People say that children are our greatest resource. Frankly, I find that kind of language disturbing. Children are people. They are not timber or petroleum or cattle or iron ore. They are individual souls acting as they will, molded by environment as we all are, but not extracted or processed or smelted, unless the society being discussed has gone badly, badly wrong.
(The term “human resources” is similarly disquieting, conjuring images of so many batteries plugged into the Matrix. Actually, that’s a pretty accurate metaphor, but I doubt the originators of the term meant to be so richly expressive.)
Weird word choice aside, any clear-thinking person knows that children, like any other people you rub up against, can be helpful or detrimental to any endeavor. Our present endeavor, the dream of many years, is to run a sustainable family farm. We have been greatly blessed by the availability of family land and a timely lay-off package. Still, opportunity is only a beginning. It must be answered if it’s going to do you any good.
It seems a common thing just now for people of around my age to be dissatisfied with life in the cubicle—to wake up from the Matrix, if you will—and desire a different life entirely: a vigorous, outdoor life, away from traffic, mindless consumption, and the inanities of middle management. But most of these people, even if handed a terrific opportunity as we were, would not dare to take the adventure, for fear—fear, I say—of how their kids would react.
Our lifestyle has always been simpler than that of the average middle-class American family, but our children have had to make significant sacrifices to start our farming venture. They have not spoken a word of complaint. They have left friends, a comfortable home, and a fairly affluent standard of living for an out-of-repair, non-air-conditioned, 750-square-foot house and the prospect of lots of hard work. They have responded by making their environment as nice as possible and performing cheerfully any task required of them. They have expressed gratitude for their blessings: a horse and barn cats that don’t even belong to us, proximity to grandparents, the opportunity to work for pay.
Young children are pretty much a product of their environment. You put a certain kind of training into them, intentionally or otherwise, and it comes out, predictably enough to anyone who understands cause and effect, as a certain kind of behavior. As they get older, they become more active agents in their own lives. They think, discern, judge. I have heard my children, with absolute moral certainty, declare opinions that are mine whole cloth, often in my exact words, as their own; but more and more I hear them express quite independent judgments on topics I have never even considered. They are not just students now, but independent scholars; not just subordinates, but fellow laborers. I am proud of the people they are becoming.
When my kids were younger, it often happened that someone would compliment me on their behavior, but then add, a little maliciously, “Just wait until they’re teenagers.” I am of an independent and slightly contrarian mindset, and remarks like this are but fuel to the fire of my ambition. “Just you wait,” I would think. “You’ll see.”
Well, two of my kids are teenagers now, and the third is on the threshold; and they are a delight to their father and me, even more than when they were small: bright, articulate, physically strong, polite, considerate, compassionate, capable. They are better than resources; they are my friends.
We have not been faultless parents by any means, but we have maintained a commitment to raising our family according to Biblical standards; and God, in his extravagant goodness, has rewarded our efforts beyond our deserts.