It was a long and tough winter on the Prairies. Once the sun shone, tractors were serviced, calves were born, cattle sorted, chickens hatched, seeds sown — I delighted in watching the many posts and videos that families shared during this time of rebirth on the farm.
And then it hit me. Most included a young child in a tractor seat, wearing overalls in a pen of cattle, or sitting in the laneway as trucks rolled in and out.
As a young mother and farmer, my children often accompanied me. If they were bored, they of course found some sort of trouble. They spent many hours on a blanket by an auger, sitting on a fence as I sorted cattle, and rumbling along on my knee in a tractor. It was just a normal way of doing things on the farm.
And I regret every moment of it.
In reflection, I know that a child should always be in the boundaries of safety and away from the elements. They put up with a lot that adults offer, including long hours in remote areas as the farming gets done. Bone tired, they are often cranky when we get home and so they should be. The soft bed they napped in was replaced by a field seat and the familiar is absent.
This isn’t a guilt trip.
Rural parents need more support for their children and universal daycare in Canada is an absolute must so parents of all walks of life can go and do the work they need to do.
- More with Brenda Schoepp: Is it true Daddy? The sad truth about gender equality
Community halls and churches are critical for gathering places for play groups. Training and certification of young men and women on caring for a child is needed so there are more options for parents. Bringing the art of agriculture into schools and technical colleges might help alleviate some of the labour shortages, and support services (such as Family and Community Support Services) could participate in helping rural families find solutions if they were funded to do so. Even community action, such as meal preparation goes a long way in helping young farm families.
I know what it is like to hear the first tractor amble down the highway to hit the dirt. It is a thrill. I know the joy of watching baby calves and the pain bulls can be to sort. I know how important it is to keep chicks warm and how exciting it is to get them growing.
But in our passion for farming, let us not forget the reason we are there — for an amazing life with our children.
The feeling of absolute fear never left me after the day my daughter disappeared into a pen of 500 head of fed cattle.
I cannot describe in words the beating of my heart, the shortness of my breath, or my anguish — for I was paralyzed. Tiny and in her little blue coat she left the secure area by the squeeze and came to help. Small enough to fit under those grand beasts she somehow weaved through and I caught her in my arms with absolute gratitude. Thank you Lord!
That day burns in my heart. I cry easily when I think of what could have been and have often stopped breathing from the stress, from the guilt, and from the gratitude.
Yes, it was a busy spring day. Yes, there was a truck due in an hour to take the cattle out, a field to work, records to fill in, supper to make, and a pile of laundry to do. But none of this is of any significance when it comes to the life of our children.
And so this little column is to encourage you to continue to share the joy of farming with your family — but to reconsider where those children are on those busy days.
If I could live my life again, I would have never exposed them to the things I did: the long hours, the extreme conditions, the unsafe places, or the imbalance in their routine.
At the time I felt rushed and that I ‘had to,’ but after visiting with hundreds of farm families across Canada and the world, I find it fascinating that the family that takes their time, has childcare, separates the child from the equipment and animals, stops and has proper meals, takes Sunday off, or even plays a game of ball at lunch still gets their work done in the same amount of time.
All farmers could use a helping hand during the crunch, but women farmers need family and community support to care for their children so they can do their job.
As a rural community, the challenge is to find solutions that benefit young families, keep kids safe, and provide a positive environment so our little farmers grow up to be healthy, happy big farmers.