I’m not sure how we managed it, but the spacing of our children set us up for Clash of the Titanic Parenting Battles!
In the last fourteen years, we’ve survived: Multiplication Tables v. Diapers, Acne v. Potty Training, and Hormones v. Terrible Twos. Those are just a few! Others have been repressed by Post Traumatic Parenting Stress fugue states! All in all, it was a wild ride when they were young.
Recently, a friend, observing my younger three having a marvelous time asked, “Do they ever argue?” I burst out in a bark of laughter. You know the kind the awkward girl in a movie does in a fancy restaurant? It’s that scene where conversation cuts off, heads turn, glasses jostle, forks drop, and some waiter distracted by the baying hyena trips head-first into the desert cart! My friend didn’t launch head-first into her cake, but she did look at me in wide-eyed surprise.
We’re a close family. However, we’re six (five at home), strong-willed opinionated individuals. We also tend to communicate through rapid-fire sarcasm. (Yes, that’s the polite way to say we’re ‘smart mouthed’.) My kids have a blast together. They have friends, of course, but they really are each other’s best friends. I believe that closeness is what makes them comfortable telling each other exactly what they think.
How about a few examples:
- Grace (10) and Jonah (16) were toe-to-toe about something. I’ve no idea what. I was sleeping, and the battle woke me. I stomped out to threaten grievous bodily harm if I heard one more word. Just as I was bearing down on them like a bleary-eyed Fury (clad in robe and slippers), I heard Jonah say, “I have a theory. I think you do this on purpose, just to annoy me!” My sweet daughter raked her brother from head to toe with an appraising stare. Then in a dry tone said, “I have a theory. I believe people are born normal. Then, when they’re teenagers, they turn into you so their parents don’t miss them when they move out.” Jonah’s face went from furious to flabbergasted to impressed. She’d one-upped him. The argument was over. I tip-toed back to my room hiding a grin and wondering how long she’d been saving that one.
- Seth (9), our oldest, once grabbed Jonah (5) by the ankle. Seth refused to let go until Jonah said, ‘Goodnight’. He’d been pestering Jonah all evening. Jonah, fed up and significantly smaller, took revenge by ignoring his brother at bedtime. Seth had heard, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger”. So, he decided to solve the problem by wrapping his arms around Jonah’s ankle. Both boys were in the hall, Seth clinging to the ankle with both arms, pushing his feet against the door frame, demanding that Jonah say goodnight if he wanted in his room! Jonah was shaking the captive foot for all he was worth. He had both hands on the door frame, and his jaw locked shut.
- Grace (4.5) once went so far as to give Seth (15) girlfriend advice. He had a very nice girlfriend we all liked, but my coworker’s daughter saw him and began flirting outrageously. After the girl left, Grace looked him straight in the eye and said, “She’s not as cute as your girlfriend. She doesn’t dress as cute as your girlfriend. AND…She doesn’t dress like a nice girl!” All I could do was grin and say, “Yep! What she said!”
- Sam, on the other hand, doesn’t go for witty banter when angry. He’s a true redhead. First, his cheeks flush. Then, due to rigorous childhood training, he tries to walk away. Jonah, however, has a habit of ‘beating dead horses’. (Childhood training didn’t help here.) If you try to walk away from a disagreement with him, he’ll follow you saying things like, “If you’d just listen, you’ll see why I’m right”. Eventually, Sam has enough! He simply tucks his head and plows forward like a charging bull! We don’t allow fighting, but Sam isn’t beyond acting like an offensive lineman to push past his brother.
In the two years, we’ve been on our farm, I’ve observed some interesting and positive changes. Would you believe me if I said, arguments ceased and the kids became wellie wearing Stepford Children?
Nope? Me either. We’ve raised our kids to question, to have opinions (In this, we were wildly successful!), to advocate for right, and to stand up for themselves. We also taught that others are equally important and must be treated respectfully.
When we lived in town, the kids had chores. They knew life wouldn’t go smoothly if they didn’t take care of their responsibilities. Trash builds up and stinks if no one takes it to the curb. Mama gets REALLY GRUMPY if the kitchen isn’t clean. If someone doesn’t contribute to doing laundry, there’s a chance they won’t have dress clothes and will be left behind. However, the natural consequences of city chores don’t really compare with those in the country.
Here, if a kid slacks off animals could die. When an animal dies, it isn’t just the horrible loss of life. It’s the loss of time, money, and food we need for our family. The way we live makes life and our place in it seem more real!
The kids see their personal contributions make life thrive, function, or fall apart. They feel valued, not just because they’re our kids and we love them, but because they know they’re capable and important. This experiential sense of self-worth is more precious than any number of ‘attaboys’ or participation trophies. (We dole out attaboys/girls frequently, but meaningfully.)
Minor emergencies are also different on the farm. In town, the kids have dealt with water leaks, stray pit bulls, bullies, and accidentally calling the police department by setting off the alarm. They did great! Shut off the valve, get everyone in a safe place, and phone for backup. Done.
On the farm, we’ve had 2000 lb stray bulls, loose livestock, five-foot long snakes, a neighboring fire, injured horses, broken bones, animal deaths, and complicated births. The kids have lifelines. I mean, they can phone us (work is 1.5 hours away), the vet, the sheriff’s department, or the fire department. However, we live twenty minutes from the nearest of these.
The kids know they’re able to deal efficiently with emergencies, when no immediate backup is available, because, they’ve done it. They’ve become a team. Seeing them handle problems makes me beam with pride! These young adults are my kids, and they’re truly prepared for LIFE!
So how do all these real life, real skills, real connection experiences affect the kids the day to day? Hmmm…
Well, they do argue less. More impressive than the decreased number of spats though, is the change in the quality of their arguments! I know quality sounds like a weird word to describe an argument, but bear with me. Since the move, we rarely see pointless pestering. I know my kids are older, but if you think teenagers don’t occasionally pick an argument because they’re bored, grumpy, hormonal, and need a place to put it, well, you haven’t been around many teenagers!
Since we moved to the country, I’ve noticed that their arguments are (usually) about something! I mean they start with discussions. Most of the time, this resolves the issue. Other times, the ‘discussions’ become heated and boil over into arguments. But, these arguments are about how to do something (responsibility and independence), who left a gate open (safety), or who put plastic in the burning bin (the environment).
I’m glad they try to resolve things through discussion, but I’m thrilled they take themselves, each other, and their beliefs seriously! With
stubborn determined people, sometimes, one has to argue to be heard. My kids will go to the mat for something they’re passionate about! And…despite that passion, they argue respectfully.
I believe a person who knows they contribute feels valued and valuable. I also believe our independent/interdependent ‘farmey’ life helps us realize just how capable we are. I’m glad we found our perfect path. I, also, look forward to seeing the dividends this strength of character, self-reliance, and maturity brings to my kids as they choose their own paths.
…Now, if we can just stop the ‘your feet are in my space’ squabbling on game nights….
Do you think more responsibility helps kids feel valued? Does the way you live affect your kid’s confidence? Leave me a comment, if you have time! The wolfhound tells me I’ve been monologue-ing at her too often. (That usually means I’m desperate for intelligent conversation!) So…please!?! 😉
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