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Category: Family Capital

What Difference Can a Family Make?

July 29, 2023

Lead Photo Credit: Jonathan Kemper via Unsplash

On June 4, 2020 I filmed a brief video as I rotated 360 degrees to record my surroundings. I was standing in my driveway and viewing my home for the last time, while waiting for the new owners to arrive so I could turn over the keys. My heart was full of love and melancholy for a place we’d raised our family in, and I wanted one last moment to take in the view. Like a gulp of perfectly cool water on a parched throat, the view did not disappoint. The acre was tidy. Though built on a steep hill, we’d terraced it. Though the parcel lay on the edge of a desert, we’d made it productive with a blend of perennials. We’d created swales to direct rainwater and painstakingly nurtured hundreds of desert varieties from seeds purchased in catalogs and starts gathered locally. Where once was only sagebrush and dust, we had a thriving herb garden, fields of flowers, a small green lawn to play on, a vegetable garden, fruit trees, and hundreds of raspberry canes. We loved this place. 

It was a surprising view, actually. When we had moved there eleven years before, the unfinished house and untouched property had been vacant for at least three years. We purchased it from the bank and, along with our six children, spent every spare day reclaiming the space from spiders, mice, foxes, and skunks. The dream we envisioned for the place was created on a shoestring budget, and the setbacks had been numerous. The desert was unyielding until we added our own menagerie: dozens of rabbits, more chickens, turkeys, a few sheep, a goat, a cat, and a variety of other animals which helped us tame the rodent population, keep the weeds down, and feed the soil. What lay before me was a miraculous combination of understanding natural laws and implementing sheer manual labor – consistently and hopefully pressing forward despite what seemed like futile odds. At the time we bought the property, we knew it would be difficult, but we also knew the experience would be valuable.

On the camera as I reflected on the progress we had made in just over a decade, I was proud of our family’s contribution on this little patch of desert. If we could do this, what else could we contribute to? 

In that time, our family not only cared for the land; together over ten of those eleven years we’d also helped care for both of my chronically-ill parents who lived in our home. The year after we moved in and began our homesteading adventure, my father became gravely ill. Experiencing several conditions at once, including diabetes and both heart and kidney failure, he needed care my mother couldn’t provide on her own. At the same time, she was moving more slowly than before, and it wasn’t long before she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological condition which affects movement and causes frozen limbs, random body jerks, and tremors. My family readily welcomed them both into our home and started making adjustments for their care.

Immediately, our life changed. My children took on responsibilities caring for one another, getting themselves to activities, completing chores and homework, or making dinner while I took my parents to medical appointments or helped them through multiple hospitalizations. As the years went by and my parents’ health stabilized, my teenage children (then able to drive) would act as chauffeur for their grandparents, taking them to lunch or out shopping. 

Photo credit: NiCole Hale

It has been an honor to care for my parents in their time of need, but in order to meet the needs of everyone in our household we had to develop communication and management skills we didn’t naturally have, and we had to learn to pull together. We didn’t do this perfectly, and sometimes we were stretched very thin emotionally and physically. There were difficult moments, but the experience was valuable and brought immense joy and satisfaction overall.

If it were possible to turn a camera 360 degrees on this scene, it would have recorded another beautiful view. Despite worries, difficult challenges, and our own imperfections, our family had cared for the most fragile among us. My father and mother both got the treatments and attention they needed, and although their chronic conditions will never go away, we have been able to enjoy many good years together. 

Things–and people–can flourish under the concerted efforts of a family. What else might a family do?