Kids these days get a helping hand with everything, even emerging from the womb. From their first breath they are coddled and cradled, ushered into the world with assistance from multiple medical professionals (health and safety gone mad!).
Things are different at Ravenseat, the farm in the Yorkshire Dales where Amanda Owen and her husband Clive rear 1,000 sheep and nine children. With the nearest maternity hospital a two-hour drive away, Amanda has given birth in the family Land Rover, in lay-bys, and by the fire.
“Our local maternity hospital,” she told the Radio Times recently, “is in Middlesbrough, which is 69 miles away, and on these roads, that takes a long time. So by baby number eight, I thought, ‘Sod it, I’ll do it myself.’” She continued: “I knew the baby was in the right position, so when I felt the familiar feelings I went downstairs and had the baby in front of the fire with my terrier as a birthing partner.”
Owen, who stars with her family in the wildly popular Channel 5 show Our Yorkshire Farm, has a happy, healthy, self-reliant brood of children. When she says something about parenting, it’s worth listening.
In that same interview, she despaired at the “snowflake” generation, saying of modern children: “They can’t do anything. They don’t know anything about how to look after themselves, or a work ethic, all of that has gone out of the window. It’s our fault as parents.
“If you put your child on a pedestal with no sense of independence, and think you have got to entertain them the whole time, what can you expect? I rebuff swaddling children, because I want to see them go on and do well and be themselves, whatever that is. I feel like it is their life and all I do is prepare them.”
So what lessons, then, can we take from Amanda Owen and her family? Below, the Yorkshire Shepherdess’ guide to raising children wholesomely… by hook or by crook.
1. Be constructive
Not in a namby-pamby conflict resolution sort of way. Be literally constructive. “I’ve never done a jigsaw with the kids, but they’ve been dry stone walling,” Owen said last year in an interview, “and with that there aren’t any clues.”
2. Nurture their passions
Your child’s passion might be their toy tractor. Owen’s eldest son, Reuben, fixes full-size tractors. Reuben, who isn’t old enough to drive a car, has a talent for engineering and is therefore put in charge of repairing the family’s heavy machinery. His younger brother, Sidney, gladly assists. “You just need a simple toolbox,” Reuben says.
3. Show then the facts of life…
Each of the Owen children learns about life and death from the animals their family nurtures. In series three of the TV show, broadcast last year, four-year-old Clem is put in charge of a prematurely-born calf called Kit Kat. She lovingly bottle-feeds the calf. And to think your kids can’t muck out a hamster!
4. … most of the time
“She looked after the calf,” Owen says of Clem, after Kit Kat succumbed to an early death, “and she did a good job. I don’t want her to feel like she failed. If it had been Edith and Violet,” says Owen, referring to two elder daughters, “I probably would have told them right there that morning that the calf had died. But I don’t particularly want to say to Clem that after all that effort the calf didn’t make it.
“I know I always say that you’ve got to accept you sometimes don’t win, but I don’t know whether in this case she does need to know that. As far as she’s concerned, she did a really good job… and so Kit Kat lives on.”
5. Encourage kindness
When they found frogs and frogspawn on a track used by vehicles, two of the Owens’ daughters slopped them into a bucket and carried them two miles to the safety of a pond. “Educating the mind without educating the heart,” says Amanda, quoting Aristotle, “is no education at all.” What’s more, tadpoles don’t need to be fed with milk bottles.
6. Don’t go to parents’ evening…
“I can’t be a helicopter parent,” Owen told the Radio Times. “We read the papers and they show me some of their projects, but I have yet to be at a single parents’ evening. I did pretty poorly at my exams, but look at what I have achieved since then.” (N.B. Owen has written three books, runs a farm and has a TV show, so she has some biographical justification for telling her children school doesn’t matter. Good luck finding a similarly good excuse.)
7 … but make learning memorable
Books for young children often refer to animals and the sounds they make. “The horse says neigh,” as the Owens’ youngest reads aloud in a clip posted online last month by her mother. But how to make that lesson stick? Aha… the appearance at the sofa of a real pony.
Season 4 of My Yorkshire Farm begins at 9pm on Tuesday April 13 on Channel 5