Raising Self-Sufficient Kids: Life Lessons From The Farm

I’ve been thinking a lot about childhood recently. I’m like some old grannie because I’ve been getting more and more concerned about how we’re raising children these days. Well-meaning adults have been working hard to sanitize childhood, and I think its hurting our children. Listen, I want my kids to grow up and lead a happy, productive life, just like pretty much every other non-crappy parent out there. But what happens when we don’t let them actually grow up? What happens when we don’t let them learn from their mistakes? What happens when we don’t let them fall down, dust themselves off, and get back up to try again? Today’s children spend every second of their lives supervised. At school.  At home. Everywhere. If you take your eyes off of your kids for two seconds, you’re a negligent parent. You don’t deserve kids. All I know is that I don’t want today’s childhood for my kids. Not any part of it. I don’t need complete strangers to judge every single parenting decision I make.  I want the freedom to let my kids be kids without judgement.

Raising self-sufficient kids

Getting ready to groom their rabbits

I’m so glad we live in the country. My kids get to have a childhood. A real one, full of dirt and blood and yes, sometimes even guts (usually of the fishy variety). I get to send my kids outside without worrying about them. They get to spend hours of time doing stupid kid stuff and I don’t have to worry about a nosy neighbor complaining that my kids are unsupervised. Or noisy. Or filthy. They make fake swords and shields and do battle with imaginary dragons. They get out the wheelbarrow and hose and work on their “mud house.” They go out and play with their animals. They climb trees. Sometimes they hurt themselves, but not usually and never very badly. But it’s okay. They know the dangers around the farm and they know what to avoid. They’re not dumb. They’re kids. And kids are capable of a lot of amazing things when you let them try. Kids need to explore. They need to fail. That’s how they learn. I want to raise my kids to be self-sufficient, responsible, compassionate human beings. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. So, with that in mind, here are some of the benefits of raising kids on a farm.

They Learn To Be Self-Sufficient:

teaching kids to cook

My youngest, cooking up his scrambled eggs

I want to raise self-sufficient kids. I want my kids to grow up and know how to start a campfire, not just how far to stay away from one. I want them to know how to gut a fish instead of being told to stay away from knives their entire lives. I want them to know how to cook, not just how to avoid touching a hot stove. I don’t know how we expect to raise competent adults like this. We can’t avoid every possible danger our children encounter. It’s impossible. Instead of teaching them how to navigate danger responsibly, we avoid it at all costs. My four year old can cook up some pretty tasty eggs. He keeps his hands well away from the pan and he’s careful. He knows what parts of the pan are safe to touch. He knows not to mess around with the knobs on the stove because he’s been told about gas and knows how the stove ignites. He’s aware. I’d rather that my kids learn how to be safe with dangerous objects than to never touch them at all. He’s not going to go in the kitchen and mess with the stove out of curiosity. He knows how it works. My husband and I teach our older kids how to use tools and knives. They know how to cook. Do you want your kid to go to college and have to call and ask how to boil pasta? Because I sure don’t. I want them to know how to do things for themselves. And the only way to do that is to let them try. Sure, my oldest boy got really frustrated trying to start the campfire with flint and steel last summer. And my husband stood there and let him fail. But he kept trying. And his dad talked him through it and eventually, he learned what to do. That’s the thing about helping kids be self-sufficient: they’re not always going to be successful. Sometimes, they fail, and they learn from it. But if I never gave them the opportunity to try something hard, what lesson does that teach them? I might raise my eyebrow when I see my kids dragging a ladder around the house. But when they come in an hour later with a bucket full of chokecherries so that we can make jelly together, I know that I’m doing something right.

They Learn Compassion:

My kids still love their chickens (even when we eat some of them). It’s possible to do both.

Kids who raise animals care about them. We have farm animals and a lot of people think that being around the cycle of life and death on a farm makes kids callous. But I disagree. I think that kids growing up thinking that meat comes from a package in a store, all sanitary and perfect is the problem. If you never have to think about where food comes from then you never have to worry about what kind of life that animal led. The life of the animal that they’re eating is completely disconnected from the package in the store. And they don’t grow up caring about that animal’s sacrifice. But my kids do. They cuddle the baby chicks that we will eventually eat. They grow up knowing that the animals we eat were treated right. They know that they only had one bad day in their lives because we took care of them. I don’t know how someone could think that raising animals for meat makes somebody callous towards animals. I think it means that you care whether or not the animal you are eating had a decent life or not. I made a decision a long time ago that I wanted my kids to know where their food comes from. I wanted them to know that death isn’t sanitary or clean. But that it is a part of life. And if you choose to eat meat, then you shouldn’t distance yourself from that truth. It doesn’t harden them to suffering. It makes them aware that animals die so that they can eat. And that connects them to the cycle of life. I’m sorry, but I don’t see that as wrong. I see it as beautiful.

They Learn Responsibility:

Raising Self-Sufficient Kids

Goats are not patient creatures. They let their children hear all about it when they are late to their chores.

Having farm animals that depend on you for safety is an important life lesson. Kids are selfish creatures. They’re programmed that way. A toddler thinks that he is the center of the world so that YOU make the toddler a center of YOUR world and keep him or her safe. Kids just aren’t as capable “putting themselves in someone else’s shoes” as an adult. It’s not their fault. It’s just that they’re brains are still developing. Having animals and responsibilities helps teach them that they’re wants and needs don’t always come first. Listen, nobody wants to go out on a freezing cold day and take care of farm animals. But when kids know that an animal’s survival depends on them, it changes their perspective a bit. If they don’t help feed the animals, the animals will starve. If they don’t help keep them safe, they are in danger from predators. It’s a pretty black and white way for kids to learn about taking responsibility for others, but I’ll tell you what; it’s effective.

They Learn To Be Bored:

raising self-sufficient kids

My kid was bored, so he decided to pick chokecherries. Bored can be good. Bored can be tasty 🙂

This is important, so say it with me: It’s okay for kids to be bored. Sometimes, my kids get mad because we live in the middle of nowhere and there’s the dreaded “nothing to do” lurking around every corner. But guess what? It’s okay if every second of their waking day isn’t so over-scheduled that it’s bursting at the seams. It’s good for them to have to create their own fun. Modern childhood is so busy that kids don’t have any time to use their imaginations. But the truth is, free-play is a wonder of childhood. We don’t let kids do enough of it. I think we’re so worried about whether or not our kids will get ahead in life that we want them to be good at everything. But in doing that, we’re not letting them discover the world on their own terms. I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t be allowed to explore their interests but it shouldn’t come at the expense of a childhood filled with wonder and discovery. Growing up on a farm is perfect for that. My kids are still involved in activities. They still do chores. But I always try to leave time for them to just explore. They need it.

It’s not that living in town makes all of this impossible. It just makes it harder. I worry about how judgmental people are these days. Of course, we need to step in and protect children that are in real danger. It’s never okay to turn your back on abusive behavior. But if I lived in town, would a neighbor complain or call the cops if I taught my kid cut how to cut firewood? Or how to use a handsaw? Would they say I’m turning my kid into a psychopath if I taught them how to butcher a chicken? I’m just not sure anymore.  All I know is that living in the country makes it a heck of a lot easier to give my kids the kind of childhood that I would want for myself.

Life isn’t clean. It isn’t perfect. The world is a beautiful, messy, scary and adventure-filled place. You can’t protect your kids from that fact. And why would you want to? I want my kids to live. I want them to face life’s challenges head on. When we sanitize their lives, we might keep them away from the dangers in life. But we also stop them from finding the beauty in it, too. Kids will test their limits. They will push themselves. We can’t be afraid of our kids falling down. That’s part of learning. Kids will never learn to be self-sufficient if we never let them do things for themselves. It really is that simple. After all, you can’t clip your child’s wings and expect to still watch her soar.

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Raising Self-Sufficient Kids



5 comments on “Raising Self-Sufficient Kids: Life Lessons From The Farm

  1. I’m on the far end range of your wonderful idea. I just turned 70and raised five children plus a daughter of the heart. Have 11 grandchildren so far. I grew up on a Pennsylvania small farm in a very poor family. My Dad worked in town and my Mom gardened 5 acres, raised animals (with help from my four older brothers) did the preserving of the vegetables from that garden, made jam from wild strawberries, blackberries and any other available fruits. I married at 18 and began canning on a very small scale, moved around the country with my military husband and finally after the kids were grown, moved to a 40-acre ranch in Wyoming. My grandchildren have and are enjoying the benefit of a different life from their peers. I love teaching them about birth and death, growing a garden, collecting eggs and riding horses. I’m really pleased to see a young family starting out on this adventure. Good Luck!

    • What a wonderful adventure you’ve had 🙂 My journey towards a simpler, self-sufficient life really stems from a yearning to feel connected to our collective past, like the life of your hardworking mother. I feel like we’ve lost so much in the quest for convenience. Stories like yours are what inspire me, so thank you 🙂

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