The small college I graduated from had a working farm in a beautiful valley with a river flowing through the middle. Students worked on the farm 15-20 hours per week planting corn, fixing tractors, and cleaning out the pig stalls. Our farm had a herd of cows that loved to poop, eat grass, drink from the streams and get into trouble. The college hired a farm manager who decided our primary focus should be keeping the cows out of trouble by fixing existing fences and building new ones with high-tensile wire (electric fencing) with solar chargers.
After months of slow progress, the cows were fenced-in and safe from their naughty excursions. But they continued trying to bust out of the new fancy fences so the farm manager said out next job was to create a ‘salad bar’ in each pasture. We removed massive thistles, dug up weeds, and filled in mysterious holes. We planted clover, fescues and other plants cows love. After a full season of work, the cows no longer tried to bust out.
They had a) strong fences and b) healthy pasture. The perfect combination of keeping cattle happy and in a good spot.
Humans can be like those cows, especially young humans (teens and young adults). If we don’t build boundaries around them, they wonder-off into the world. We don’t want the boundaries too tight or they suffocate and don’t learn how to handle freedom. If the boundaries are inconsistent and full of gaps, they don’t have structure to lean on when the world gets hostile. Boundaries, like fences, require maintenance. Talking about your limits and the consequences if they are unmet is maintenance. Telling your son or daughter you are appreciative they came home by curphew last night is maintenance. Keep the fence maintained and it will be easier than looking for cows at 2:00am (I’ve done that before).
It’s also important to create that healthy pasture for kids. Create positive experiences at home, provide healthy food and love and attention. Give opportunities for engagement, ownership and rebounding from screw-ups. This is the healthy pasture for kids. Pastures also need maintenance. Checking in with kids and revisiting what you are providing as a homebase is essential. What sort of place is your home? Safe and welcoming or something to be avoided? Talk this out, don’t make assumptions.
Healthy fencing plus healthy pasture equals healthy cows. A simple experience I had which holds true today for families I work with.