It wasn’t a career I was missing, nor was it money, more clothes and jewelry, or a bigger house. As it turns out, a great deal was missing from our family, but we didn’t know it yet. Around this time, I attended a study on John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. It had a profound impact on me, and this study gave me words to put around what was missing from my life. It was relationship.
JPII’s definition of love is willing the good of the other. Rather than hate, the opposite of love is use. I desired absolute, unconditional love and my husband’s heart, but I’d settle for the use of substitutes if I couldn’t get those. I had nearly given up hope that I could, so maybe the best I could shoot for was a nicer house and better vacations. Thank God that ultimately, the thought of steadily upgrading our lifestyle into oblivion drew me into deep despair.
Fortunately, Nick was willing to listen when I told him my fears and desires. We both knew we had to start focusing on our marriage and our family, but we also knew there was no way this could happen while Nick was working at an office 60 hours a week. He had no real connection to our family life at home. So when Nick proposed starting the farm as a career change, I jumped at the opportunity for him to be more involved with us.
We naively thought that changing our external circumstances would correct our internal problems. We believed that if we all worked together at the farm as a family, somehow it would correct the course of our family. And in a way, it did: by shedding light on our weaknesses. We moved into the camper and suddenly, life at the farm was less idyllic. A home became very important to me: the respite it provided, the retreat, the rest. None of that could happen in a camper with no walls, privacy, or even a decent kitchen. We couldn’t entertain or have birthday parties. We could barely get a moment alone.
Also, working full-time was proving to be impossible while homeschooling and trying to take care of the family. Someone had to grocery shop, to cook, do laundry, to teach our children, to nurture them, and provide that place of rest. I couldn’t do that while wearing all the different hats I wore while working at the farm. It became clear that our utopian dream of working as equals wasn’t working at all, because we aren’t the same. Nick is built for labor. He is strong, muscular, and has stamina. I had no interest in milking goats or wrestling them to trim hoofs. I am built for nurturing. I wanted to make a home for our family at the farm, but I didn’t want to be a farm laborer. My heart was in the home. The farm made all of this very clear, very quickly.
Over the course of a year or so, we took many wrong turns and, for the most part, learned from them. It wasn’t until we came to the idea that our family could be better if we accepted our natural gifts and differences that hope started to appear. We began to slowly rebuild our family on this truth.
When we accepted that we needed to change to save our relationship, we knew that the change had to be big. At this point, we had started to make some positive developments on our communication skills, individual hurts, habits, and hang ups, spirituality, and for me, defeating my addition to alcohol helped to unlock the door to my inside. We knew change could be good, but we also knew we needed a deep change.
The path forward we sought was a simpler life, where we could be together more, and be in nature. As we’ve written about, when the goat farm idea hit us in the face, I really thought that if we could as a family raise and milk goats, make cheese, and sell it that our relationship would work itself out. Wow, did I underestimate a lot of things!
The year of construction and building was a deceptive gift. Yes, it was challenging to figure out and coordinate everything, but my schedule was much more flexible, and I was able to be more present with my family. But after the first kidding and starting milking, the schedule flattened us…twice a day, everyday milking, constant time sensitive cheese-making, selling a perishable product fast, and still figuring out equipment, goat health, back office, etc. Also, with the demands of homeschooling and shuttling both kids around from out in the county, it quickly became apparent that Allison couldn’t take part in work as initially planned. Suddenly, my schedule was the opposite of flexible, and I was in an extreme work situation…I was being beat into the corner by even more work demands than I had ever had before. Life conditions unexpectedly became more extreme - the farm was amplifying my weakness more that it was solving problems. It became a sink or swim situation.
But, the farm did provide some positive fruits. We were together as a family a lot more. We did farm chores together, we did home schooling on deliveries, we played family baseball whenever we wanted, we felt pride talking about our cheese at farmers markets, we wondered at new births, we ate lunch together…it was a shared experience and that was good for our relationships. Allison and I continued to share our feelings, the good and bad, and be vulnerable. It got messy sometimes, but it was real and better. Also, I found that the more I accepted and validated her feelings, the more she trusted me, which built a good pattern.
So, things were better on many levels and more challenging on some levels, but our relationship was still off track. I still made work my first priority and not my family, which prevented our real connection. A big turning point for me occurred after we went through a couple of extra busy weeks last spring: quarantine started which made me have to work more to sell cheese, kids were dropping left and right, bucket training was in full swing, a lot of milk was being collected, my main farm helper was gone and had not been replaced, I was trying to tough out a herniated disk, and I was needed at home. I stopped doing some things that connected our family, which caused problems. Through this, it became clear, after much processing, I could only get real peace and fulfillment if I chose to really care about my family - to feel them as part of me and sacrifice for them and the greater good even more than I would for myself. Although I felt settled that I had this clarity, I still had a lot to change to be able to live it.