Raised in a Barn

January 1, 2023

If you are raised in an apartment, there are certain things you learn that other kids might not.  For example, you learn that you can’t go screaming out into the hall when your brother is chasing you with his booger on his finger or old Mrs. Polanski will yell at you for being too loud.

If you are raised in an old, creaky house, you learn that there are often scary sounds that make you think there are ghosts in your room and you better sleep with your blanket over your head so they can’t see you.

And if you are raised in a mansion, well, you might not learn a whole lot of anything at all except that it’s easy to get lost in all of that space.

When my kids were young, we lived on a part of our family’s property.  The property was formerly a farm with horses, a huge vegetable garden, and, of course, the requisite barn.  Years after it was no longer a farm, the barn was still there and was converted into a two-bedroom guesthouse.  It was the perfect fit for a young family!

My grandmother’s old phrase, “Were you raised in a barn?” has a very special meaning for us.  If my kids leave the door open when heading off to school or running outside to play, and I yell, “Close that door! Were you raised in a barn?” they’ll yell back, “Yes!”

When you are raised in a barn, there are important things you learn about life, and leadership too.   And even though we didn’t live with farm animals, it was often a circus in our little house.

Among the many things we learned during “the barn years”, there are three powerful lessons that stand out–

  1. Mind the Fences
    • Farms need fences to keep things in, and to keep other things out!  And as the farm grows, sometimes those fences need to move!  Other times, those fenced-in break away and run to the neighbor’s house for tea and sympathy.
    • The family unit we grow up in (whatever that looks like – two-parent, single parent, foster/kinship parent, etc.) is the training ground for learning about fences.  And those fences are called “boundaries”.  Parents and other influential adults that understand healthy boundaries model these for us and allow children to grow up with the ability to develop close, meaningful, long-term relationships that feel safe and secure.
    • If parents aren’t clear on what healthy boundaries entail, chances are good that kids will be guessing their way through one disappointing relationship after another for some time.
    • And when the quarters are tight, or emotions run high, we can often find ourselves in arguments and overheated discussions that lead to slammed doors and the silent treatment.  Healthy boundaries require all parties to take responsibility for their role in the situation and to make repairs when necessary.
  1. Crap happens…just shovel it and move on
    • Barns are stinky places full of you-know-what until the stalls get mucked and sweet hay replaces stink. Have you made mistakes as a parent?  Join the club!  Everyone has ugly moments that they aren’t proud of. The good news is, however, that it is never too late to heal things with your child.  If you are struggling with your connection to your kids because of something you have done or said (or yelled) in the past, remind yourself that you are modeling how to recover from mistakes.  So apologize, offer a repair and move forward!
    • The even better news is that your child does not need perfect parents!  In fact, if your child sees you as perfect (or always complaining about the lack of perfection), he’ll feel worse about himself when he falls down.  What your child needs from you is a model of how to be a gracious human.  That means admitting when you are wrong, being willing to grow and shift as a parent, and getting support if you need it.
    • And no matter what, show your kids that you can work hard to regulate your own emotions instead of acting like a crazy person when your child puts a PopTart in the DVR (not that I have ever had that experience).
  1. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you
    • Eye-rolling and sassy comments like, “whatever” get on every parent’s very last nerve.  But have you ever wondered where they learned to talk or act like that?  Some of what you hear and see is the push and pull of separating from parents.  That doesn’t make it ok, though.  And some of it is modeled by us!  When kids are frustrated or upset, they are often at a loss as to how to show it.  When they respond in rude or obnoxious ways, we react by correcting or punishing, and often pretty strongly.
    • That doesn’t mean responding isn’t important, but the less you challenge behaviors, the less you give them power.  Often times when parents are angry with their kid’s performance, they will make sarcastic comments.  Or tease their kids about boys or girls they “like” or tell “embarrassing” stories about their kids to their friends.  This can often make kids feel defensive, and when people are hurt, they lash out.

Take a look at what kind of responses you’re giving to your kids in the course of a day.  Are you talking with calm respect, and disallowing the sassy stuff, or are you giving it right back?

Parenting doesn’t come with an Almanac capable of predicting the future weather around your “barn” or the yield of your “crop”.  And lots of the lessons and leadership that kids experience are completely out of our control.  Preparation and planning can help, along with understanding what to expect from different kids. Take these “barn” lessons and explore some of the things your kids are learning in your family.  And remember that strong, WISE kids grow best in fertile fields of love with lots of mutual respect and a bright amount of laughter!

Be Wise!





  • To view the full digital edition of the September/October 2016 Alexandria Woman edition, click here.