In agriculture, a lot of what we do is to invest in an uncertain future. This is especially true when you consider the planting season and all the steps we take to maximize the year’s harvest.
We spend our winters checking gear and making sure it’s ready for the season ahead. In the spring, we take soil samples to get accurate measurements of soil fertility, calculate how much NPK to apply to meet crop needs, and stay tuned to weather forecasts to make sure we have the right amount of NPK. good balance of warm, moist, fertile soils to cradle the seeds when planted. We research seed varieties to identify what will work best in the soils we have, and make sure to set our seeder to the ideal planting depth and population rate to give those seeds every chance of growing.
We have no idea when we plant the crop what the season will bring. This could lead to drought conditions or huge floods, extreme heat or cool, wet weather all summer long. There is no clear roadmap. We simply provide the best possible foundation for the seeds we plant to develop strong roots to face whatever the season throws at them.
The same is true when it comes to our children. Last August, when I was feeling bad about a second son leaving for college two states away, I came across this quote: “Raising a child comfortable enough for you quit means you’ve done your job. It’s not up to us to keep them but to learn how to soar on their own.
Very often, in our society, parents want to protect their children from the vagaries of life. Recently, I read an article by a college president who shared some of the ways parents intervene in the lives of their adult children. It was funny to read, although I could relate as a mother to the stories he shared. The truth is that our role as parents is not so much to protect them as to give them strong roots to withstand whatever life throws at them.
So what can we learn from what we do on the farm? Here are some ideas I recently pulled from an article.
1. Start with a good base. We all know how important soil is for crop growth. Rocky, shallow soils will not yield as large a harvest as rich, deep soils. It is the same with our children. The article was about modeling and how children imitate what they see, so think about how you model the values you want to see in your children. Does he see honesty and integrity in your actions? How do you manage conflicts? To what extent do you accept their own uniqueness? A child’s perception of how they see the world really starts with what they see at home.
2. Feed your harvest. Planting seeds in deep, rich soil is not enough to ensure a productive crop. You need to give it the right nutrient formula to give it the nourishment it needs to replenish and grow. In years like this, farmers might consider saving on fertilizer, but it usually ends up hurting them. So think about ways to feed our children. Anyone who’s had three teenagers in their home knows all about feeding them. But food is more than food. It’s about giving them encouragement and showing them that you cherish and care about them. Listening to them, highlighting their strengths and soliciting their ideas are all ways to feed ourselves.
3. Take time. Whether on the farm or in any other sector of our society, time is always short. But could you imagine if you rushed the planting season as quickly as possible without taking the time to do the necessary planning and preparation? So how do you make time for your kids? For me, it’s a challenge because I work full time off the farm and often have day-to-day responsibilities on the farm. I can find myself rushing from one activity to another without even stopping to think about anything other than what comes next. When this happens, your kids may feel like you don’t have time to worry about what’s going on in their lives. Find ways to spend time with them, whether it’s finding a project you can do together or just sitting down and asking what was exciting about their day.
4. Control weeds. Every farmer knows how important it is to protect his crop against weeds and other pests. So what are you doing to protect your children from the “weeds” that can grow and wreak havoc in their lives? These weeds can grow from negative influences on social media, for those online, or even just from friends at school or in the community. Encouraging them to get involved in youth groups at church or on the farm, like 4-H and FFA, can help ensure they have plenty of positive influences to balance this out.
5. Be prepared for the storm. Whenever a hailstorm or torrential winds approach, we would like to have a giant temporary ceiling that we could put up to protect our crops. But the reality is this: you can’t protect your crops from storms. You just have to hope that their roots are deep enough that they bend, don’t break, and straighten out after they finish. We all face storms in our lives, whether they happen because of a bad choice or through no fault of our own. Chances are your kids will face storms you never expected. Our job as parents is not to erect a giant ceiling for them to protect them, but to give them both the roots to bend and the encouragement to rise again. It is in the storms of life that resilience grows.
6. Know when to harvest. Eventually, with each season, you have to decide when it’s time to harvest the crop and let it move on to the next phase of the life cycle. Although you may not be harvesting your children, there comes a time to let go and believe that they are ready to move on to the next season without you constantly being there to intervene. Unfortunately, many of us today can hold out too long. Think about your crops. If you waited too long to harvest corn silage in the fall, what would happen? What if you waited too long to harvest your hay? The longer we wait to let go, the harder it will be for our children to thrive and become productive, capable adults.
Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “Judge each day not by the crop you reap but by the seeds you plant. Parenting, like farming, is a big part of preparing for an uncertain future. It’s not an easy task, and it’s natural to wonder if you’re doing enough to help your kids succeed. Sometimes we just have to have faith and know that all we can do is give them strong roots so that one day they will find the wings to fly.