This is the second in a quick series about farm sustainability…sustainability gained by preparing the next generation.
I can’t do this forever. I could work for decades but not forever. Also, I can’t do this alone. I could try but without some level of redundancy something is going to fail eventually. So the first step (following the example of all previous generations who made me) was to find a suitable companion and carry on the family tradition. Not only can my wife fill in when I am unavailable but we have kidlets that are coming along as well. Those kidlets are the future of the farm. They are the key to our farm’s sustainability plan. I won’t last forever and I can’t do this alone so we are manufacturing our replacements. And they have to be willing participants in the manufacturing process. If they don’t want the job we have to find someone who does or the farm goes away.
With that in mind I want to talk briefly about what we feel is the first step in training our children: Preparing fertile ground.
This is easy in the garden. Build up soil humus and add nutrients…same as saying to invest time bringing your soil to life. How is this different from the human mind? We have to bring our minds to life. Maybe this doesn’t seem as straightforward as a wheelbarrow of composted horse manure. Maybe that’s because we haven’t bothered to learn what children need. Wow. That’s a disturbing thought…that we have more innate, cultural knowledge of soil health than we have of mental health. [Shiver] Have to think on that a bit.
Our four children may look the same but that’s where the similarities end. Each have their own interests, abilities, dreams and desires. Pushing each child to follow a set pattern of educational development in a one-size-fits-all approach would probably lead to universal failure. I suppose we could medicate and attempt to retrain where the kids don’t fit but that seems inappropriate and cruel. What seems better, at least for us, is to allow the children to direct the learning process. To discover where each child is in the lifelong process of learning and to encourage them to continue. This discovery process requires more of us as parents but…I mean…we didn’t have kids thinking it would be a vacation. Our children are an investment.
I have to make a conscious effort to engage my children in conversation and to pay attention to them as we interact on a daily basis. What does my oldest daughter enjoy? What motivates her? What is her love language? How can I meet her needs personally and, later, in terms of education? Before I can help my daughter to learn she has to trust and respect me and I have to learn who she is. She really doesn’t want to learn the ins and outs of my profession. That’s not her bag. Before she will trust and respect me I have to make an interpersonal connection with her. It’s not enough that I simply claim her as my daughter. It is not enough that I feed and clothe her. I have to be someone she trusts. Someone she loves. Someone she respects.
If I can earn her love, trust and respect I can begin finding out who is really in there. Once I know who she is we can begin to guide her development. If I don’t know her, I can only force her onto a path of my own design…one she may not be excited to follow.
I am quite vocal about my generation’s tendency to take our children to karate, soccer, swimming, scouts, awana, dance, baseball and gymnastics. Nobody has time to even cook, let alone interact, with a schedule like that. Your children will interact with others while you watch…but that’s not what we’re after! Add in homework and football games and PTO and Bible studies…any of these things, taken individually, could help you build intimacy with one or more of your children. But these activities are more commonly used as a daily distraction to “keep the kids busy and out of trouble”. You know, because having kids is such a burden. Isn’t that what you are telling them? “Oh, what a long day at work. Now get your cleats we have to get to the field! I guess we’ll just have to stop for pizza again. I don’t know how we can afford to continue doing this but we’re doing it for you. Get out on that field with your little friends and I’ll go talk to the parents over here. Maybe you and I can talk on Sunday…after church…after the football game…after evening services…before bedtime.” That schedule does not lead to intimacy…it does not build fertile ground. It probably boosts sales of anti-depressants though.
Finding the fertile ground in our children is a matter of taking the time to learn who they are. Investing that time now gives us the chance to plant seeds of opportunity later. This has nothing to do with deciding what cool new curriculum we are using this year. Fertile ground is about relationships. Why would you want to live with someone who doesn’t want to know you? Maybe that’s why kids grow up and leave home.
To be sustainable I need my kids to grow up and stick around. I need fertile ground to plant seeds into. I have to make an emotional investment in my children. Some of that has to do with sticking around on the farm but mostly, it’s about making deliberate choices to be engaged in my children’s lives. I could probably succeed at engaging my children at a soccer game but I fear soccer is mostly a distraction separating us from them. Be engaged.
Next time we’ll talk about planting seeds…you know, discovering interests, passion and purpose in the lives of our children…and in ourselves.