We aren’t parenting experts. We’re just parents. We have four helpful children and we don’t believe that helpfulness is an accident. Mileage may vary but here’s what we find works.
The workload on the farm is staggering. Not only do we face the normal household routines of dishes, laundry and food followed by dishes laundry and more food, we have to deliver meals on wheels to a few hundred animals. Messes seem to happen in certain locations day after day in the house. We have to clean those up. Then we have to clean up after a few hundred animals by constantly moving them to fresh ground, composting bedding and moving fencing. In the yard we pick up fallen tree limbs, weed and mulch the flower beds, mow, keep the garden moving in the right direction and then carry that work out to the rest of the 20 acres. Thistle threatens to take over the pasture, limbs fall on fences, fences short out and chickens lose the fight to raccoons. We have to be diligent about testing our fences for shorts on a daily basis. I’m just scratching the surface here. There is a lot of work to do both in and out of the house. We could not function at our current skill level if our children were not helping us. We don’t see much of a future on the farm if our children run screaming away from us when they get old enough to be on their own.
Our children have to know that we love them. They aren’t accidents. We don’t regret our decision. We thought, saved, considered and prayed before each was born. Well, maybe we would have liked to spread them out a bit more but… Our children aren’t a burden to us, they are our treasures. I could give up the farm tomorrow but I will never give up my children. I need them.
They have to know that this is home. It’s not my home. It’s our home. They belong here, this is theirs too. That sense of ownership is important in helping them understand they aren’t imposing on us or living in a hotel and I’m not providing a storage locker for their things. This is their home. I’m not passing my time hoping they’ll move out someday. I am not burdened by their presence. I don’t calculate the “cost” of raising a child (nor should you). I hope they stick around as adults. They make everything I do easier and more fulfilling. As a part of a home they have to share the workload. Being a part of any community requires one to contribute. Sometimes being part of a home goes beyond contribution into sacrifice.
Our children have to know that their work is necessary and important. We aren’t just keeping them busy. We aren’t sending them because we are too lazy to go ourselves. They know that we can’t do everything and they find ways to help us. Together we keep things running around the farm. Our kids understand this so well we have to hold them back at times. With time and training the kids will finally be able to help me buck bales. Right now they sit frustrated on the sidelines knowing I’m tired and wishing they could help.
We have to model an appropriate attitude toward work for our children. We don’t complain about the work. We don’t drag our feet. We just get it done. In fact, we work to be joyful about our purpose. They know it’s hard. I’m sure they realize we don’t always want to do the work but we do it anyway. It has to be done. No matter how late we were up the night before, no matter how hot/tired/sick/hungry/busy we are, the chickens have to be watered. Sometimes the routine gets old. There’s a lot of just going there when you’re going somewhere. But when we arrive! The destination is worth the journey.
Our children have to know that hard work is rewarding. There is no allowance. Our children aren’t paid to live. Our children earn money. They either earn play money for doing regular household chores or they earn real cash for doing farm work. Either way, we have an opportunity to teach them about savings and delayed gratification. Sometimes we just stop for ice cream and tell them they are great. Sometimes we go swimming. Whatever we do, we make it a point to tell the kids how much we appreciate their help.
Our children need to be trained to accomplish each task. Just like I won’t hand the car keys to my untrained 16 year old and say, “Well, you’ve seen me do this so just go do it.” we train our children to do the housework. Cleaning a bedroom is not obvious to a 6-year old. She might get started looking for socks under her bed but would quickly be distracted. The whole project is too big if she hasn’t been trained to break it up into multiple tasks…bite sizes. Stay with her, encouraging her, working with her for the first few room cleanings. Help her at the end of each day to tidy things up so next time it’s not such a big deal. Every morning ask if she made her bed. This is training. In time, it will become routine so when she’s 12 you won’t be talking (let alone screaming) about cleaning rooms. Our oldest two can run the house now. The meals may be a little bland but they can cook, clean, fold and put away laundry, vacuum and clean the bathroom. It took years of training to get them to this point but now they are wrapping up the training required to function daily as a human so they can spend their adolescent years in a focused pursuit of their passion…be it art, astronomy or bio-intensive carbon sequestration.
Finally, we have to praise our children for their contribution. We tell friends and neighbors how proud we are of our children…in front of our children. My oldest taught a group of men from India how to eviscerate a chicken when he was 9. It was a hands-on class and he was the teacher. We have told that story to everyone who would listen and now I have shared it with the internet. It was a big deal. Not only could he do the work, he could teach it to adults…at age 9! Now, at age 11, he can replace me at any point in the chicken process, though he has been doing final inspection lately.
I hope that helps you understand why our kids jump to meet our requests and how we got there. Please comment if you have any additional suggestions.