How to Homestead with Kids
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First off, let me preface this by saying that this is not a philosophical article about how to raise children on a homestead or how to teach them to be self-reliant little homesteaders themselves. While these are important topics, I’ve seen them addressed before.
What I haven’t found a ton of information on is how to actually run a successful house and homestead while simultaneously raising and caring for tiny humans and (hopefully) maintain some level of sanity at the same time.
While older children can help out with the daily to-do list and seasonal chores, little ones demand constant attention. Some days you’re lucky to get a shower in or the laundry done, let alone preserve a run of green beans or even cook a homemade meal.
So how does a momma raise her babes, run a household, grow a garden, raise livestock, cook from scratch, preserve food and work a job at the same time? Honestly, I’m still trying to figure that out.
Let me just say right now that I am nooo expert on this. I only have one child under a year old at the moment, I grow a small veggie garden and I have a few house pets. I am nowhere NEAR the level of supermom that some women seem to be, homesteader or not. But I am in the trenches with every other momma out there.
I know first-hand how difficult it can be to feel like a failure at the end of a long, hard day when none of your best laid plans came to fruition. I know what it’s like to wake up with a sunny outlook and a can-do attitude, only to feel defeated by the time bedtime rolls around and last night’s dinner dishes are still on the counter. I also know what it’s like to wake up exhausted and wonder how you will ever accomplish any of your bigger goals when you’re mustering all your energy just to get your kiddos fed and clothed.
I’ve had my share of difficult days, and I have no doubt there will be many more to come. But I know that if I’m going to live this lifestyle that I’m so passionate about, I need to find ways to cope on the bad days and thrive on the good. Luckily I have a few go-to strategies I’ve developed for dealing with the overwhelm.
While I still have mini mental breakdowns more often than I like to admit, these tools have helped me accomplish my goals and see the bigger picture on more than one occasion. Whether you’re a homesteader, a homemaker, a working mom or all of the above, I’m sure you will find at least some of the following useful as well. Of course, if you already have a system that works for you, I highly encourage you to share it with the rest of us in the comments section below! Lord knows we can all use any help we can get;)
1. Remember, your kids are your most important crop
This is the mantra I repeat to myself whenever I’m feeling as if my kid is taking up 100% of my time and everything else around me is crumbling. When the dishes are piled high; When there’s not a clean pair of underwear to be found in the house; When the weeds are out of control and the fruit is rotting off the vine…
I tend to get pretty frazzled and even depressed when I feel like I’m not checking off all the things on my to-do list. I get especially upset if I don’t get around to something that’s time sensitive, like sowing a crop or preserving a portion of the harvest. I have been in tears a couple times, stuck on the couch nursing my baby girl and secretly resenting her a little bit for robbing me of the time and energy I need to do all the other important work that needs to get done. But then I remind myself that she is the main reason I do all of this to begin with.
I want to raise my child (and eventually children), on healthy, organic food grown at home. I want her to know where her food comes from and appreciate the effort that goes into growing, harvesting and preserving it. I want to create a safe, warm and comforting home environment for her. But most of all, I want her to feel loved -always and unconditionally- so that she grows into a well-rounded, confident, self-assured, compassionate human being.
So when all else seems to be falling by the wayside and when I want to break down because the bugs are feasting on the tomatoes that we should be feasting on if only I could make it out to the greenhouse… I remind myself that tomatoes will come again next year. I’ll have a chance to do them right again someday. But I only get one chance with my child. She is always the most important thing I am growing. So even if all of my effort is going into raising her and nothing else, that’s not such a bad thing after all.
2. Learn to prioritize
Prioritizing. It sounds so simple -and it is really- but so many people struggle to “crack the code.” After all, how do you decide what’s most important when everything seems important?
I’ve struggled with prioritization my whole life, but I’m getting better. Like I said, if nothing else gets done and all I do is tend to my child some days, it helps me feel better when I remind myself that she is my biggest priority. Putting her at the very top of my list means that even if nothing else gets done, I sleep more soundly knowing that the most important thing in my life is taken care of.
After my daughter comes all the other important things in my life. My animals rank second because they depend on me, so making sure they are fed and taken care of is a daily priority that needs to be tended to. Then, depending on the day, I may prioritize my work as a teacher, growing my blog, being especially available to support my husband, other family or social commitments, getting housework done, getting seeds planted or canning food that’s in season.
My priorities change depending on the day and the season, and so will yours. The important thing is that you narrow down your list to a manageable and realistic number of “must-do” tasks. Usually I find that 3 to 5 must-do tasks are the most I can schedule for any one day, especially because I’m never quite sure how demanding my role as mother will be on any given day. Once I accomplish my must-do list, anything else I get done is a bonus.
Before I prioritized my to-do list this way, I pretty much always felt like a failure because I would never get through my entire list of 25 things I somehow figured I could get done in the day. But prioritizing has helped me feel like I am actually getting extra things done whenever I get through my must-dos and tackle any of my want-to-dos. And getting extra done is always a confidence boost!
3. Manage your time wisely
Ah, time management: another one of life’s Rubik’s Cubes. It also goes hand-in-hand with prioritization. After all, you can write out a great list with focused priorities, but if you don’t schedule the time to do them, how and when will they get done?
I have read about time-blocking on several occasions, and I actually used this method to manage my daily to-do list well before I ever heard of anyone else using it. It is highly effective if used correctly, and is really straightforward. All you need to do is assign the tasks on your to-do list to particular times of the day. For example, my list might look something like this:
- Spend quality time with Evelyn
- Prepare for art lesson (I’m a teacher)
- Water garden
- Do laundry
- Write article for blog
- Cook dinner
Now this is that same list written out using the time-blocking method:
7:00 – 12:00 p.m.
– Morning routine (water garden, feed animals, feed Evelyn breakfast)
– Spend quality time with Evelyn / Go for a hike / Play outside / etc.
12:00 – 2:30 p.m.
– Nap time
– Write / Work on Blog
2:30 – 5:00 p.m.
– Tidy House
– Dinner Prep
5:00 – 8:00 p.m.
– Ryan home / Daddy-daughter time
– Cook dinner
– Evelyn: dinner and bath (Ryan)
8:00 – 8:30 p.m.
– Bedtime routine (story, nurse, bed)
8:30 – 11:00 p.m.
– Prepare for art lesson
– Do dinner dishes
– Fold laundry
– Write out plan for following day
11:00 – 7:00 a.m.
By blocking out sections of time to accomplish each task, I’m more likely to actually get everything done and less likely to feel guilty about the things I’m not doing when it’s not the time to do them. I also find that I am more specific and really think about each action step I need to take, which helps me know exactly what I need to do.
I have found that having a child means I need to be flexible with this schedule. Sometimes Evelyn is up crying at 4 a.m., which means our day might start much earlier. Sometimes she sleeps in which means I may get a jumpstart on daily tasks. Sometimes nap time just doesn’t happen on schedule (or at all on really bad days). Some days, though, I get an extra hour of nap time!
Because I need to work around my daughter, I now use the time-blocking method to schedule my “ideal day.” If nap time doesn’t happen I do my best to accomplish whatever was on the list for that time slot with Evelyn awake. If it’s just not possible, I decide if I can let it slide until the next day or if I can rearrange the rest of my day to accommodate it.
Parenting is a constant juggling act, and it’s no different when it comes to time-management. But having a plan in place helps save a lot of time that might otherwise be spent on unfocused multi-tasking. It also helps take the guesswork out of trying to decide what to do or how to make the most of a given time slot.
4. Create a routine that works
When I first became a mother, I didn’t really believe in having a set routine. I fed on demand (I’ll feed her when she’s hungry), I never scheduled a nap (I’ll put her down when she’s sleepy), and bedtime was anywhere from about 7:00 to 9:00 depending on how tired she seemed and how our evening was going.
On the contrary, a good friend of mine had a completely different parenting philosophy. She believed in creating strict routines for her child and swore by a book by Tizzie Hall called Save Our Sleep.
She sent me a copy and I read a couple chapters, but I still didn’t believe in it. After all, this friend is very different than I am. She is a career woman who makes management seem like an art form. Not me though. I’m more laid back. I go with the flow. My family is different.
Well, after about 7 months of exhaustion and never being able to plan anything because I couldn’t predict our daily schedule, I decided to adopt a stricter routine. In the book, Hall talks about the magic hour of 7:00 for bedtime.
I had always thought that 7:00 was way too early and that there was no way that Evelyn would sleep until morning if she went to bed that early. But when our friends came for a visit and I saw first-hand how they implemented the 7:00 bedtime routine (and how their daughter slept through the night), I decided to adopt the practice.
Evelyn began sleeping through the night most immediately, and even better, so did we! Now that we’re rolling into summer and the days are getting longer (and staying lighter later), we tend to put her down a little later. While we don’t always get her to bed at the same time, we do follow through with a bedtime routine that is the same every night: mom or dad gets her changed, I read her a story and nurse her and then put her down. Now that she is accustomed to sleeping through the night, this bedtime routine is enough to get her down and ensure a full night’s sleep for everyone.
When it comes to a routine, how strict you are and how you schedule your daily routine will vary depending on what works best for you and your family. But I do highly recommend having some sort of routine in place. Not only is it good for momma, it’s good for baby too as routines make children feel more secure.
You can order a copy of Save Our Sleep here. It might just save your time and your sanity too!
5. Wake up early
Speaking of sleep, while it is important for both mama and the kiddos to get enough sleep and face each day well-rested and ready for anything, I can’t tell you how much more I get done when I get up even an hour before my kid.
I am actually pretty lucky. Right now it’s 7:30 a.m. as I write this and Evelyn is still asleep. She tends to sleep until about 8 or 8:30 most days, so that allows me the opportunity to get up and have some time to myself before life starts revolving around her. I have time to get a jumpstart on the day and start knocking off things on my to-do list at breakneck speed before she stirs. Well, maybe not breakneck speed, but that’s pretty much what it feels like compared to the stop-and-start nature of getting through my list while she’s awake!
Waking up early also means that I have quiet time to focus on tasks that require more of my attention, like working on my blog. And it allows me the chance to get out in the garden without worrying about little hands getting in the way or about keeping one eye on her at all times. I can just focus on the task at hand, and maybe even get to enjoy some of those daily chores.
6. Jump on the baby-wearing bandwagon
If you’re a mom in this day and age, you probably know about the many baby-wearing options available to you and your little bub. There’s the front carrier, back carrier or front, side and back carrier. There are also various styles of wraps and slings that you can bundle your little one in and wear. And of course there are many different brands and price ranges available to everyone.
Personally I use the Ergobaby brand carrier with a front, side and back carry option. I really like the front facing-out option best and so does my little one. It’s good for going on hikes and for simple homestead tasks like collecting eggs or pruning tomatoes. But it’s not great for anything that involves bending or tasks like cooking where little hands can reach out and touch hot or sharp things.
The back carry is much better for things like cooking, gardening and other more involved tasks. The downside is that your baby has to be a certain size to use the back carry option. It can also be a bit fussy to get on, although it gets easier with practice. Last, it does get a bit taxing to do a lot of bending or squatting (think planting and pulling weeds) with a baby on your back. But it’s much easier than doing everything with one hand because the other one is carrying baby!
I know many moms who are die-hard baby wearers and swear by it to get anything done. Personally I prefer not to have the extra weight when doing chores that are already pretty physical, but if need be it is a great option and has freed my hands up more than once. I have tried a few different styles and brands and the Ergobaby is my favourite as I find it the most comfortable and easiest to use. But if you’re not sure I’d recommend popping into a shop and trying a few on first to see what you like best.
7. Get a set of wheels
Baby-wearing is great and all, but it does get hard on you after a while, especially when you’re doing labour-intensive outdoor chores like weeding. We recently got a little red wagon that has been a game-changer in the garden.
Aside from being an easy way to transport your little one(s) without the strain on your back, even my squirrelly baby girl tends to stay put in the wagon with a few toys (or mom’s gardening supplies) instead of getting into mischief.
While I do like to involve her in gardening and other tasks as much as possible, I can only handle little hands ripping plants out of the ground so much before I want to snap. If I put her on a blanket with toys she’s gone in an instant. But there’s something about the wagon that keeps her content. Maybe it’s the sides and the height of it off the ground: she knows she can’t just crawl away. Whatever it is, it’s been working so far. Not to mention it’s a ton of fun for both of us. She absolutely adores when I pull her around in it (especially when I pick up speed!) And I love watching her have fun (and I get a bit of cardio in too:)
We got our wagon from a local artisan market, but you can find similar ones like this on Amazon.
8. Be a prepper in all that you do
When you think of prepping, you might think more of prepping for some major disaster or doomsday scenario. But prepping can be done on a much smaller scale that can benefit us in our daily lives as well. Life is always easier when we’re prepared for what comes our way, whether it be the apocalypse or a fussy baby (which can feel like the apocalypse).
I don’t know about you, but nothing stresses me out more than when I am running late, trying to shove everything I need in the diaper bag and struggling to get out the door. Or when I miss an appointment or forget something important at the store because I couldn’t keep it all straight in my head. Or when it’s almost 7 p.m. and I haven’t eaten since breakfast and still don’t know what to make for dinner. I am much more at ease -and life seems to go more smoothly- when everything I need for the day is ready to go.
Meal prep has been one of the biggest game changers when I have been able to successfully pull it off. I’m learning to cook large enough batches of food that there is enough for dinner, leftovers for lunch the next day and enough leftover to freeze.
Prepping extends beyond the kitchen though. Having things like the diaper bag packed up and ready to go is a real time saver when we’re trying to get out the door. Not to mention, if there is an emergency or a disaster, having the diaper bag packed with everything we need is akin to having a baby bug-out bag ready to go at all times.
Writing things down is also a huge help and can help clear my head when I’m trying to keep track of everything I need to do. Marking all our appointments down on a calendar, as well as important dates for tasks (like when certain seeds need to be sown) helps me make sure I don’t miss anything important.
9. Know it’s okay not to cook from scratch (or at all) some days
One of the pillars of homesteading is cooking from scratch and using healthy, natural ingredients, preferably ones that you grew yourself from seeds that you saved. Ya, well that’s just not reality all the time, especially if you’re a mom.
I have suffered from homesteader/mom guilt more than once when I’ve caved and ordered a pizza because I’m starving and haven’t had a chance to cook. Or even worse, when I’ve driven through McDonald’s because I have a sleeping child while running errands and can’t get out of my car. (It makes me cringe just typing that).
While I try my best to cook from scratch at home most of the time and prep meals ahead of time, some days that’s just not possible. It’s on these days that I truly wonder how the pioneer women did it: 9 kids and no modern conveniences or even freezers to help with meal prepping? The simple life definitely wasn’t so simple back then!
But today we do have these modern conveniences, and even though a huge reason why I am pursuing this lifestyle is to eat healthy, homemade food and stay away from processed fast food, some days it’s just better to eat something than not eat at all.
I’m getting better at accepting that this is just a fact of life right now, and that it doesn’t make me a fraud. I can only do so much in a day, and as much as I try to stay true to the “make it from scratch” and “make do or do without” philosophies inherent with homesteading, I’ve accepted that I’m only human. Not cooking every meal from scratch (or growing all your own food or making all your own home-cleaning products or sewing all your clothes) does not make you any less of a homesteader. It makes you human too, and most likely a very busy mom!
10. Involve your kids as much as possible (even if it takes 10x as long)
So you’re already pressed for time; Maybe you’re trying to get your livestock fed, collect the eggs, weed and water the garden, cook dinner and do a load of laundry all at once. The last thing you might want to deal with is taking the time to involve your little one in each of these chores, right? On the contrary, the more time you take up front to normalize and teach your child how to do all those household chores, the more help you will have down the road.
If your child isn’t old enough to help out (like mine), at least let them be a part of it so they develop an understanding and appreciation for the lifestyle you are living. Let them play in the dirt and take time out to show them the critters in the garden, feed them a fresh strawberry off the vine or let them see your pot of soup bubbling away on the stovetop. Explain to them what you are doing and let them watch, listen, touch, feel and taste as much as possible.
If your children are old enough to help, let them! Although teaching young children to do anything methodical can be a slow and painful process, but it is well worth the time and effort it takes up front. Think of it as an investment in their (and your) future.
The more time you invest involving them in all the daily tasks that need being done and then teaching them how to do them, the more time you will gain in the future as they grow into helpful, capable, contributing members of the family. Not to mention, you are teaching them valuable self-sufficiency skills, instilling a great work ethic and creating all sorts of unique, teachable moments that will benefit them in many ways throughout their lives.
If you can, take the time to involve your child(ren) in your daily tasks right from the start. Although they’re not capable of learning to help when they’re just babies, simply exposing them to the chores that need being done -and the skills needed to do them- lays the foundation for learning later on.
11. Seek out a support system
We have all heard that it takes a village to raise a child, but in today’s world, moms are on their own more often than not. Many women don’t even have family or close friends nearby. And how many people even know their neighbours anymore?
By and large, we have lost the tight-knit sense of community that we used to have when you could borrow a cup of sugar from your neighbour, or when you could rely on family and close friends to help with your kids on a regular basis.
Nowadays it seems that the more we connect online, the less we connect in person. And while having an online community for support is a great idea, it doesn’t compare to having real live support from friends, family, neighbours and others in your community.
Perhaps you’re dealing with a colicky baby or a tantrum-throwing toddler and you need some advice, some time away from the screaming to tackle other tasks, or maybe just a well-deserved break. Having someone close by who you can call on to help out can relieve a lot of the stress and pressure and free up some time that might otherwise be spent wanting to rip your hair out.
Seek out a support system and come up with a list of at least 3 people you can call on if you need them to help out with your little one (or maybe even help with your housework). Of course you should start with your immediate family and close friends, but establishing good relationships with neighbours is another great step toward broadening your support system.
You can also seek out community support as many towns and cities have free resources and support groups for moms. I have met many of my “mom friends” through free public mom and baby groups and I know I can rely on them -and visa versa- if I need a helping hand.
Running a household is a ton of work. There is always cleaning to be done, meals to be made and appointments to attend. Running a homestead easily doubles or triples the work that needs to be done at home.
Depending on the size and scale of your homestead, you may have seeds to sow, plants to grow, soil to amend, weeds to pull, fruit to pick, veggies to harvest, livestock to raise, eggs to collect, animals to butcher, firewood to chop, clothing to sew, food to preserve, bread to bake, cows to milk, cleaning products to make and on and on and on… If you work outside the home too, you may literally not have enough hours in the day to do it all.
If you let it, your to-do list can consume you. But remember that no matter how hard you work, there will always be something more to do.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with everything that needs to get done, but sometimes the best thing to do is to stop and take a deep breath. Take 5 minutes (or more) to just enjoy where you’re at.
Revel in your accomplishments and in this life you are creating for yourself and your family. And take time just to watch your little ones and spend time interacting with them. They won’t stay this age for long, and you won’t be here forever. And you’ll never regret any time you put off work to spend with your family. That is, after all, what makes life worth living.
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