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.