Welcome back for part two of this fascinating insight into the life of a busy Mum raising four children in rural Australia.
How do you think parenting differs between the country and the city?
I think in the country the parenting style is more laid back. Because we live on a farm the children are able to roam free, explore and make up their own games and activities without having to rely on anyone else. I guess farm kids would generally not be as overprotected as they learn to look after themselves and also learn a sense of responsibility early on. I know some of the things I let my children do, such as playing in the freshly used cattleyards all afternoon, my friends in the city would never dream of letting their children do. Dirt is just a way of life.
Our children have the opportunity for after school activities but it does not seem to be as rigid as some families I know. Being in a small town there is less on offer but what is offered is usually well supported.
I am hoping that my children will be less exposed to the material side of growing up for a few years. In small towns it is not so important to have the latest gadgets or the best brands. We still have birthday parties that include Pin the Tail on the Donkey and Pass the Parcel. Families cannot afford or have access to the big business of children’s parties in our town. I see this as a blessing and they are certainly not missing out on anything. My children are experiencing childhood in much the same way as I did only 30 years later and without all its modern issues.
What challenges do parents in the country face?
Health care is probably one of the biggest challenges. My district has a 6 week wait list for our one doctor. Rural maternity wards are closing daily so women have to travel hours and hours to deliver or just visit a doctor. My son has speech issues and I waited two years for someone to diagnose it then had to wait a year to see someone as there was no-one available. I then had to travel many hours and spend a lot of money to get the help I needed, it’s still an ongoing issue.
Mental health is a huge issue and one that I am particularly passionate about. Depression is rife in rural communities and one that is difficult to address as there is still a stigma attached to it. Even for new mothers there is not much help or support available and as I think that every new mother experiences some kind of low at some point there should be masses of services, information and care. For some mothers they travel hours to have their baby and then go home to an empty house, miles from anywhere or anyone, with no family support. Not the healthiest of environments but most just struggle through and we don’t hear about it. Drought brings about many mental health issues such as depression and only those who experience it first hand could possibly understand. If a farm has been in drought for a few years with no income, even once it rains there will be no income for another 12 months. This is a very daunting prospect for a family. Men do not deal with these issues particularly well and suicide is a very real and constant threat in a community that is already experiencing many blows such as falling prices and low demand or animal health issues. Not to mention the outside influences of PETA and other animal rights groups. Most farmers I know love and respect the land and the animals and to have people challenge their way of life can be very distressing.
Isolation is another challenge. I have lived in the city for many years and also on a very remote outback station. Each has its own issues, but I find isolation particularly hard to deal with. Obviously the amount of people around you matters but its also issues such as services and shopping. Many services you have to go out of town for as they are just not available locally. Shopping is an issue as groceries and other products can be found cheaper in larger towns but its then the question of “do we shop locally to support our town or do we save money”.
Education is also a challenge. Sometimes not all subjects are available to study and the style of education can be an issue. School of the Air is available for those in very remote regions. For us, we are lucky to have a choice of two primary schools for our children. The school my children attend is experiencing very low enrolments so we are fighting to keep it open and trying to increase the number of students otherwise we will all have to attend the one school and have no choice as to where they go. Secondary education is also difficult as my town has only one high school. The other options are boarding school which is very expensive or travelling for 2 hours every day to another secondary school to have better choices and opportunities. When kids leave home to study or work they mostly have to head to the cities and then there are issues such as accommodation and loneliness. In one way or another you could say that every country child is an isolated child.
What do you see as the benefits of raising children in the country?
My children are relaxed, adventurous, innocent and free. Growing up on a farm, children learn responsibility early on, they are expected to help out and my children cannot wait to get up and go “working with the boys” in the mornings. Farm kids all learn to drive (including bikes and tractors) at an early age, mostly sitting on dad’s lap in a ute, they can help out in the shearing shed, fix fences, clean troughs, go mustering and many more jobs. My children have their chores that they are expected to do and generally love contributing to the family and farm.
Farm kids also grow up with an understanding about the cycle of life as they experience it every day. From joining bulls and rams, pregnancy testing stock, birth (can be very hands on sometimes and not always a happy outcome), shearing, drenching etc, right through until the stock are sold or the end of an animal’s life. I have spent many cold, rainy nights cradling poddy lambs with sobbing children willing the animals to live. As sad as this sounds the children are able to grasp the idea of life and death in a way city children will probably never get the opportunity to do. From this, children learn a respect for life and the land.
As my children grow older they stay outside longer and sometimes I do not know where they are. This may sound neglectful but I assure you that farm kids learn early on about the dangers of where they live and learn to look out for each other and themselves. Often they can be found tinkering with engines, building fortresses, making bike jumps, riding their horses or lost in their own imaginative play, often pretending to do the jobs that their father does all day.
My children might miss out on the opportunities of playing every sport and attending every event but for now their lives are very content and easy and as they grow older we will address these issues.
What do you believe are the essential ingredients for growing a happy, memorable childhood?
For me the essential ingredients for growing happy, healthy children are love, stability and strong role models. Probably because that is what I grew up with and I had a fantastic childhood and wonderful memories. I don’t think children can ever be loved too much.
Stability and strong role models are important because families are so spread apart these days and I think its really important to for children to know there are people in their lives that they can rely on.
Time to themselves and space are also important ingredients in our life. My children are independent and do not require me to entertain them all day, they are able to find things to do and are happy to do this. My children play sport on the weekend and one afternoon a week, my girls do dance and maybe one or two other activities. Other times we can spend the afternoons at the local pool in summer. Really we do what we feel like and do not feel the need to be busy every day. We love our relaxed, quiet times and sometimes the children really need this time as well.
Thank you so much to Julia for taking the time to share these insights into her life.