Small Bites: Deciding on Kids’ Roles on the Farm

Authored by Coach Polly Shyka

Small Bites are short, informational articles with practical ideas about stress reduction, improved communication, and farm and family well-being. They are written by coaches from UMaine Extension’s Farm Coaching team. Farm Coaches are available at no cost to work remotely with farmers and farm teams.

Deciding on Kids’ Role(s) on the Farmfarm family walking with goats

As a parent to three children and a co-owner of a farm, a lot of people wonder how much our children are involved in the daily tasks and chores of the farm business. My answer is always, “only as much as they have wanted to.”  But that was our answer. Every farmer-parent has to find their own right path through a demanding business and even more demanding parenting. With that said, here is a bit of what we figured out.

Early on, when the boys were young and in need of naps, fresh diapers, and snacks very frequently, one of us would be “on” with the boys and the other would be “on”  with the crew and farm details. We would often split by the half-day or whole day, especially in summer, when getting the children to cool water seemed the most important task of the day.

As the boys got older and had bikes to ride and frogs to catch, we were both able to work on the farm at the same time. Then prioritizing field trips and off-farm fun became important so that their needs were met and that they didn’t experience their parents working “all the time.”

We have always taken a day off per week for family activities. We have always had our children participate in all household tasks, especially cleaning toilets, showers, vacuuming, dishes, cooking, shoveling snow. We have never paid an allowance as we wanted our children to contribute to the normal upkeep of a community space without any money attached.

When they work on the farm, however, they always get an age-appropriate hourly wage with which they may have half as spending money and half as savings money. So far, our 17-year-old has become a summer farm crew member for the last three years. The younger guys have an open invitation but they are still building stuff and biking and eating snacks in the shade all day, it seems. That is so fine with us. We want them to remember a childhood of fun. They will have their whole lives to work. If one or more of them decides they like farming, great, but we have no expectations that they will take on any of the weight of our jobs and our life choices.

How do you want to incorporate kids on the farm? There is no one right way, and if you’d like to talk about it with others, the farm coaches are available to discuss roles on the farm, incorporating family members, and shared work in general.