Balancing it all as a farm mom (whatever that means)

When asked if I could write a blog about “balance as a farm Mom,” my first reaction is that sounds like something to mull over while doing sun salutations and a stork pose. But the reality was more like a few “aha” and “maybe?” moments while preparing breakfast for our four children and then feeding calves, goats, one headstrong miniature horse and a boxing rabbit.

That’s a starting point.  Breakfast and the morning wake-up process that includes reminders to make the bed and what day of the week it is and whether there is any special dress or function at school today.  But it is also a reminder we have four children.*

Farm Family

When we had one child, it was like an experiment in 21st century parenting.  Lots of “how to” books, mom support groups, playdates, two-year old gymnastics and t-ball, detailed notes on developmental milestones, pictures every quarter.  Grandma was thrilled.  She applied all her educational background in early childhood, gifted and special needs education with lots of learning activities and at least one day a week with the first born.  The pediatrician was amazed that one of his first words at eight months was tractor, followed closely by GPS and combine.

With the second child, we still had a structured evening bath time with instrumental music and each night I would sign the alphabet and say numbers in Russian and Spanish.  But breastfeeding stopped earlier and this child knew what the television was before he was two.

By the third child, we said, “formula, please,” at the hospital and intentionally ran the vacuum sweeper while he was napping with loud music in the background.

Our fourth knew how to scramble eggs before she was in kindergarten.

And our oldest knew how to make macaroni and cheese, clean the kitchen and do laundry at 9.  Self-reliance is key to allowing them to make decisions and to learn by doing.  It was also a necessity given the inverse relationship between children and child care.  As the number of children increased, the amount of volunteer child care decreased.  A lesson early on was the importance of standard operating procedures in key areas of first aid, dental hygiene and evening bedtime routine.  Knocking out homework as soon as possible after school came later.

The “Busy Game”

At this stage, we find ourselves shuttling between four basketball leagues (5 if you count J.V. and Varisty as separate schedules, and 8th boys, 6th boys, 4th girls) plus 4-H, dance, scholastic bowl, youth group, FFA and family commitments.  Had it not snowed last weekend, we would have had 11 basketball games in 3 days.  I call it our Popcorn Tour.  We are not super jocks,  but we recognize the value in regular exercise and working together as a team to identify and achieve an outcome.  We also know that regular and honest, not hurtful but clear, communication is key between spouses to keep things moving. After all, we are now on zone defense instead of man to man.

I only share the list of children (note, that did not include parents’ items) commitments to illustrate busy and let you know we have some things to ‘balance.’  One of the mom’s of a 4-Her in our club actually said to me, “I bet my one daughter is busier than all four of your children put together.”

How am I supposed to respond to that?

I tried politely and truthfully. “She probably is. I’m just glad she’s able to make it to the 4-H events that she can.”

Knodle Family

Thankfully, I’d decided about three years earlier to stop playing The Busy Game.  So many moms at baseball practice would be comparing their schedules and bemoaning what was next or when they would get chores done, then they would proceed to spend 45 minutes to one and half hours scanning their social media feeds.  We’ve all been there.  I decided what if we used this time for a Bible study? Or to learn a second language? And that’s when it really hit me – what value are we teaching our children by adding one more thing?

It made me circle back to when my husband and I decided we would try to have children.  We began with the end in mind.  Neither one of us had changed a diaper before so there was no romance about cute babies. (Although we really lucked out and had healthy, interesting, inquisitive babies who were independent and ended up being very cute – largely due to personalities.) But we had conversations about whether we might be able to raise children who would end up being engaged citizens who were courteous, maybe even kind and caring, and capable of producing something whether that was foodstuffs like we do or ideas that led to inventions and services that could help the world be even better.

It also made me ask myself a hard question, “Are you doing these things to meet a need for achievement or do you want to have a relationship with your children?” My honest answer is – both.  But I would rather have a really good relationship with each of our children so they feel comfortable in their own skins and are able to pick and choose the areas in which they would like to achieve something.

Learning by Doing

The 4-H motto, “Learning by Doing,” guides a lot of our approach to balance in parenting.  They assist in the kitchen beginning with baking and then moving on to stovetop creations.  Each child cleans a bathroom or another room each week.  They learn how to drive first on zero-turn radius lawnmower and mow the several acres of yard from the time their feet can push the parking brake.  We show them how to drive the utility vehicle to pick up sticks around the yard and place them in one pile.  Then around 9 years old they learn to drive a tractor and pull a wagon behind it.  They each play roles in keeping the farm going.

Miniature horse and goats

One thing they are learning by doing is preparing snacks. We try to keep fresh vegetables and fruits around in addition to the quick bars, meat sticks, and whole grain snacks that are easily portable.  But we continually struggle with meal preparation and healthy food choices when we are on the road so much.  I did a happy dance when I read a headline recently that bacon was actually determined to be good for you.  But quickly reminded myself of the BMV nutrition mantra: Balance. Moderation. Variety. 

Keeping Nutrition as a Priority

A recent conversation with a mom of five revealed how many different sources she was trying to consult to know how to treat her child’s fever and which essential oil should be used at what moment and how much of what type of sugar each child should have at a given time of day.  As she spoke, the image of a pinball machine popped into my mind’s eye.  The ball bounced from person to person, each with different advice and opinion on how to treat the same thing.  Finally the ball drained down to the bottom of the table as she concluded, “At some point, I just have to do the best I can do….and besides, each child is different.”

I nodded sympathetically as I mentally searched for the tiny bottle of peppermint oil that must be somewhere near the cotton swabs…Then shared my own ongoing challenge of regular exercise.  Grappling with such existential questions as, “Does thinking about exercise count as exercise?” or, “If I visualize myself doing a cardio workout with the same get-pumped music in the background, will my physiological signs correspond to a workout?”

Until I’m able to be a test patient in a medical trial, I just need to turn on some music by Matthew West and “Do Something.”  Good luck to you as you do your thing!

Long Story Short

For those parents who are just looking for the summary, this is what I tried to say:

  • Only you can be your child’s parent. Know what YOU value and make choices based on that.
  • Have and appreciate a partner and support.
  • Keep a master calendar.
  • Have standard operating procedures in place.
  • Doublecheck your perspective – ask yourself hard questions about your motivations and engage your children in the day-to-day functions it takes to support family life.
  • Turn off social media and live on YOUR principles. Don’t be pressured or bullied into thinking there’s only one way to do something.

*I refuse to offer advice to anyone who has more children than I do.  The people who do it well and who have civil, capable children who are kind and have common sense are people who should have their own talk shows.

Heather Hampton+Knodle

About Heather

We grow corn, soybeans and wheat and raise a small herd of Black Angus cows as well as goats in Fillmore, Illinois. We have four children who are very active in helping in the field and with livestock.

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