ask a farmer: balancing motherhood on the farm
How do you balance motherhood and farming?
This topic became a podcast episode featuring some of the mothers below and Shoshanah Inwood.
Angela Marketon Tauer My kids go to daycare. I work part-time on the farm and part-time off so it's a necessity. It's also for safety and everyone's well-being. I love the farm life, I love my kids are growing up on the farm but there's a time and place for them to be involved. Daycare has done so much for their exposure to the world, kindness and compassion and I wouldn't trade it for anything. I was honestly made to feel guilty for the longest time about daycare and the Mommy Wars. I've just decided we as farmers are running professional businesses here and no one else takes their kids to their job so we shouldn't be forced into it either. And also my husband is a true partner. He's with the kids as much as me, takes on a lot of household duties as well. We're a team in all aspects no matter how busy the farm is.
Lydia Gail Kyle I live in a community of ranch wives and mothers, so we take the "village" theory to heart. My infant daughter goes to everywhere with me- from riding in her carseat while we feed cows to hanging out in her stroller while I milk the cow or being packed in a front carry while we herd goats. That said, if we are doing something that requires my full attention or is too dangerous for her to come along she usually goes to a neighbor, cousin, or grandmother. Like I said, we use the "village" model every single day for one another here because our lives are marked by motherhood and agriculture at the same time.
Julia Lemieux My farm kids are 7 and 9 and have been experiencing life in the fields since before they could walk. We home school in the greenhouse in spring. We do deliveries together. They come to the farmers market and sell their own vegetables and flowers that they grow on their own without any help from an adult. They save the money they earn each season. We save lots of book work/storytelling for the winter. I am also very lucky in that we have childcare help from the grandparent generation for those things that you just can’t always bring your kids to.
Vernay Pilar Reber I gritted my teeth and let employees bring kids to work on school holidays. One day a kiddo was bored out of his mind & decided to play gas station attendant. He then proceeded to fill all the Farm vehicles gas tanks with water from a hose. Hilarity ensued.... I still let him come into work with his mom after this fiasco. It’s what we do for other women.
Aubrey Demchak Cassel Our children, 3 and 6, are right with us on the farm. They have been since birth, first stroller, blankets, infant carriers. Now that they are growing they ride with in tractors, help with barn chores, or play in dirt while we complete our chores. It is tough balancing, farming, being a mom, wife and taking care of the household. I say do what works for you and do the best you can. We love being able to raise our children on the farm.
Steph Marie My girls have been in the garden with me since day one if it was in a playpen or their swings and started to help plant when they were 2, my garden is not very big so wasn’t much of a problem
Heather Ann Moore I've lost track of the number of times I've been told how lucky I am to "stay home with the kids." Meanwhile, in the last 3.5 years there have been 11 days that I have not milked cows at least once, usually twice, by myself. Childcare is considered a luxury to a farm woman. I consider myself very lucky to have limited child care to keep my children out of harm's way on the farm and to keep my sanity!
Bettina Beiersdorf I was helping at a friend's farm putting up interior fence post on the 200 acres the first 2 days my 4 year old was at his father's. I was the only fulltime help at the time, but didn't know what to do when I had my son with me. The farmer responded to my concern: "There are 200 acres, he'll find something to do. And he won't wander off into some unknown place.....what do you think farmers do with their kids?"
We brought him along the next few days and he had a blast....watching the HUGE Excavator clear trees, bang in fence post; watching me work with the farmer, riding in the farm truck, on the four wheeler, playing with the spool of wire and then helping mom untangle it over lunchbreak. He was so excited when he was in the farm truck with the farmer as they got stuck in a ditch! Unlike me who was panicking, "You're gonna roll the truck with my kid!" Of course, a farmer knows his own and his vehicle's abilities, I just am a city girl used to flat street surface.
Of course the times spent "pushing up" the hay to the cows in the barn doing morning and evening chores where fun as well. Teaching my son a healthy fear and respect of animals and stewardship of the animals put in our care, was foundational to his farm "internship." He has a better sense of respect for life and duty to care for others for it. The times at the farm are some of my son's most vivid and enjoyable memories. I am grateful for the opportunity he and I had to learn the who, what, when, where, AND how of our beef.
Rosa Maria Chavez-Adams When I was little we either helped Mom or the trusty sheepdog kept us in our area.
Sarah Spradling Dohack-Young My daughters were right on the farm with me. My husband, their father, was a railroad conductor and away from the farm 80% of the time. When my oldest was an infant I propped her into one of those umbrella strollers. Later I put a blanket down at the edge of the field. When I had my second daughter someone gave us a better stroller. That was still the way we did things.
Tracy Polkownikow My husband and I are planning to have children soon. This is my second year market farming. Balancing the needs of the farm and home is not easy. Farm tends to come first in many cases. I’m planning on possibly scaling back once children are in the picture, but involving them in any way I can in the work.
amysfarm I definitely resonated with your pic you posted. I have 5 children and balance farm work with child-raising. I do it just like you posted: baby carrier for one, feed a carrot to another, give farm tasks to the older ones, and let the teenagers start-up their own businesses on the farm
katyykittyykatt During the summer, I love having all the kids and their friends come help in the garden. It so wonderful to see them getting dirty and building things. As for the winter, they spend most of their days at school. They have lots of chores (compost, tending the bird coop, watering house pants) things to keep them involved year round. I am very fortunate to have a community where we can trade kids with neighbors who want to work outside, and kids who are willing to do house chores. I mean, dont get me wrong, sometimes I’ve got a kid who just doesn’t want to. So I try to keep things fun. Like: 30 minutes of digging holes and planting. 30 minutes of sprinkler time. I want to keep them engaged because actually child care is not something I can financially afford.
meadowdale_farm We homeschool for many reasons...but a big one is that transportation to school is a challenge, having school clothes and activities that are impossible on a farm budget, and that we need kiddo help on the farm. None of this makes my job as full-time mom and farmer easier, but it’s an economic reality. I work really hard to make it work. Our modern, first world lifestyle doesn’t always get poverty.
greenbowfarm That's a hard one it changes every year. It was honestly easier when they were babies and toddlers and I wasn't driving them around to school and after school activities. We still haven't figured it out and some of the work we do with Cattle isn't safe with young kids running around, so we wing it every day, month, and year. I am getting a very part time sitter this summer 12 hours a week to help get office work done. We can incorporate the kids into some of the work but at the end of the day kids can't work 12-14 hour days like we can.
reddy_lane_market_garden I've been thinking of having children but running the farm seems to be a big reason why not to. It's just so unstable economically.
sweetgirlfarm As I am starting to work on infrastructure and working on starting up a farm, entertaining a 5 year old who is used to playing Hot Wheels and Lego's with me is hard. The fact that Mama is busy now is a hard transition. We got 2 puppies and chickens. He runs around and plays while I work typically in small bursts. I have barely started my venture and am foreseeing this issue as a huge problem for our family. I worry that the kids will feel left out/ignored. I wish I had a larger community to share this journey with. A tribe of farm women perhaps ;)
jelliclesfarm I don’t have kids but having lived in three continents and in places that are not necessarily uber-wealthy zip codes and with regard to farming, I would suggest that small farmers create co-ops. The only way this lifestyle will be economically viable is if there are co-ops in place. Also look to how the Amish live …
skyislandfarm We have chosen to homeschool our children! We do our best to involve the children in activities outside of the farm, but it's very difficult. I am more in line with the gal from Meadowdale farm! This is definitely a family affair! I believe they are learning skills that most people don't get to learn, I try my best to remind them of what a wonderful life they have even though it can be difficult at times. Ultimately, I think it's important for children to be raised on farms because who is going to take on the job of farming once we go?
fleetsidefarms I live in a semi- rural area that is small so childcare is 45min-1hour drive away, one way & is also not affordable for our budget. It’s myself & my four-year-old, my husband works a city job an hour away. I constantly struggle to keep up with both the farm & personal/family life. I’m constantly busy, juggling 50 projects at once but I absolutely have to make lists & stay organized or it all goes to shit. We’ve thought about homeschooling but my daughter is very outgoing & lacks consistent exposure to other children as it is, but I hope to as she gets older.
farmergala I was hoping you’d do a podcast on this question at some point. I’m a full time employed farmer currently 6months pregnant with my first baby. The farm I work at have been great so far, I’ve already had to change some of my work and I will get some maternity leave but interested to hear how others combine little ones and farming!
marshdalefarmsmegan I went from primarily staying home and having lots of time with us to having less time to play - I learned to entertain myself, and I think that is something you can teach.
theultrafarmer I relied a lot on my parents and in-laws. And also bartering CSA shares for childcare. It's a big family farm so there's flexibility. Now the kids go to school and preschool. You just can't have your kids on the farm if you are running a big production.
mommatreekeeper Honestly it all kind of fell on me. I would babywear but that isn't always safe when you're moving pigs to new fields or castrating. I've done it mostly by myself. And for very little money.
the_bubbas UGH- we just kind of let out an ugly gasp on this topic. Though I'm not sure that it’s really an issue that needs resolution so much as a set of decisions that need good communication and partnership. In our case, my husband is stay on farm dad with our two toddlers and I work the corporate job. I still handle marketing, customer invoicing and billing, anything that needed dedicated computer time or planning- I'm also the herd vet. Bubba manages the day to day farm operation, customer service, herd management, our personal garden and somehow manages to get our kids to and from school and activities, handle any household work and shopping, laundry and meal prep. He's looking forward to our kids getting a little older (currently 3.5 and 5.5) because they self-sustain more and more every year and our oldest is excited for school next year. Each year some things get harder, some get easier. The key for us has been plan ahead, communicate every day about expectations and needs and give grace and space freely. Find a routine that works for you and stick to it. Ours is morning coffee, even if it means I'm late to the office so that we can talk through the day for 5 minutes so we don't miss something later in the day. Team work makes the dream work.
sweetgirlfarm the transition is easier for my 8 y/o. Little dude is hard pressed but he is getting there for sure. Our part of Texas is primarily male farmers, hoping to change that image here as well
kohlrabi_keeney My fiancé plans to work off farm while I raise the kids and maintain the farm. He was homeschooled and is pushing for us to do that with our kids (haven’t had them yet). I’m really extroverted and struggle with being isolated for long periods. I’m not sure how all this is going to work out. But if definitely helps to read all these stories from other farm mamas. Thank you for sharing! I wonder about having kids around equipment too. We haven’t started having kids yet but want to soon.
sarashivers It's a hard balance especially with two little girls 3 and under. My husband has the town job and I ranch with my dad. Luckily my mom is able to watch one of the girls some of the time, but usually one or both of them come along feeding or working cattle (thank God for Ergo baby) Mostly I feel like I'm sacrificing and not doing everything I want to be around the farm. Unfortunately, it's also a driving force in our decision whether to have more kids or not.
fullheartfarm I have 3 little kids that I love dearly and a farm that I love just as much. I am not contented as a stay at home mom OR working full time on the farm (I’ve experimented with both extremes) so juggling farm and family is what brings us all the most joy in this season of our lives. I’m sure there will come a time when that might change, and so then our schedule will as well. I work primarily during the fringe parts of the day when my husband is home, and have (free family) childcare 3 or 4 mornings week. The kids participate on tasks that interest them, otherwise play independently in the area I’m working, on days when something just has to get done. I’ve also stopped raising livestock for market since baby 3 was born because balancing the demanding animal schedules with the kids was too stressful. Our farm has evolved and focused on efficiency since our family has grown.
theultrafarmer we manage 140 acres and have 40 in vegetable production. Highly mechanized and intensive labor management. I brought my first baby out to the field but quickly realized it wasn't going to work and that I was just acting out a mothering fantasy. Integrating kids into farm work might be possible in a smaller operation but I don't have experience with that. I think it goes beyond safety. Farming is my job, I wouldn't bring my kids to a bank or hospital if that was my job. Farming is super complicated and it needs my full attention. As a kid, it's not cool to be dragged around a farm all day either. I think it's an antiquated ideal. If I were homesteading and homeschooling things would be different but for now I treat my work like work.”
whistlingtrainfarm It was easier to hire a nanny than to hire a farm manager. I was still able to nurse my baby during lunch or whatever. It was a little easier while they were in school but it was exhausting and I miss d them in winter. Everything got better when we started homeschooling, and we could have vacation/downtime together. Now they’re teens so I get a lot done in the morning and evening, and we have time together for talking, driving, and hanging out in the afternoons.
therealmaliamo I have a 3-year-old and a 2-month-old... Obviously the baby isn't too helpful but we are a hands-on family... Our 3-year-old is right out there with us, learning and helping and doing. Today, we are picking stones in the garden. Last summer, she was outside (a distance away, of course) while we had to handle a snake eating our eggs. She gets right in, with everything we do
thecorsefarm I have experimented with staying at home or working full time and found that because of my introvert personality I required some combo of both. I have depression and have to manage it very carefully, sometimes before my kids or our farm frankly. My husband doesn’t farm with us either and most days I too feel like I’m not doing enough in either sector! Most of the time it simply doesn’t feel safe to have my kids with me. I spend so much of my time in a tractor that it is impossible when they’re really little to have them with you safely. The juggling is tricky but we have found it is what works best for us. I know I come from a privileged place as a multigenerational farmer. Our farm is profitable and my husband runs his own company so there’s off farm income. I know myself well enough to know I would be a horrendous homeschooler; I don’t have the temperament for it. I’m an introvert, my work is my sanctuary and my sanity. Anytime my kids are with me (cause it is sometimes just unavoidable), I register that I am being neither a good and present mother nor a good and present farmer. But I never know how to talk about that reality because I equally understand that for most women the choices I’ve been able to make simply aren’t an option for them if they want to farm. It’s all so nuanced and complicated!! There is such an important conversation to be had regarding the hidden costs of food production! Also about how much more work it creates for a mama to have the kids with them while attempting to work. The reality is that you simply cannot be efficient and your productivity drops exponentially.
the_nesting_box My 3-year-old packs the eggs after I wash them while the 11-month-old plays or sleeps in a pack-n-play or stroller. They sit outside our hen houses while I gather eggs, in clear sight always. They travel with me in the mornings while I make my deliveries to our restaurant clients. The reason I am a farmer is to be able to be with and raise my kids while also making an income for our home, as my hubs is a fulltime farmer as well.
jeffsorganicproduce I solved this problem and a multitude of other potential problems by not having kids!!!!!
featherheadfarms I love this conversation. Thank you for bringing it up/highlighting it. It’s been such an amazing journey learning to balance motherhood and farming.
daisychainfarm When I had a toddler and a newborn I started selling veg from urban plots. I worked nap time and after bedtime in summer, and tried to work while I watched them play and it sucked. It felt stressful, dangerous, and my parenting unsatisfactory because I was trying to do too much at once but still not getting the sense of accomplishment that comes from enough good work. When we bought the farm, we split the house with my in-laws and an aunt so we could all help with farming, childcare, finances and housework. At 2.5 and 4.5 the kids started school, payed for by husbands off farm job. It’s been awesome ever since. Now I can focus on my kids when they’re home and focus on my farm some 40hrs a week. The kids are still getting the experience of growing up on a farm, but they have great teachers at school plus a sane Mom at home. p.s. we need subsidized quality pre-school everywhere in America. when I look at the programs Sweden has instituted and evaluated, including universal payed Paternity and Maternity leave, I see real results in gender equity-pay for women in the workplace being one. I think such a system creates more revenue from income taxes because women are making more money over their lifetimes-and that reduces taxes in the end.
skylightfarms Without family to lean on and few childcare options, it's really tough. I work less in the field and late at night so I can spend more time with my kids but there's a constant guilt that I'm missing out on the formative years. And the guilt that my farm could be much more profitable and productive if I worked more than 6-8hrs/day in the field. Sure, my little ones hang out at the farm but within reason. But I don't think it's fair to expect them to help or entertain themselves day after day. And frankly, their "help" usually just makes more work for me. When I read these comments from people claiming that farming with little ones is hard but they'd never change a thing, I can't help but roll my eyes. Every year I think about shutting down the farm because I'd rather spend my summers at the park and beach with my kids. Unpaid labor, whether it's family members or interns just masks the true cost of food production, in my opinion.
fleetsidefarms I get solace from knowing others deal with this too. I’m actually the opposite, I’m pretty introverted but being home with a toddler all day feels SO isolating & downright lonely though. I haven’t found a support system in my area either but I struggle to have the time to meet other mommas while running our business & being emotionally drained at the end of the day. I think homeschooling is so wonderful if you can make it happen!
donkerdale I struggle with it having just one baby, albeit a high needs baby. Wanted to be more involved with the family dairy operations, and it is expected by in laws, but it is so hard to stick a crying baby in a stroller for 3 hours for milking...having to break when it gets bad and feeling torn between contributing in a meaningful way on the farm and being an attentive mom. Heart wrenching really. It’s gotten so much better as he settles over the past months, but now he wants to understandably be on the move and there is so much in the environment that is not safe for a little explorer - cattle, manure handling and storage, large equipment. I know many dairy moms do both milkings...or even 3x, but with PPD, one is my limit. We’ve also been building a new barn and retro fitting, so it’s a single parenting lifestyle while supporting farm and partner. I’ve been on mat leave from my off-farm job, but when that runs out and I don’t return, the financials are going to be tricky as I don’t personally have other money coming in. My husband hasn’t taken money out of the farm because we lived off of my day job income.
simplerevolutionfarm We homeschooled till the kids wanted to go to school -- one was in 6th grade the other in 5th. Now the kids are grown and for the most part, gone. We have so much time and are farming more than ever. But still working off-farm jobs as well. Our kids thank us all the time for homeschooling and farming.
simplerevolutionfarm We are older farmers. Our kids are grown. One of us has always worked an off-farm job and the other stayed home till the kids wanted to go to school. Farming then was focused on growing our own food first as a way of saving money and selling what was left over. We have never had any family support. Instead we had lots of work parties and time to time very short-term help, like a month or a day. When the kids went to school it was very hard to farm. So, we had to scale down and I went to school to further my education. To make more money with a second off farm job. We could never farm without an off-farm job and offer the choices for our children and our selves. Our kids took on farm projects during the teenage years. Today we still need them to help out often. We work all the time, we very rarely take Sunday off. Paying people to farm has never paid off nor has unpaid labor. We try not to do this. It’s usually not worth the difficulty managing people. We just go harder ourselves, but we love it and now after 25 years of this work we have finally been able to purchase a larger farm. We hope to scale back the off-farm jobs some day before we are 70 perhaps and farm till we die.
meadowdale_farm I’m not sure I want an institution type experience replacing homecare for young children. I had this kid by choice. I feel responsible for teaching, caring, and loving them. No other tax-payer’s responsibility. When we include government there’s always a cost.
wyfood4thought I take them to work with me. They run amuck.
paradise_valley_produce Thanks for the discussion, still trying to figure this one out myself.
andelinfamilyfarm Our youngest (a daughter) was a toddler when we started farming, and our boys ranged from age 5 up to age 11. Our family farm is truly a family farm because our kids have put in whatever age appropriate help they can do throughout the last 8 years. Their life is different than most of their friends and there’s things they had to give up like playing fall soccer, but they have learned how to work hard and how to work together. I have done a lot with a toddler on my back, but where there’s a will there’s a way! We have seasonal employees now that our business has grown and we have one full time farm hand, but the behind the scenes effort and overtime hours that our kids have contributed to the farm are invaluable.