On A Country Life: An Editorial from a Mother-in-Law

By Denisa Myrick 4/13/09

Mothers-in-law are known to be full of opinion and rarely hesitate to share.  An editorial piece is, by definition, an opinion published in a newspaper or other news publication as opposed to strictly factual information. What an opportunity! I hope I can strike a balance in writing and present an opinion that is based in fact, tempered by well thought out and reasonably arrived at opinion.

What is the difference between children raised in rural areas and children raised in cities?  Why do kids “on the farm” tend to be conservative, solid citizens, while kids raised in more crowded surroundings have difficulty understanding “life”?  This is more than just a political question, but rather a lifestyle choice question and there are a lot of different reasons that come to mind.

Country kids are often influenced more by their families because there are logistical and distance problems with going to town and getting together with friends. As I was growing up, my best friends were my brothers and sisters. Our daily life was family-centered because we were physically separated from our school friends by distance. In raising my own children, our shopping, school and church are a 20 minute drive away and that time in the car is often spent talking with our children, discussing life, politics and swapping stories… opportunities that rarely present in a busy urban household. One of a parent’s important goals is the transfer of values and opinions.  Large quantities of time talking are invaluable and often inescapable in the rural lifestyle.

There is no family activity so bonding and building of a child’s self esteem as family work.  When we were raising our 10 children on our 7 acres, we truly NEEDED our children. We could not mow all the grass, weed all the garden and do all the cooking and child care ourselves.  Our children knew they had a place in the family that had value. They knew that every afternoon and weekend there was a work list and their work contributed to the well-being of the family. I made it a point to have my children do a job, if at all possible, rather than hire it done by a professional.  I hired a professional one time to do a needed construction job, but made it a requirement that he use my two oldest boys as “helpers” and that he teach them as they worked.  They learned a lot and became more capable workers because of the experience.

Closely related to family work are projects. Our children have the opportunity to do REAL projects, not simply spend their hours with  “filler”.  Jonathan (age 15) recently observed that all the kids in his group at school “did something” and they were all “good kids”. The examples he gave were playing a musical instrument, scout projects, 4H and etc. He commented that most kids at school who live in Elk Grove spend their days playing video games and shopping. He concluded that those kids were “weird”. While his observations are generalities, they have some merit.  Our home setting provides our children opportunities to build, to be creative and to do real-life projects. Our children build fences and sheds, raise and train animals, do home maintenance projects, sew clothing and cook food. They build dirt bike tracks with jumps and dig holes to see how deep they can go. Their projects are very hands-on and have real-life applications.  The projects require planning and problem solving and contribute to a child’s self esteem and sense of family contribution as opposed to the urban problem of how to keep kids occupied after school. Its the difference between giving your child a plastic tool set as opposed to  giving them a real set of tools and showing them how to do something useful.  Its the difference between giving your little girl a play oven set with plastic pans… OR showing her how to use the real oven and helping her make real food.  Real life is an adventure and children generally welcome the chance to jump in and learn how to actually contribute in a real way to benefit their family.

Another benefit of living in the country is seeing and learning from cause and effect.  Children raised in subdivisions often do not have the benefit of seeing life first hand and learning natural lessons.  If you don’t feed your rabbit, it dies.  If you don’t water the garden, you get no food.  If you don’t latch the gate, the goat gets out and you have to stop what you are doing and go out and chase it.  The idea that actions have consequences is a lesson that children must learn and the more natural the consequences, the better the lesson learned.

Children who participate in the family project of a garden or chickens or meat animals know where their food comes from.  Its another cause and effect benefit.  Many people think their food just appears on the shelves at Winco each night. They give no thought or respect to the farmers, ranchers and animals that contributed to their food supply.  In my political world I hear people from cities complain about farmers taking the water, how unfair it is to kill coyotes, how we should make regulations about animals smelling bad and to keep insensitive farmers from locking up animals, etc…  There is a basic disconnect in logical thought about the realities of food production and food supply.  I’ve never heard such nonsense opinions from country kids.

Are all kids raised in the city doomed to eternal, unavoidable disconnect? Is there no hope for families that live by choice or necessity in a subdivision? I don’t think so. All these opportunities for raising grounded children that come naturally in the country, can be found (or created) in a subdivision or urban setting. On the other hand, is living in the country an automatic pass on the problems and challenges of raising children?  No, to that one also.  All parents need to be diligent and creative in seeking out work opportunities and in teaching children about life’s cause and effect.  All parents need to plan for the volume of family time needed to ensure the transfer of knowledge and values that is essential if the next generation is to carry on family and societal traditions.   Living in the country is a lot of physical work, but I am glad we made the “country” choice for our family.

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