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Transitioning your children to homesteader (and/or permaculture) lifestyle and values  RSS feed

 
gardener
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Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
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Are you planning to transition your family to a permaculture farm/homestead? Have you already done so? If so, I'm curious what you did, or what you plan to do, to help your kids weather the transition cheerfully. Do you (or did you) have a transition strategy? If so, what is/was it?

To kick things off, let me offer up my own family history (as a bad example not to be emulated). A discussion in another thread about how badly kids can react when you mess with something they value has got me musing tonight about the toxic family dynamics that resulted when my parents took our family "back to the land" in the early 1970s.

If you've ever read John McPhee's "Coming Into the Country" about life along the Yukon River, my family is (literally) in there. John McPhee sat in our cabin, drank my mother's home brew, and taught me a card trick he learned from an inmate in a Federal prison in New York.

We were living a typical 1970s suburban lifestyle before we moved to the Yukon River country. A family of six, we moved from a five-bedroom house with all modern conveniences into a 16x20 log trapping cabin with no plumbing or electricity or phones or media (except for sporadic AM radio). We immediately began heating with wood (so much wood!), raising chickens, organic gardening on permafrost (it can be done!), composting, gathering building materials (logs, poles, moss) for a bigger cabin, hunting, fishing, picking berries, and all of that.

My folks were fed up with the 9-to-5 grind, didn't like living in an Cold War mutual-assured-nuclear-destruction zone, and were worried about my three sisters (all older than me) in a large and somewhat toxic public school system that had a middle-school (!) drugs and delinquency problem. My mother was becoming fearful about processed and chemically-grown foods after reading a lot of Rodale Press and Mother Earth News. They had the best motives, and they imagined that building a homestead in the wilderness while homeschooling their kids would make us closer as a family.

It did not work out like that. To put it bluntly, they did not know their own kids, or perhaps they thought us more malleable than we proved to be.

My eldest sister was an OCD neat freak. The loss of hot running water and clean painted living surfaces was a shock from which she did not recover until (with conspiratorial help from a sympathetic grandmother) she ran away from home (into a safe suburban setting) some years later. Before then, she did her level best (which was pretty damned creatively good) to guarantee that the whole family (and especially her younger siblings) was experiencing levels of misery comparable to her own.

Next eldest sister missed her school friends. She felt hard used at being pulled away from them without ever being consulted. It made her angry. So angry. Guess who was littlest and safest to lash out at?

We two youngest adjusted better. But we were all, by personality and inclination, bookish kids. We wanted to read, to study, to talk, to hang out. My older sisters, who knew about such things, missed television and movies and shopping and babysitting and sleepovers and school and having friends their own age. We none of us ever took to the isolation or to outdoor sports and activities or to the mind-numbing volume of work. The constant chore/labor grind of homesteading life was experienced by all the kids as a horrible stupid pointless imposition. The day-to-day personal filth of life without plumbing or privacy was just the smelly cherry on top.

One of my sisters likes to say that I was eleven years old before I learned that my name wasn't "Get wood." She's not far wrong. Of course her name is "Go get another bucket of water!" And we have another sister named "Close the damned door, the cold is getting in!"

Entering late middle age, I have a lot of sympathy for what my parents were hoping to accomplish. Before I was 25? Nah. And, as the youngest and most adaptable, I had been the happiest kid (not saying a lot). For my sisters, there were a lot of episodes of outright rebellion, and more trips to the woodshed than would have been gotten away with (even back then) if the nearest child welfare office had been closer than 200 miles away.

My folks would, in later life, freely admit they flubbed the transition. They apparently never regretted the change in lifestyle. But they did eventually become apologetic about failing to foresee how miserable their back-to-the-land impulse would make their kids. And to the end of their days they were honestly baffled about why none of us ever adjusted to the large amounts of physical labor that the lifestyle demanded. They worked damned hard, they expected their kids to work just as hard, and they just sort of figured we'd eventually step up and do it without complaining. That did not happen. That happy day never came. Different kids, different personalities, different ages, it all might have worked. With us it didn't. Maybe it was hopeless, or maybe it just needed to be planned better than it was. But whichever, it didn't work.

There are a lot of people here on Permies.com who want to transition their families from urban or suburban living to a farm or homestead setting. My question is: How thoroughly have you explored how your kids feel about it? What sorts of things are you doing with them (or talking to them about) to prepare them? Most of you won't be doing anything quite so dramatic as moving to a cabin on the Yukon River, but if your plans include the words "yurt" or "tipi" or "travel trailer" or "tiny house" or "outhouse" or "composting toilet" or "home schooling" you may not be missing it by much. In which case, you may have considered your strategy for making sure your family survives the transition without undue disgruntlement. Home schooling is actually easy to sell to older kids (it gives them a lot more freedom) but moving a long way away from all their friends is a hard pill to swallow. (Depending on your kids, farm/homestead life may or may not be a draw.) It's all very age dependent, the selling points as much as the parts they're not going to like. And, ultimately in most families, it's not their call. You're the parents, you get to decide. But there may be value in advance planning, prep work, negotiation, and various accommodations to make sure each of your kids winds up feeling like they gained something from the transition rather than just losing a lifestyle they were comfortable in.

Share your experiences! Have you already done it? Was it a problem? Are you still planning the transition? What do you think?
 
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Location: North East Scotland
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I read your post with great interest as it isn't a topic I have given much thought to. My kids are homeschooled and we have a smallholding BUT we moved here when my eldest was a year old and we have all mod cons so there haven't been issues of transition like you experienced. I would say it has been more of an issue for my husband to get used to it than my kids. I'd be very interested to see other replies to this topic.
 
Posts: 3366
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Our homestead is fairly modern, no TV but not an off grid cabin in the woods.

We have had dozens of foster kids come through. Some loved it immediately, some never transitioned.
 
gardener
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Great topic, Dan.

My kids were adopted at age 4/5 and moved in with us. We live in the suburbs, with weirdest looking yard in the neighborhood. It's a permaculture food forest. We live in a pretty liberal/environmental part of the US, and they attend an environmental middle school. Most of their friends/teachers/neighbors think what we have is cool. My kids are unimpressed. They used to go canoeing, sailing, rafting, tandem paragliding with us. Now they will only go hiking. They will eat some of the fruit, but that's about it. They will help find mushrooms but not eat them. They used to come to our neighborhood garden market trading group and sell muffins, but they don't come any more. They're 12 and 13. I don't know how much of it they are buying into. Not much is my guess.
John S
PDX OR
 
Posts: 358
Location: Derbyshire, UK
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Really interesting, thank you!

It's not something I've ever considered (don't have kids.. and I'll never own land or be a homesteader), but its certainly an interesting thought!
 
gardener
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Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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My two girls, could watch me work all day. When they were little, there was a very small, token amount of help from them when building their play house, growing their garden, installing their flying fox cable ride... Whenever they were asked for any help that didn't relate directly to their comfort and entertainment, their mother would rescue them, and assign more lady like duties in the house. They've always had every modern convenience.

Both parents must be on the same side, or the kids will gravitate towards whatever is easiest and more fun.

Both kids are hard working now. Both are completely helpless if something happens to a car, the heat or the plumbing. They didn't learn any of that stuff.
 
Posts: 519
Location: Wisconsin
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I was uprooted at 13 from a lake house suburb to a rural 5 acres, a triple move in 9 months as well. It was a really really hard move, I just started making good friends and had to leave them all. It was only 25 miles but it seemed pointless to go visit them since there was no way we were going to keep in contact. I hated my parents for years but now that I am farther away from city suburbs I am glad they did it and understand a lot of the reasons why they did. I have no desire to live any closer to a city than I already am.
 
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