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.3