I received a question the other day from reader Andrea about how to keep up with a “homesteader” type lifestyle when you have kids.
I would love to know where you were in this journey when you had babies and how you were able to keep up with it. We currently live a similar life (gardens, chickens, goats) and I am 8 months pregnant with our first child. When people find out about our “hobbies” I am so often told “Oh, just wait til you have kids- you won’t have time for all of that anymore!” It has me really worried, because I don’t want to lose this lifestyle. In fact, one of the main reasons we decided to have a child is because we thought it would be cool for a kid to grow up in this environment.
I know that it’s all about priorities- but we are still only a few years (about 8 now) in to “homesteading” and have so many projects and things we want to add on and do. I know there will be a period of time after having a baby where we won’t be able to pursue new things as aggressively…..how long was it for you and how did you manage to keep up? Thanks!
Here’s one piece of parenting advice I feel very confident sharing: people will tell you all kinds of things about what your life is supposed to look like with children.
This starts the day you begin to show and some lady you’ve never met lays hands on your belly in the supermarket checkout line. It continues when casual acquaintances scream at you, “oh just get the goddamned epidural!” (that really happened to me) and goes right through to fierce debates about the best way to save for college.
You have my permission to just fucking ignore them. I mean, nod politely and all, but then just go what you were going to do anyway. It will save you a lot of angst in the long run. Other people’s advice like that has more to do with the person giving it than it does with you.
When I’m feeling charitable, I see this “helpful parenting advice” as a kind of outgrowth for our need for tribal support and connection. For most of humanity’s history, children were raised mostly in small, tight-knit communities full of chattering aunties and built-in playmate cousins. Children were more “communal property” than they are now, with more stakeholders interested in getting them reared properly. In that setting, advice about child-rearing went hand in hand with actual help and actual community.
Now, for the most part, actual help and actual community is precious rare but people are still more than happy to give their advice, and to tell you how it is, and to lay down their infinite parenting wisdom (the worst offenders of this seem to be new mothers with one child not yet out of diapers, for some reason). There’s probably a lot of bottled up insecurity in unsolicited statements like, “you can’t do that with kids” or “just wait, you’ll be shopping at Walmart soon, too.”
Well, maybe they can’t do that with a kid, and maybe their life revolves around Walmart, but that means absolutely nothing for you and your family.
True story: when my daughter was about five, we were taking a family bike ride one Saturday and stopped off at a restaurant for lunch. My daughter asked for the Mac and Cheese, and the waitress rattled off the kid’s menu sides: “Ok, that comes with fruit, milk, and an Oreo.”
Not missing a beat, my kids says, “What’s an Oreo?”
She just didn’t know. It’s not like she was sheltered or deprived, but I didn’t buy Oreos and we didn’t have TV with ads, so she’d never been exposed to them.
Bottom line: your kid is going to come into this world and your normal will be their normal. They’ve never had a parent before, they don’t know how you are supposed to act. They are brand new to this whole thing, too.
Your life will change with kids. Dramatically, wonderfully, frustratingly, heart-breakingly, soul-touchingly, it will. You really have no idea how profound a change, but no one does until it happens, so don’t worry about that. But change doesn’t mean “come to an end.”
Does an apple tree’s life end when its leaves drift to the ground in fall? Of course not. You are a perennial. There are seasons in your life where what you do is showy and productive and everyone can see it. And there are seasons in your life where you will fall back and grow very quiet and hide underground. During this time, you are not dead and you are not even really resting. You are growing your root system, wider and deeper, and finding better, stronger anchorage in your own life.
All seasons are important.
You asked where I was in my homesteading journey when kids came into the picture. Kids have been here the whole time. Everything we have done, and built and grown, we have done as parents.
We broke ground on building our home 24 hours before I went into labor with my first child. Her earliest months were spent literally at a job site. She slept in uninstalled kitchen drawers. We changed her diapers on a towel thrown down on sub-flooring. That fall, before we’d even moved into the house I harvested plums from the ancient trees that came with the property.
But for that, I wouldn’t say we were homesteaders. We were “busy” back then. We ate a lot of drive thru. I was pretty fat. But I was a professionally trained cook; I knew what good produce tasted like and I knew I wanted to grow some for myself.
When I talked to the guy who helped us with landscaping about putting in a garden, I said, “I want to grow vegetables!” and he said, “You have a small child; lawn is low maintenance.” And so, against my better judgement, most of the yard was hydroseeded. The last ten years have been a progressive effort to undo the mistake of that lawn.
The gardening started the spring after we moved in. We built and filled several 4 x 8 raised beds in the backyard, and I just fumbled my way through planting them. Some stuff died but most grew. I planted more. More stuff grew, and I planted more. I just never really stopped.
My toddler daughter was charmingly helpful, but also thwarted me by “sowing” seeds by upending an entire seed packet in one spot. She was always so proud of finding and picking strawberries or tomatoes – always green – and bringing them to me. At the time, I remember being frustrated. Looking back on it, I wish someone had told me to just relax because growing a kid is more important than growing tomatoes.
By the time my son, kiddo #2, came along, six-and-a-half-years after his sister, I was full-on garden obsessed. I didn’t slow down much after my son was born, but in retrospect I probably should have. I started this blog a few months after he was born, and the livestock side of things has really only ramped up over these past four years.
Four years sounds like a lot when I write it, but it really wasn’t. It’s gone by like that. I have a lot of photos of my kids helping in the garden, playing in the chicken coop, harvesting fruit. This is the normal background against which they live their lives.
So can you do this with kids? Of course you can. There’s a reason farm families tend to be big – more hands really do make lighter work. Get ‘em started young and teach them patiently. The world will be better for it.
Practical Tips For New Homesteady-Type Moms
Now, that said, let’s talk practical.
Since you have goats, I’d say you have a pretty accurate picture of what toddlers are like already, so you might be ahead of the game.
Get yourself a good baby carrier. I love the Ergo. I used my first Ergo with my daughter until she was about 4, then passed it on to a friend who used it through her first two babies, then she passed it back to me for my son. If I hadn’t lost that carrier at the Mother Earth News Fair several years ago, I’d still be using it. As it is, I lasted about a week without a carrier before I ran right out and bought a new Ergo. Truly, with both my children, it was the only way I got anything done. Try to find a local store where you can try a bunch of different baby carriers on because they all fit a bit differently. Go for one that allows both infant front carry and, when your child is bigger, a back carry. Get your kid on your back as soon as you can. It makes a world of difference.
Cloth diapers are hip, cute and money-saving. Go homestead-style for your child’s tush! (Writing this out, I have to say I really miss cloth diapering.) There are a bunch of options. I preferred snap-closures to velcro and mostly used SmartiPants with my son. I picked them because they didn’t leak, were simple to stuff, were made in the U.S. and weren’t too expensive. (I bought the 24 pack for less than $300 and that was plenty for the entire time my son was in diapers.) The waterproofing broke down for me after about two years, but that’s because I was the worst about adding bleach to the wash. Don’t do what I did with your cloth dipes – follow the wash instructions!
If the people around you aren’t total douchebags you’ll get offers to help. Do not be a type-A control freak and say, “oh, no, we’re fine.” Let people help you. Before the baby is born, think of things that will need to stay maintained around the homestead (I’m thinking cooking, animal care, etc.) and stand ready with a list of practical, real things your friends and family can help with. Let people bring you dinner. Ignore the fact that it’s made with ingredients you’d never buy. That is not important right now.
Advice from my mother to me after I had my son: “Put off driving as long as you can. As soon as they see you drive they assume everything’s back to normal and they start asking you for things.” Truer words were never spoken. Thanks mom.
Advice from me: For your own sanity, get your child to say please and thank you as a habit. Once it’s age appropriate, if they don’t ask politely, go temporarily deaf. Children need many, many things, and the difference between the whiney, entitled demand of a mini-tyrant and the polite request of a respectful child is huge when you deal with it 200 times a day.
During the first few months, and possibly the first few years, with your new child, I encourage you to embrace the stillness as much as you can. Very practical things like sleep, drinking water, and sleep (did I mention sleep?) can and probably should be the extent of your productive world for a while. Nothing bad will happen if you slow down for awhile.
Be willing to compromise a bit on your long-term values in the name of maintaining your short-term sanity. If the garden doesn’t get planted this spring, that’s totally ok. In fact, maybe go out and sprinkle a cover crop blend over your beds and think of this spring as a soil building time for the garden. That way, you’re not being “unproductive” you’re just investing in your long-term soil quality.
Four-year-olds are God’s apology for three-year-olds. Just hold that in the back of your mind for a few years down the road. At the moment you think you’re going to lose your ever-lovin’ mind, your kid will pass into some new phase where they become the most funny, charming, adorable little person you’ve ever met.
Congratulations, Andrea. Enjoy the most important little bean you’ll ever grow.
P.S. – It’s hard to set aside the drive to “do” sometimes when you really love a productive lifestyle. When I need to remind myself that it’s ok to slow down, I go back and re-read this letter I wrote, mostly to myself, when I was recovering from eye surgery and really feared I’d never be able to see again.5
I was so engrossed I nearly burned water for this morning’s oats. I’m so glad you’re back! …and as far as the advice yesyesyes!
I don’t want to be like a vegetarian commenting on a butchery post (heh) but as a non-parent I wanted to add an affirmative. I get a lot of snarkier comments about how I only have time to do the things I do–big garden, have chickens, preserve food– because I don’t have kids. (Or I hear the reverse “oh, I would love to do all of this stuff if I didn’t have kids”) But life is about choices, you make time for what you love, and I see plenty of people who combine the two lifestyles in a spectacular manner. People who homestead with and without kids make sacrifices and learn to manage time in the same way.
That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with cutting back on your garden the year you’re 7 months pregnant in July, or that you should try and do everything little thing perfect at the expense of your sanity–having it all is about choosing wisely, not about cramming it all in.
Robin at OurOwnFlavor says
Yes, yes, and yes. We are not amazing homesteaders like Erica, but we have a garden and chickens and numerous house projects and I started a safety net medical clinic while on maternity leave with my daughter. What you do when you have children is what *you* do. They do hamper progress but not completely and it’s so worth it for them to grow up surrounded by your family’s values. I will always remember the first time we had store bought eggs in my son’s memory. He was about three and a half and I opened the carton in front of him on the counter. He just stared, open-mouthed. “Mama!” he finally asked, “what’s wrong with them? They’re white!”
I love your take on the advice Erica. I think if it came with actual help it would be more pertinent and less obnoxious. As it is, I’m often shocked by it. Or by the personal questions. From now on I’ll just think, “This is just vestigial community, no longer useful but still hanging on.”
I started reading at the very beginning of NW Edibles and I had a tot and was sleep deprived and stressed out and I so appreciated that you were too (not that I wanted you to suffer, but misery loves company, right?) And we’ve both survived! I now have two kids who (mostly) sleep through the night. Thanks for being an inspiration through this!
Barb Stork says
Best advice ever! My first came 3.5 weeks early, so he and I lived like nomads between my parents’ and a hotel for almost two weeks….we were in the middle of having our hardwood floors installed (which had to be redone twice) and painting the interior of our home. Everyone survived it just fine!
I just want to add a couple things. First, everybody responds to birth and life with a newborn differently. Some are like that old Monty Python bit in Meaning of Life where the working class mother is scrubbing dishes and giving birth at the same time. She stops just long enough to say to her eldest, “would you get that, Dierdre?” as the baby drops on the floor, before going back to the dishes. Others, and I include myself in this, find themselves completely obliterated by the whole process. Every time I had a baby, it was like a nuclear bomb went off in my life. All three times. Both scenarios are normal, but I think upheaval is more common and possibly a good thing as it forces you to strip your life down to the essentials so you can care for the baby and then rebuild from there. Second, birth and new babies are loaded with surprises. You may have an unplanned c-section, or an emergency situation, or a colicky baby, or one with reflux issues or whatever. You may find yourself with a case of PPD, like I did after one child but not with the other two. You may find yourself suddenly obsessed with certain things; I was obsessively worried about kidnapping after my first was born and it totally messed with my ability to sleep because I felt like I had to be at Defcon 5 all the time just in case. You also can’t predict how your child will sleep. My first never slept for more than 45 minutes during the day until she was almost a year old and was waking to eat multiple times at night until she was 7 months, so my sleep dep was tipping me into mild psychosis. My other two slept for 22 out of 24 hours a day from the get-go. You may not actually like having the baby in a carrier; for some people they are claustrophobic. I had all my kids in the summer and the warmth of the baby coupled with the heat from milk-producing breasts was more than I could take. If that happens, make your husband wear the baby in a carrier. It’ll be good for him. Or, there’s nothing wrong with the car seat carrier. Two of mine slept like rock stars in that thing and I just moved them around to wherever I was working. Third, There can be a lot of guilt with this parenting gig. Give yourself permission to slack off, relax your standards, not do stuff. You will not be able to be perfect all the time, so decide where you want to devote your energies. Erica’s point about growing kids being more important than growing tomatoes is a good one. I chose to pull my focus in to just my immediate family for much longer than some other people felt was “reasonable.” I let go of some volunteer responsibilities for a year after each of my kids was born and got some withering looks from the volunteer coordinator for being such a pansy that I couldn’t give birth and jump right back into activities. But I knew myself, and I knew I would be a better wife and mother if all I was doing was being a wife and mother. Know yourself and plan accordingly. And if you’re not sure, err on the side of cutting more out. You can always add it back.
You will get your life back, it just may take longer than you expect and it will look different than it does now, but it will come back. And it will be so much richer.
Catherine Smith says
What an excellent article. Loved it.
We have 4 kids ages 4 and under. We still do most of what we used to, we just take them along for the ride. It definitely takes some time and patience to teach them how to help with the chickens, the garden, the whatever, but in the end, you’re actually raising your kids and helping them learn skills that may serve them well in the future. And yes, our son in particular still helps by plucking under-ripe produce, but hey, they’re only this age once. I completely agree that teaching them to say please and thank you from an early age is essential. Well mannered kids are welcome just about anywhere 🙂 Congrats! There is nothing cooler than being a parent.
You can do whatever you want. My life and my family don’t resemble most people’s. That’s ok. I started homesteading with a toddler and newborn. It’s completely possible.
This is AMAZING. Absolutely amazing. Thank you for writing this piece! It’s so encouraging to know that there are others who feel exactly the same. Totally made my day!
Hi, great post.
I would add that you have to be flexible to the personality of your child. There are those are great sitters, love to just watch, walk only when they are really stable and listen well when you say not to touch, who stay clear of stairs, climbing on things, are not drawn dangerously to water, who do not shove everything into their mouths in the blink of an eye (my daughter).
Them there are those who are constantly covered in bruises, begin to crawl at 4 months and walk at 8 months, when they are totally unstable and have not developed any judgement, and are constantly bleeding or nursing a dinosaur egg on their foreheads, who climb obessively on *everything*, who lack any fear of drowning, even while they are bobbing up and down in water deeper than they are tall, who are deaf to you telling them how, what or when to do anything or not to touch something, who need to burn themselves, get stuck, fall and do significant damage, before they learn, who put literally anything quick as a flash into their mouths (my son). That raised bed “playpen” in the post – he’d have concussed himself in 2 seconds flat as soon as I turned my back and after I got done nursing the bruise, he’d do it again.
And no, my boy has no developmental issues – other than that he might turn into an extreme sportsman, Navy Seal, firefighter etc. one day.
As your child develops, you’ll need to be flexible to accomodate the child you have. It is easier to homestead with a child like my daughter, but kids who live life to the max at all times like my son are really fun too and you just have to scale back to what you can manage, when you can do it. Maybe you need to get a CSA box for a while worst case scenario, but in just a few years you can be back to where you were pre-children.
I hope you have a great pregnancy and birth. What a wonderful environment to raise your child in. 🙂
Robin at OurOwnFlavor says
I definitely agree it depends on the child. And that you have to take care of yourself! Some women just kill themselves to do everything and that’s not healthy. At the same time, if you enjoy it, being outside working can be the best thing for recovery. But be reasonable. Women are more likely to have bad outcomes after heart surgery than men because they go straight back to the housework too early. There is no comparison between genders for childbirth but I’m assuming there is a similar risk!
My son lived to be held, didn’t sleep (we put it on the calendar the first time he slept two hours straight, when he was two months old, and he didn’t do it again for over a month). He didn’t even like being on my back, it was front carry only and he was still wanting to ride in the mei tai at four. Gardening with him was an incredible core work out.
My daughter on the other hand hated being carried, wanted to get down and do it herself by the time she was six months old and ate EVERYTHING. She was by far harder to garden with. I started my seeds in the house and snuck out while she napped (because she actually did sleep) to plant. But now her propensity for eating things means she is incredibly knowledgeable about what is and is not edible in the garden and last fall she would browse and taste, which is incredibly cute.
This will be our first year back to a “real” garden. Daughter will be three and son six.
Katie and Mark says
This post just brought tears to my eyes. We’re just a year into our first homesteading adventure (just down the road from you in Bellingham) and are planning on starting a family soon. All of Andrea’s concerns are ours too. This post was beautifully written (as they all are) and so encouraging to folks just starting the family journey while continuing to live closer to the land. Thank you for these words of encouragement (because my mother, for one, keeps saying to ‘get it out of our system’ before the kids come!).
– Katie and Mark
An unintended side effect of this post was CRAZY baby fever for me! Lol
I love reading about babies, parenting, and doing that while homesteading etc. This was a triple threat! I don’t have kids yet, but when we do get there you bet they’ll be raised with dirt under their nails and animals all around 🙂
I just loved the positivity of this post. The cute baby pics didn’t hurt either 😉
Great post, such excellent advice. You’re such a good writer, giving good advice, because I was engrossed and nodding despite being 55+ with a son who’s in his 30s. I’m going to keep this post in a back pocket (called Pinterest) so that if I ever need it (if said 30+-year old ever has a wife and kids), I can trot it out for that currently unknown female person. And your photo of son and Homebrew Husband with that big jug of soon-to-be beer made me laugh out loud.
Kat @ Where the Sidewalk Ends says
What a spectacular way to wake up. At 7.75 months pregnant, and the proud owner of a 13-acre “farm” (quotes for now, as all we’re growing is grass and my belly this week) for the whole of two weeks, yesterday I was out walking the land with my husband and feeling wildly overwhelmed by the task of…wait for it…picking a spot to put the compost. Like, nearly in tears. And that’s normal, and beautiful, and perfect for where I am. Cause today, I’m going to go pick a spot and dump my veggie scraps there, and low and behold, we’ll have a compost heap.
One thing this post really brought up for me is that the thinking about doing things is 99% more difficult and terrible than the actual doing of anything. My husband is BRILLIANT at this, while I’m still learning how not to obsess and overanalyze. I am so excited for our little pickle to be born, and the fact that a trip to the supermarket will (hopefully!) be a special occasion, not a common occurance, by the time he or she is old enough to have memories. When I think about how we’ll get from here to there, it seems so far away, but if someone had told me I’d move directly from my 700 square foot basement apartment in Harlem, NYC to a farmstead outside of Portland, I’d have also obsessed about detail instead of creating the actuality. When I think about being a mom, it terrifies and excites me in equal proportions. So, I choose to make an effort to be present for what is, at this moment, a very squiggly fetus in my belly, and enjoying this precious time. When the baby comes, that person will be revealed in spite of any planning or preparation I might do, so the path for today seems to be to enjoy it, go with the flow, spill a pack of seeds, and hope for the best.
Of course she can. Many years ago women did it with 8 or 10 kids and with no washing machine or a dish washer or freezer or even a fridge. The sad truth is most women these days are lazy; their idea of being mums is to provide food to their kid (s) the easy way, i.e, open a can, tear up a package or a plastic container or just call a number for take out! It is disgusting and revolting what they do, feeding their kids chemicals-laden food.
Have you seen photos of those women? Worn down and looking like dirty dishrags? You can’t compare then to now. There are things in our environment now that weren’t back then. And there were a lot of things wrong back then about how women were expected to “deal” with things that we should not expect women to have to just “deal” with now – like postpartum depression. Very, very few women just bounce back. Erica’s point is know yourself, know your child, know your support system and let your homesteading efforts match those resources and then do NOT beat yourself up over not measuring up to someone else’s standards. Some women (I was one) have to put nearly all their homesteading efforts on hold for a period of time. For me it was 3 years. I still baked bread and planted a few tomatoes but that was about it.
If you can keep up the pace without sacrificing your sanity or health – go for it! But don’t feel guilty if you bring everything but taking care of baby to a grinding halt.
There are totally days when motherhood seems overwhelming. It is, but you’ll realize that it isn’t as well, and you will find strength in that. You created and nurtured a whole other human being. How awesome is that? It’s basically a superpower! You will surprise yourself with what you are able to do when you become a parent. Even small things, like carrying the baby and all of the groceries in one trip? Revel in those moments and remind yourself that you are badass.
The most helpful thing for me has been to not focus on what I didn’t get accomplished that I wanted to, but what I did do. I made bread and did the dishes today! Or, I washed the diapers and made the baby smile! You’ll look back on the first year (that’s where I’m at now) and realize that you got a lot done, more than those naysayers told you you could, and it’s a great feeling.
Thanks for the post, Erica. We don’t have much of a homestead right now (renting, impermanent location, etc.) but I have wondered what it would be like when we do get to that point, and what it will be like to add a second kid into that chaos. 🙂
Karen Wright says
Probably like most folks reading here I’m not too “stuff”-oriented, but having the right gear can really help with integrating babies into your outside life. I second Erica’s recommendation of the Ergo. But if a kid doesn’t like being worn or it’s just too hot and it makes you miserable, don’t lose heart. A pop-up tent — we have a SansBug, which is made out of mosquito netting — plopped down in nearby shade was the saving grace for my garden in my first kid’s first summer.
“It comes in pints?!” LOL of the morning. Thanks.
Super article. A reader commented that having her babies was like having bombs go off in her life – same with me, for both kiddos. AND I’m learning how to cook well for my family, homebrew kombucha, make bone broth, begin to learn how to vegetable garden, and am considering raising ducks… Slowly, slowly… Self-forgiveness is key.
Love, love, love, the sentiment here. For years we were told – well you won’t be able to do x,y,z once you have kids. Thankfully, we’re both kind of stubborn, did the smile and nod and ignored all this ‘advice’ assuming we would get to decide what we could and couldn’t do when we got there. And sure enough, now we get – I can’t believe you do all that with your kiddo! Sure, it’s way harder to do some things, and some things we do just *are* different, but we brought a child into the world with the intent of sharing our life, so I can’t really see a different way to do it.
Thanks, I needed this!
Jane Allan says
My children, now in their 20’s, grew up on a property in the tropical north of Australia. Both were feeding the chickens and cattle from an early age. As my husband and I worked full time and had a market garden at home, the children were expected to help. It was their home too, so became part of their responsibility. When I hear them talking to their friend about their childhood, there is only fond memories. It is hard work to have children and an outdoors lifestyle, but it can be done. As so many of those who have commented have said, it is about priorities and about choices. Babies and homesteading/ farm lifestyles go hand in hand.
E K says
This was an incredibly timely post for me, I’m a fairly dedicated urban farmer/homesteader who fairly recently (and unexpectedly) found out we’re having our first kid. I’m incredibly excited, to be able to take care of kids well and give them the best chance of health and happiness possible is a big part of why I do this, but its also really, really scary to think about trying to balance everything. So thank you. You’re an inspiration.
“Does an apple tree’s life end when its leaves drift to the ground in fall? Of course not. You are a perennial. There are seasons in your life where what you do is showy and productive and everyone can see it. And there are seasons in your life where you will fall back and grow very quiet and hide underground. During this time, you are not dead and you are not even really resting. You are growing your root system, wider and deeper, and finding better, stronger anchorage in your own life.
All seasons are important.”
I’m so totally spreading this everywhere, attributed of course.
This sentiment is wonderful for anyone, not just for those with kids. When I read this, I knew I immediately had to send it to a friend who is in the midst of a divorce and is feeling rather crushed by it. Thanks, Erica, for writing so eloquently.
Agree. This quote is so beautiful. I’m copying it down in my journal right now to remember in a few months when I welcome babies 2 & 3 into our home, and survival will be the name of the game.
Erica – beautiful post and what a great insight about the advice divorced from actual help. This makes me feel retroactively SO MUCH BETTER about my past child-reading years.
Amazingly, though, the vast majority of feedback we get from our choice to homeschool and homestead (as best we can for now) is incredibly positive. Some people have asked leading questions to see if we’re kooks of one stripe or another, but I try as much as possible to be a positive advocate for my particular flavor of this life.
Am I the only guy who’s commented here?
The next few years are going to be exciting for us. We’re making a major investment in permaculture on our own property while field testing various annual varieties. Sometime this summer, time allowing, I’ll be expanding to my first leased plot across the street and hope to eventually involve many of the neighbors in a distributed community garden where I’ll either do all the work for a lion’s share, or teach them how to do it for a much smaller share.
It’s going to go off swimmingly or explode in my face – but either way I’ll have fun!
Eventually we hope to go from urban homesteading to full-on rural homesteading, either on 10-30 acres of our own purchasing, or (in casual negotiations right now) to take over the 250 acre farm held in our family but which hasn’t been farmed by one of us since my grandparents generation.
Denise T says
All of the above is very sage advice. follow it! We have two sons 5, and 6, and they are wild and crazy but we still manage to grow our own food and fruit every year. When the oldest was born, we had a large garden and were retrofitting the house to be more energy efficient (think installing geothermal). After he was born, all of that marched on. But yes. You don’t have to stop, you do have to slow down, at least for the first six months until they’re reliably sleeping for more than 2 hours at a time!
We had two and decided to move and start from scratch with a bigger plot of land (they were 2 and 3 then? boy howdy.) and we managed that just fine too. Kids does not equal Walmart shopper. Don’t listen to the naysayers!
Carolyn S says
Aaaahh, excellent post! When I was pregnant with my son (now 2 years old) I lost track of the number of times people (mostly with kids) would smugly tell me that I would have to give up some of my hobbies (canning, gardening, sewing…) after he was born. It was infuriating. And no, I haven’t had to give up anything. Instead, I’m trying to share my interests with my son and encourage him to have a wide variety of interests. How boring would it be if he had a mom who didn’t do anything but hang around and watch him play all day? I think kids need to see you doing different things to learn about the world. Anyway, just my two cents.
Anyone who has grown on a working ranch would laugh at the idea of not growing food / raising animals because of children. The kids are put to work at a young age and learn a work ethic and the importance of animal husbandry. We’ve become inured to this idea that kids are supposed to grow up on super-safe playgrounds with parents hovering overhead. It’s ridiculous.
As a non-mom-but-contemplating-soonish-maybe, I really appreciated this article. Most “mommy” pieces I read online send me into an eye-rolling-perhaps-this-isnt’-for-me spiral, but this one feels inspiring. Also, tree metaphor was f*ing great. Thank you!
Agree about ignoring people. Although I’m sure I would have loved urban homesteading anyway, my children are a constant motivation. What better way to get kids outside and teach them. My boys love our chickens, playing in the garden mud, picking fruit from trees, and cracking open bottled food. Screw the nay Sayers.
You can do whatever you set your mind to and decide is important enough to work through the hairy details! I raised 3 great kids (and eventually great adults). The youngest is now in grad school. We had chickens and at least a rudimentary garden through most of his life, and I managed to sew, knit and spin when they were young too. They all learned that interrupting was rude and made mommy cranky. The 2 younger ones were in 4-H through middle and high school, and had livestock of their own, in addition to what I raised.
Farming & homesteading is a great foundation for kids. The work ethic and skills that they learn are invaluable, even if they decide later on that it isn’t the life for them.
Ien in the Kootenays says
Delightful to see pictures of you and children, and even Nick, when they were small. I remember that cauliflower! Or was that another one? The one I remember was overwintered, anyhow.
All wise advice, and may I turn anyne on to the wonderful blog that may save a parent’s sanity? http://freerangekids.com
Dionne Ramsey says
Due in May and really loving this timely post! I’m going to do my best to keep up with our accidental bird farm, and garden this year…but forgive myself if I can’t do as much as I’d like. I have some goals to grow enough of certain things to preserve this spring/summer, and I’d like to keep our chicken/turkey/duck population under control and healthy. Not really gonna worry about anything else : )
Michale Glennon says
This bit about the apple tree (Does an apple tree’s life end when its leaves drift to the ground in fall? Of course not. You are a perennial. There are seasons in your life where what you do is showy and productive and everyone can see it. And there are seasons in your life where you will fall back and grow very quiet and hide underground. During this time, you are not dead and you are not even really resting. You are growing your root system, wider and deeper, and finding better, stronger anchorage in your own life.
All seasons are important.) is the most lovely piece of writing I have seen in a long time. Thank you.
Loved this… And I agree with all above, it’s definitely doable. We moved from our postage stamp downtown 2-bedroom to a suburban/rural 1.3 acre fixer when my daughter was 9 months old. I water-bath canned for the first time ever when she was 1.5 yrs, but now think nothing of pressure canning chicken stock or beans every couple weeks. She just turned 3–in the last 2 years, we’ve remodeled our staircase and entry, refinished our kitchen cabinets, rehabbed and added to the orchard, planted a huge perennial food forest, added cross fencing, got chickens, added honeybees, and are just about finished sheet mulching my future vegetable garden space. Oh, and DH works full time and I work part time (~1.5 days/wk). Holy cow, I was feeling kind of down because it’s been two years and I’m just now getting to adding a vegetable garden, but re-reading that, I think we’re doing just fine! And I’ve been doing lots of “soil building” (aka weed whacking all weeds and letting them decompose in place, hopefully before they go to seed). Yes, I sometimes miss being able to do things quickly, and no, we haven’t entirely given up takeout. But my child has eaten more foods in her first 3 yrs than I had in my first 25; she’ll happily graze in the yard on everything edible, and asks first for safety (“food for people, food for chickens, just to look at” work well for teaching). She’ll pick out and eat all the kale or seaweed in soups, and ask for more. She also wouldn’t recognize an Oreo, but does adore homemade lemon curd on blueberries. Her biggest challenge was, and still is, sleep. She would only sleep on me. For her first two years, she took every nap, and slept every night, either in my arms (or the Ergo or Moby carriers), or right next to me. Could I have broken her of it earlier, through cry it out or something similar? Probably, but I chose not to–for medical reasons, I’m only having one child, so I’ve been savoring every moment, every snuggle, every milestone. And my choice might not work for others, those babies that sleep better in a car seat carrier or who have problems getting hot when held might need something completely different. Every parent finds their own rhythm, and you will know your child best. But do take time to appreciate the beauty and wonder of it… Even if the laundry is piling up and the “garden” is more weeds than veggies for a bit. This too shall pass, and you’ll figure out the new normal.
I loved this post! The best piece of advice I saw was to relax, growing kids is more important than growing tomatoes. Now that my kids are older I wish I had just relaxed more instead of getting frustrated with them.
A great sharing of ideas, & from an old lady who was raised on a farm with every animal imaginable, a very large vegetable garden that fed us all year because of canning, drying fruits & some vegetables, & “holing (hole) up some vegetables” in a large mound of soil. The cabbage family is great for this as are potatoes, some squash & beets, but “holing up” must have become a forgotten art as I never read or hear any references to it. When our family used this method they used a “small open wire” around the bottom & upon the mound a bit to keep any animals out–worked like a charm.
Even now we have vegetable gardens, although they are raised beds, & we are able to raise cucumbers, beets, Snow Peas, green beans, all the squashes, onions, leks, tomatoes, lettuces, turnips with their greens, & on & on. A friend raises Sweet Corn that we freeze, make Spicy Corn Relish, cut some from the cobs, & flash freeze for easy use in a freezer bag. We love it even though neighbors make fun we don’t care—we so enjoy having our own foods at hand rather than having to constantly go to market.
When I was a child, I climbed trees, learned to play “Skin a Cat” on a sturdy branch, could ride bareback on my favorite horse, learned to milk the Black Angus Cows, gather chicken, goose, & duck eggs, & never did it but watched members of my family kill chickens, ducks, & geese for eating, (I didn’t eat any of the meat raised on our farm & grew up a vegetarian, even though I didn’t know it at the time.) I didn’t like the taste of flesh & still don’t.
The advice to “not drive” anytime soon after having your babies is so true; if you do many of the pre pregnancy/birth chores you did before you will be thrown back into your former so quickly you won’t realize it until “mid-post-partum” & by then you’ve missed the chance to actually share the bond you carried under your heart all those months. Your baby is precious, as are you the mother so PLEASE ENJOY EACH OTHER! You can never get those days back. I so loved to lie down & hold my babies close & talk/softly sing to them. Those are wonderful memories for me & I hope that you will allow them to be for you too.
And when people make comments, smile, hum a song, nod & reward them with a smile as you move along. With my first baby a lady in a market walked up to me, put her hands on my abdomen & told me that her daughter had just been diagnosed with German Measles. My doctor was livid & I was frightened for my first baby–so never stop when the comments/advice is coming. as I said, smile, nod your head, hum, & move along.
I’ve seen a lot in my many years & I adore reading your comments & ideas; you are all precious. You are doing something wondrous for your children & for goodness sakes, CELEBRATE YOUR TALENTS! I love your common sense & that you share with each other is so kind & caring.
Love & my best to all you ladies.
John Q Public says
Thanks for the very insightful and very true post!
I just wanted to add that Erica is totally right about accepting help from people. We are hobby farmers on 6 acres. For the past few summers we have invited friends to join us in a sort of co op situation. They come and weed, prune, etc for a certain amount of time per week or month and in exchange they take home some fresh produce and flowers. We generally grow more than we can eat, so it’s great to share. Friends who live on tiny lots or in apartments are thrilled to garden and reap the bounty. I love seeing the joy on a child’s face when they pull a carrot out of the ground for the first time. We have 2 kids, and they both enjoy the farm, but at different times in our lives different levels of time commitment have been possible. So don’t stress, just enjoy what you can accomplish and know that you are growing a child which is the most important thing you will ever grow.
This is the third or fourth time I’ve read this article. I reread the part about seasons because it is beautiful. I am a perennial and remembering to roll with the seasons. We are expecting our second in June and continue slowly but steadily building our tiny little farm (chicks arrived this weekend!)
Thank you for your writing, it is a huge source of information and encouragement to me.
“Get your kid on your back as soon as you can. It makes a world of difference”
Wiser words have never been written. Thanks for the advice. I put my 7 months old on my back with my emeibaby and I could work in the garden for two hours in a row while he was napping.