I received an email a few days ago from a blog reader asking me what our children thought of our lifestyle and how they reacted and continue to react to the choices we make each day to not be caught up in the consumer driven society. She was particularly concerned about how her teenagers might react.
We moved from Massachusetts to Vermont when our oldest was eleven, almost twelve, 5 years ago. The two years leading up to the move, I had starting talking a lot with my husband about the possibility for a different kind of life, a more deliberate life where our whole existence didn't depend on a 9 - 5 job. The possibility of connecting with our food and with nature; of using our bodies to build structures and to harvest wood and to work toward our family's economy based on the fruit's of our labors without the constraints of an employer and with the idea of being home-centered.
The children heard this discussion for two years or more. They travelled with us as we drove to Maine and Vermont looking at land and possible cabins. We discussed living in a mobile home on land and living primitively until we built up our own homestead. And even then, we discussed the possibility outhouses and no electricity. We were ready to make a change.
At the same time, I started making our food from scratch and gardening in our suburban plot and we also removed the television (no cable at least). We also talked about how nice it would be for Dad to home with the family more.
In the end, we decided to make a slower transition for our children's sake and we rented a home in Vermont for the first year.
As we had always stressed the importance of family and never were too caught up in lots of outside activities, I think they always had a sense of our priorities - that family was first.
In addition, I started buying less "stuff" for them and started shopping at thrift stores and yard sales and talking to them about the environment and where their "stuff" comes from.
We also talked to them that we felt led by God to move towards this life and that it was ok to be set apart, to be different than most.
When we moved from the village rental in Vermont to leased land in an old mobile home we purchased where electricity wasn't available unless we spent $2,000 (which we didn't want to do since this still wasn't "our" land), we talked about the differences. At this point, the oldest boys were 13, 11, and 9. We downsized dramatically. The children rarely questioned anything. I think that because Michael (my husband) and I felt in our hearts that we were working towards what was best for our family, the children sense that. Even without electricity, I can honestly say that there were very few complaints. I kept a positive spirit and I truly think that is they key, children sense their parent's feelings.
After being in our rustic cottage (with electricity), the children talk postively about our two years without it and of sitting together by lantern light. In response, we only have one lamp in each room and we use lantern light on our supper table to keep the evenings more naturally lit without too many artificial lights.
Even now when Thomas (now 16, almost 17) walked past me as I was typing this post, he asked me how the business was going and I shared what I was writing about, his response was, "What do you mean? We have lots of things." Then he thought about it a bit, and said, "Well, I guess if you go to some of our friends homes and compare what they have to what we have, but... I still think we have plenty."
So, I think the answer is to talk honestly to your older children. Set goals. Make sure you feel clear in your heart. And, make the changes gently and slowly. Children, no matter what age, look to their parents for guidance.