By Abby Stout – I kept wondering, where are all the articles for us moms who are trying to create a homestead or who want to learn how to start living off the grid while raising children? How do they budget their time? How do you watch over curious kids in the country where there are real dangers such as rattlesnakes, bear and mountain lions? Well, I guess those moms are as busy as I am, so finding time to write takes a low priority.
We have been living on our ranch full time for 3-1/2 years now. Once we learned how to start living off the grid, we started raising Angora rabbits, tending a large garden and gave up electricity. Backyard chickens are coming soon. We sold our house in the city (at a loss) and make ends meet by my husband working in the city while I do all the things I can to save and make us as independent as possible. We are living the best we can right now, but it’s not how we’d like it to be. My husband works so hard and so far away that he’s often too tired to do any ranch projects. I get weary caring for two children and the ranch without and help. Slowly, we are making changes that will allow him to be here more, and I’m learning to be a P.E.G. mom.
What’s a P.E.G. mom? That’s a mom who is a Pioneer Energized by Growth. Being a pioneer is hard work, often lonely and demanding of your whole mind and heart. Yet we are energized and encouraged by the progressive growth we see in our family and homestead.
It can be easy for moms to get overwhelmed in general. Add homesteading today to that along with an intentional peasant lifestyle and you could end up being a Prozac candidate if you don’t have some guidelines to keep your head straight.
The first thing to do is prioritize. What is most important for today? This month? This year? Last year the only thing I grew was an 8-1/2 pound baby boy. That was my #1 priority and learning how to start living off the grid came second. It was tough to let things go! But I did, and now my wonderful daughter has a beautiful baby brother. Now my goals are reorganized again.
The pages of Countryside and Small Stock Journal are filled with advice on self-sustaining living, and they will help you learn how to homestead successfully, but these stories are often not addressed to women with children. I think the biggest help I’ve had when trying new things is that we always keep things off the ground. You cannot work with kids in an area that can’t be inspected for safety first. When it comes to learning how to start living off the grid, safety FIRST. There is no way to check an area with trash, boards, rocks and debris all over the place. Yes, you want to tackle that project, but your main priority is to keep those babies safe! In the areas we use, we have literally removed all unnecessary stuff and raked the area clean. All tools must be in a shed or hanging up. Kids watch cartoons where the character steps on a rake and the handle comes up and smashes their face—but it won’t be too funny when it happens to them. You won’t be working on anything while driving an hour (or more) to the hospital. Nobody will care that your garden is half planted if your toddler runs into a rattler and gets bitten. Take every precaution to get your working areas clean, clean, clean, so you can see where you are putting your children. Always inspect areas before placing the children there to play!
When the kids are outside, I am too — and I have a 357 in my back pocket. We keep a bullet called “snakeshot” or “shotshell” loaded in it. There are not bullets in the chamber nor in the next round, so if it is dropped it cannot go off. We have killed eight rattlesnakes here. Coyotes are very cunning. We’ve shot at them but never got one. As for the larger animals, use good fencing. Six-foot, no-climb fencing is best—five wire is worthless.
This is a toughie, but I always make my daughter wear shoes outside. She doesn’t want to and complains that the other kids don’t have to, but that’s too bad. We wear shoes. I’ve heard too many stories about disasters with bicycles and bare feet, or the fungus, or even toenails that fall off from being smashed. Nope. I’ve got other stuff to do! So she wears shoes and her brother will too.
Now, if you have safe kids in the areas that you want to work in, how do you actually get anything done? For children under three, I know an easy answer: a side carrier. I kept my daughter in hers until she was about 2-1/2 and too active to happily stay in. These carriers are so wonderful, I even started selling them. All the other carriers I tried either put the child in front so you cannot do chores properly, or put them in back where you can’t see or interact with them. Anyone who has kids knows your hip is where you carry them, so that’s exactly where they should be. You’re happy working and so is baby, right there learning about all you do!
The older kids require more. Yes, they want to help and that is good, but it often takes more time to have them help, so that time is better suited to your teaching times. For children ages two to five, hours of work can get done by using the following schedule: First, everyone eats breakfast and extra coffee is made. Turn on the generator, pray for the sun to recharge your batteries, put in a videotape and while it plays do these next things. Pack a big lunch for everyone plus drinks and snacks. Include fun things to eat with like chopsticks, straws, old fondue sticks (for older kids), ladles, etc. make sure you have (homemade) wipes to clean up with. Bring a box of band aids with antibiotic ointment inside. A first aid kit is very important for your homestead, so make sure familiarize yourself with a first aid kit contents list and their uses. Grab some trucks, baby dolls, cowboys, and sidewalk chalk. Wrap it all up in a big blanket and get it to your workplace while the tape is still on (Yes, you’ll be running!) Now quick, wash up the dishes and sweep the floor so you have a clean house to come home to. This should occupy them until 1:00 or naptime. You can use this schedule up to three times per week without boredom.
One thing I want to tell you about homesteading with young children is that I believe it’s better to try to get your work done in the morning while they want to get out and moving. Evenings seem harder and the kids are difficult to work with. Use afternoons to read, study, play, nap cook and teach/learn. Evenings are for dinner, baths, games and more reading, except that in the afternoons they do the reading and evenings they get to listen.
Mothering is an awesome job. If you get anything done on top of that, it is icing on the cake. Three to four hours of homestead activity is a huge accomplishment! You won’t get full days of work in, so don’t even try. Get done what you can and devote the rest of the day to keeping house, raising the kid and a good dose of prayer. Also, do your work properly the first time—don’t rush things and believe it or not, they will get done. And do reward children for their cooperation. The rewards of this mindset will pay dividends in cultivating the land, developing your mind and raising children into capable, loving, disciplined adults.
I hope this helps you feel confident you can homestead with children and you can do it even with young children!
Originally published in Countryside 2002 and regularly vetted for accuracy.