and maturity get developed on the farm. You have to grow up, and take responsibility.

Of course, I could recount many other examples including hiking to the other end of our property to retrieve a tractor and drive it back to the house alone, and working alongside adults putting up hay, or under a truck or tractor working well into the night helping my dad get something running that really HAD to be running the next day. On a farm, you learn to contribute just like an adult, and you learn that your contributions are necessary and valuable. That gives a child incentive.

Working late into the night when you’re dead tired; hunting in the freezing cold when your fingers are so numb you can’t work a zipper; pitching hay in a barn loft when you’re parched, hot and sweaty; robbing bees when you really are afraid of being stung; and many more such real examples make a man out of a boy. These are the things which show a kid that he does have it in him to man up, especially when he is working alongside someone else who is enduring the exact same thing and still finds a way to get the job done. This is the sort of peer pressure that’s good for a kid. This is the sort of childhood that produced the sort of adults that made this country great and prosperous.

Certainly, one can raise responsible adults in the city, but based on my experience from living in both environments, I believe that farm life lends many more safe learning opportunities where children can learn independence and maturity. Notice, I said “safe” learning opportunities. Of course, you can turn your kids loose in the city and hope for the best, but that is not a safe environment for children to go unsupervised. I do not want my kids exposed to the sorts of things that they may be exposed to in the city. I don’t want them exposed to drugs, illicit sex, foul language, gangs, porn, etc. I don’t want them to hang with kids who are not mature and responsible, who are disrespectful of their parents, and so on. Children learn to mimic those they spend the most time with, and for my children, I do not want that to be the typical public school kid. Instead, I want them to grow up working alongside their mom and dad on projects that are important to our family farm.

Don’t misunderstand. I am certainly not overprotective. In fact, I do want my kids to know about drugs, gangs, illicit sex, porn, etc. I want them to know about them and what is wrong with them. I just do not want them exposed to these things in person. Furthermore, many of those who would level the “over-protective” charge at me would probably freak out when they learn that I plan to teach my kids to shoot and hunt at an early age (just as my dad and grandpa taught me). Many people might consider that reckless, but I consider it reckless to turn your kids loose in a typical public high school.

My goal is not to raise children. My goal is to raise adults – well adjusted, confident, independent, responsible, and capable adults who have an impeccable moral character and healthy work ethic; intelligent adults who have a good understanding of inalienable rights (and the source thereof), the proper role of civil government, a good comprehension of Biblical apologetics and Bible doctrine. These are the sort of adults that Lindsay and I wish to raise on our little farm in the country.


3 comments:

  1. I appreciate the sentiment of this post - wanting the best for your kids - but I would advise caution in prescribing country life as the one good way to raise kids for everyone. I have also lived in both the country and the city. When I lived in the country, it was all farms, cows, and dirt roads. And by city, I mean major city with skyscrapers and all. I still live in the city. Honestly, I haven't found any difference in the rate of drug abuse and teen pregnancy between the two. Just as many of my friends in country took wrong turns as did my friends in the city, many of them from God-fearing families. Satan doesn't fear the country life. He will find you there just as easily as he will in the city. The country is not fool proof. I think the most important thing is to teach your kids how to flee temptation when it does present itself, because it will, not matter where you live. If we start to believe we can insulate our kids from opportunities to make mistakes, we may find ourselves asleep at the watch post. I personally feel that there are just as many opportunities to build good character in a city, maybe even more. Food for thought: Jesus spent a lot of time in cities. Revelation refers to us living in a heavenly city one day. And the Bible teaches us to be "in the world, not of it." Conclusion: God doesn't hate cities; he loves them. If God is leading your family to the country, that is a respectable decision. Go for it. But I would not market country life as a cure all for society. God lives in the city, just as much as the country. I think good parenting hinges more on the how, not as much the where. Invite God to rule your home, wherever you live. I believe that is the most important thing.

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    1. I agree that one can raise good kids in the city and kids in the country can be just as messed up as kids anywhere else. The chief advantage of the country, as we see it, is the greater opportunity for developing a good work ethic, useful skills, and independence. It's not that those things can't be learned in the city, but in the country it's a more natural part of life to work hard alongside one's parents for the good of the family. It's not just that there tends to be more work in the country (although that is true), but also that it tends to be necessary work (giving kids a sense of importance in what they do) and work that is done as a family.

      There's also greater variety of work in the country. Doing chores in the city usually means inside chores like doing laundry, washing dishes, and vacuuming and perhaps lawn mowing outdoors. Doing chores in the country provides opportunity for more variety and more learning experience - fixing fences, picking berries, milking goats, feeding chickens, driving a tractor, etc in addition to the usual indoor chores, which still need to be done.

      Also, while kids in the country can certainly still have bad influences in the their lives, there is far less influence from pop culture, fads, gangs, and peer pressure in the country. And kids in the country are safer ranging far from home alone than kids in the city. Where we live, a 12 year old could hike for miles and not meet more than a handful of people and be in no danger whatsoever. I wouldn't be willing to turn a 12 year old loose to wander a city like that. But being able to wander on their own fosters a sense of independence that I want for my kids as they grow up.

      Living in the country has some advantages that city living doesn't have. There are perhaps some advantages to city living that country living does not have as well, but we see country living as having the better set of advantages. Country living isn't a guarantee that your kids will turn out great. Sin happens in both places. We're not saying that people who raise their kids in the city are going to have bad kids or anything like that. We are simply pointing out the advantages of raising kids in the country. They're worth considering.

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