Bundling up for morning chores with two littles in February is always a commitment. Not only does everyone need to be dressed, but we also then have to add warm bibs, a jacket, a coat, a hat, mittens, and boots. The key to a successful chore time is dressing appropriately so that being outside for an hour is bearable. Nothing guarantees a miserable toddler like cold weather and unpreparedness.
Some mornings this time is peaceful. Mom gently layers everyone up, calmly getting everyone out the door while the big boys get themselves situated. Other mornings it's a bit sharper. Little ones moan and turn into limp noodles, there are lost clothing articles or boots, or a deep confidence going outside will result in immediate death. Mom hustles through the layering process as quickly as possible and herds everyone out the door. I know once our boots hit the outside pavement the whining will subside.
It's easy with the little boys. Mom and Dad are still cooler than Legos or independent time, so things like collecting eggs and Kubota rides cooperatively continue to lure them outside.
The big boys, not so much. After a small power struggle to get them outdoors, there are larger carrots offered to keep them around. Taking out the burn and starting a fire, then throwing different things on and exploring combustibility. Using Dad's tools for a new child led project that only they can mentally picture the blueprints for. Independently "driving" the Kubota is pulled out when it's really needed.
The incentives are offered, and one way or another we get the five or six of us outside. Suddenly the testiness dissipates. The 3+1 year old toddle off to find their own world to immerse themselves in. The 5+7 run away, discussing plans in hushed voices as they head for the creek or climbing tree. I walk to the barn to start weighing feed and distributing hay. About the time I have the hay loaded, the little boys have a sixth sense and arrive to help get the Kubota started to visit each section of the property.
Kubota rides evoke two moods- either all fun and games as the children bounce and squeal "Faster, faster!" or they become serious as the chilly wind whips their round, red cheeks and they focus on the logistics of driving the Kubota. Sam tells me to change gears or set the brake, Lincoln attempts to steer the wheel.
As we make the rounds, the kids are constantly involved in their own ways. They say hi to the chicks and pet those within reach. A handful of grain is collected to feed to goats, sneaking a smattering for themselves along the way. The big boys come and go as their complicated plans become slightly less enticing than togetherness.
If they are interested in whatever chore I'm currently working on, we find ways to include the little hands and hearts desiring to be involved. Small bodies are hoisted into the chicken coop and eggs are adjusted to be within reach of petite arms. The little guys each carry a box or piece of paper to the burn pile and then help create a wind barrier, with either their bodies or materials. Smidgens of hay are pulled out of each flake and thrown "to" the cows, often disbursing in the wind before any animal has a chance at consumption. The big boys have access to tools used with supervision and independence to choose their current venture.
We exist as a family unit while each child has the unique experience to pursue their own desires of the day. Contribution is required. Personal responsibility and tidying after oneself are expected. These are not something we compromise on. But there is choice within it. It looks different every day based on the needs and desires of each individual and of the family.
I recently read a quote, "Children learn to make good choices by making choices." We strive to offer our children the opportunity to make decisions about their day and lives from as young an age as possible. So much of this begins in situations of personal autonomy (getting dressed, eating, selecting activities, etc.) and individual contribution to a larger cause (choosing their desired chore, deciding how we'd like to spend free time, selecting and prioritizing projects, etc.).
It's not always easy to allow time for this process and learning these skills. As I've matured into motherhood, I wholeheartedly enjoy these moments with our kids, teaching them valuable life skills and helping them become autonomous beings. Things like doing chores together, cooking, cleaning, living, these things teach our children the foundational skills of their lives.
As parents, we often think about what we hope our children bring to the world as adults: kindness, leadership, responsibility, ethical behavior, empathy. And it's a whole other challenge to actually instill these things within our children from an early age. But, I've found instilling these family values and considerations from a young age is much simpler and organic in nurturing these traits within our children than waiting until they're "old enough" or "ready".
Where can you give your children more power within their lives?
Where can you give them choice?
How are they contributing to their family?
How are they responsible for themselves?
For us, our lifestyle naturally incorporates many of these into our day to day operations.
Little things like helping the toddler into the hen house, so his tiny hands learn to gently place eggs into the basket are sweet reminders of the opportunities we have as parents. The window in their lives to help our children rise up to community contribution and creating their sense of self is relatively small.
As parents who love them deeply, we must rise to the occasion to help nurture our children so they can continue growing into their most secure selves. I believe this starts with early autonomy and benefaction to their lives.
This creates a challenging journey of self discovery and reflection for us as parents, but is there anything more worthy of struggle in this life than growth for our children?
As we rise, we change the trajectory of generations to come.
What ways are you being called to rise?