Gender on the Homestead: Why this Mom Mows

Reader Contribution by Carrie Williams Howe
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The very first purchase we made for our homestead was our trusty John Deere Rider Mower. The very first thing I said to my husband after we made that purchase was “I’m going to learn how to use it too.”  

There’s a tendency for homesteading projects to be divided along traditional gender lines – dad operates the tractor, mom cans the tomatoes; dad shovels the compost, mom makes the beeswax candles. And while some of these things are true in our house (I actually do make candles, but my husband was the first to try it) we are also very non-traditional in a lot of important ways. 

After all, a homestead is a family affair, and like many modern farmers the choice to lead this lifestyle was a joint choice – one my husband and I made together because we both love the projects and the idea of sustaining ourselves. So it makes sense that we do things together, trade off jobs, and take turns (especially when there are kids to manage too).

But there are some other important reasons to share the work:

We all need more movement in our lives. I’ve written before about the risks of a sedentary lifestyle and the fact that our families are seeing less and less movement in our every day lives. If we leave the heavy lifting, digging, spreading, and wood chopping to dad, the rest of us are missing the opportunity to develop our muscles through diverse weight-bearing movements. With the risk of osteoporosis and other degenerative diseases in women, in fact, it may be even more important for mom to keep active. Movement can also help you to release stress, and some repetitive movements (like mowing or swinging an ax) can also be meditative in nature as you get into the rhythm of them.

We all deserve a “time out.” Let’s face it, raising kids is not always a piece of cake. Every parent occasionally needs and deserves time to do something without the kids, but all too often moms are the ones left with the kids when dad goes to do a physically demanding project. He gets an hour of quiet time working his muscles while mom deals with temper tantrums or tries to get the kids outside to play. Likewise, sometimes BOTH parents need to get involved in a project so that our kids get a forced “time out” from parent intervention; eventually the boredom inspires them to think of something to do, and free play magically emerges.

We are role models for our children. The only way that gender lines are going to be dissolved (if you care about that quest, like we do), is if our children see examples of the ways in which we can reject stereotypical role-based assignments. My children see dad in the kitchen all of the time, and they ride the mower with mom. They see dad do the laundry and mom manage the finances. Then they see these jobs traded back and forth. While there are some projects my husband just has the sheer strength or experience to manage better than I do (chopping down a tree, for example, was something he learned how to do in college), and I admit that I sometimes want to fall back on gender norms when I don’t want to do something (like taking out the trash or stacking the log pile) I try to remember that my kids are watching. For the most part I don’t think my children see “dad’s jobs” and “mom’s jobs” along gender lines. I hope they will carry that with them into their future relationships and leadership roles.

I’d love to hear from others who are thinking about the intersections between gender and homesteading (or simply gender-divided tasks at home)!  How are you sharing jobs, assigning tasks, talking to kids about who does what?  

Carrie Williams Howe is the Executive Director of an educational nonprofit by day, and parent and aspiring homesteader by night and on weekends. She lives in Williston, Vermont, with her husband, two young children, and a rambunctious border collie. Carrie has a PhD in educational leadership and is passionate about being an authentic, participatory leader in various settings. She is a contributing editor at Parent Co Magazine. Connect with Carrie on The Happy Hive Facebook page. Read all of Carrie’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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