I am thrilled to be sharing a new interview series with you each and every week: #realmothersdiversevoices. In this series my intention is to reveal the endless ways our family values can inform our Daily Rhythm. The mothers I have interviewed lead diverse lives but they each have a huge sense of clarity about what their Family Values are (even if they change over time) and consciously and creatively strive to create a Daily Rhythm in alignment with those values.
It is my hope that through these stories more Mothers feel inspired to explore what their own family values are, to question them and bring them to life in their everyday experience. I know that seeing the world through another Mother’s lens will develop more empathy, understanding and compassion between us.
Today I am honoured to welcome Julie Letowski to Whole Family Rhythms community. Julie is a homesteader in Maine with her husband and son. She lovingly tends to her family milk cow, flocks of sheep and chickens, and a large garden that she always hopes will be more fruit and vegetables than it is weeds. You can find her @homesweethomestead on Instagram and on her online journal at folk-ware.com/missives.
Who are you? Can you introduce yourself, your work and your family?
Hello! I’m Julie. Along with my husband and son, I’ve been building a homestead in Maine for the past four years. This will be our fifth summer on our land and as ever, we’re super grateful to live the life we get to live. We keep chickens and cows for eggs, dairy, and meat, and as of last year began keeping sheep for fiber and general happy feelings. A few of our acres of land are covered in wild blueberries come July and August, and we have an ancient apple tree that produces the best fruit I’ve ever tasted. Our garden is full of homegrown vegetables, flowers, and herbs. We work really hard to meet as many of our own needs as possible and where we fall short, we aim to find sources within the vibrant local community in our region in Maine. In addition to establishing our homestead, my husband and I have a pottery business. For the last year, we’ve been going through a transition so that our business can grow to better support ourselves and we’re hoping to have our wares available by summer. Fingers happily crossed!
What is one of the greatest joys you experience as a Mother?
My greatest joy as a mother is watching our son strengthen his connection to and understanding of the land we live on. He doesn’t question his place or responsibility in this world, and he’s so acutely aware of the seasons, creatures native to our region, and how we live in commune, not in dominance, with the world around us. I watched so much television as a child, brought home cabbage instead of the requested lettuce as an 19 or 20 year old because I could not tell the difference, and was just thoroughly grossed out by nature for the first half of my life. Showing my son a different way, and in a sense giving myself that childhood, too, has been joyous and fulfilling beyond words.
What is one of the biggest challenges you face daily as a Mother?
Without a doubt my biggest challenge is that our son vibrates on a completely different energy frequency than I do. He’s very outwardly buoyant and energetic, and feels his best when he’s constantly interacting with people. Whereas I shuffle around at a slower pace and find a great deal of happiness in quiet, solitary spaces. For example, he’ll ask a question and my return of the answer is often too slow because I’m taking it in in a mental meandering sort of way and processing the multitude of answers that might be appropriate. But because he moves so fast, the quiet space I initially take reads to him as me not hearing, not understanding, or not paying attention, so then he asks it again- louder and faster, which unfortunately can cause my brain to freeze up from being overstimulated. In these moments, working to honor both of our ways of processing and existing takes a great deal of thought and effort. I’ve found getting into big outdoor spaces, like the woods or the ocean, really serves our energies well. The outside world is so big that he can be as electric and wild as he’s called to be and that extra energy that can feel overwhelming to me can be absorbed by our environment instead of just bounding off the walls of our house and into my slow little grandma space.
What does having “Rhythm in your Home” mean to you?
It means creating a safe space that our child can rely on. Rhythms in our home really do vary from day to day, but I find a great deal of meaning in seasonal rhythms and the family traditions they create. We can sometimes feel a bit at the mercy of the homestead but going into the city to see the Nutcracker and decorating a tree Thanksgiving weekend, and other similar meaningful traditions, really help to tether us together and to our place in the year.
Can you give an example of some of your most cherished ‘Family Values’?
The tenets of our family values are empathy, responsible stewardship of land and animals, and unconditional love. Regarding the first two, it’s incredibly important to us that our son isn’t raised with a “me first” mentality. We feel that the biggest goal as we grow into better humans every day (adults and children alike) should be taking care of things- whether that be human to human relationships or the land on which we survive and (hopefully) thrive. And when it comes to unconditional love, we believe putting that at the forefront of our parenting fosters an environment where mistakes are okay, owning our not so great behavior feels safe, and then growth is possible.
How do you hope to pass these values on to your children? Or in other words, how do you manifest these family values into your daily rhythm?
Having a lot of animals to tend to flushes our daily rhythm with opportunities for empathy, stewardship, and love without us having to do much work to seek them out. We ask a lot of questions so that our son has the opportunity to work through things and mentally put himself in the shoes, or hooves as the case may be sometimes, of others.
How would it make you feel if the ram ran at you that quickly?
If you were the calf’s mama and you saw someone jumping around your baby while you were being milked, would that make you feel comfortable?
Our son is an integral part of animal chores, gardening, and preserving food, so over the years he’s grown to see the connections between us all. If our land or animals aren’t healthy, we aren’t healthy. We also give him ownership over garden spaces and animals. He doesn’t work for his parents, he works for himself, which for a child of his age is wonderful. I’ve noticed that he craves independence and having goslings that are his or a grapevine that is his allows him to access that independence in a way that is not only safe and comfortable for his parents, but also builds knowledge, empathy, fine and gross motor skills, and work ethic.
In the case of unconditional love, my husband and I try to lead with love in the way that we parent but we also simply say I love you, a lot. It’s also a huge benefit to our son that he experiences unconditional love as the person giving it in his relationship to our animals. They don’t always do the right thing and can be incredibly frustrating. The chickens get out of their fencing and need to get caught or the fox will eat them, the sheep manage to nibble on a plant of his, a cat scratches him because she just feels like it.. but coming through those situations that can be really frustrating for a child and realizing that he still loves them, still sees good in them, it’s powerful emotional work – even if he’s not fully conscious of it!
Can you outline a typical ‘Weekday Rhythm’ for you and your child(ren). Specifically when/where/how do you and your little ones eat, sleep/rest, play inside/outside, work/learn and make time for selfcare?
5:30: My husband and I are up. Our son will sometimes join us right away. Other days he snoozes a bit. We begin the day with morning rounds to see if there’s anything particularly alarming that has happened overnight that needs immediate attention. If so, we’ll deal with that right away.
5:45: If there are no overnight issues, we’ll begin feeding our animals. Our son feeds the dogs, makes a snack bucket to feed the sheep, and a feed bucket for the chickens. We put the sheep out on pasture and let out the chickens and goslings.
6:00: Next I get together milking supplies while my husband convinces our milk cow, Luella, that she does actually wish to come in from whatever luscious field she’s laying in. Recently our son has been brushing Luella or trying to halter train her as yet unnamed calf while I milk.
6:30: Our son won’t hear of not sharing the milk with our cats, so he pours a little out of the bucket into a dish and we head inside to strain the milk and make breakfast.
7:15: If it’s a school day, one of us begins packing our son’s lunch while the other is outside with him doing whatever needs to be done. (There is always a very long to do list around here.)
7:35: Change for school, pack the backpack, and say our goodbyes.
7:45: We leave for his school. Or, since Gus is only in school 3 days a week, we plan our day based on the weather and what must get done. Because of the erratic and fluid nature of the homestead to-do list, there is only so much planning and rhythm that can be established. Trying to enforce a daily rhythm causes more stress than anything else. We welcome the rest of our day with open arms and see where it takes us, and our mornings and evenings of animal care rhythms keep us tethered.
5:00: Dinner and FaceTime with dad who is often at work.
6:30: Read a few chapters of whatever book we’re working through. We’ve been on an E.B. White bender for the past few months but recently I’ve been able to work in some James Herriot and The Wind and The Willows.
7-7:30: Songs and bedtime. We’ve always sung to our son at bedtime since he was a babe. I have my songs and my husband has his. It’s an incredibly special end to the day for all of us and our son loves it.
7:30-8:30: I read, write, drink tea, catch up on emails or news, and let the house go dark with the sun going down as I enjoy the quiet and some alone time.
8:30: My husband comes home and we reconnect, maybe get some more work done, and then hopefully get ourselves to bed before 11.
When does your family rhythm get thrown off kilter?
I find our rhythms get most thrown off kilter as we transition from one season to the next, particularly from winter to spring as the influx of things needing to be done, animals being born, and longer, more energetic days happen. Also, because we live in Maine, no one wishes to visit in the winter. We find that everyone comes when we’re at peak busyness in regards to the garden and animals, and having people that wish to relax, go out to eat, sightsee, etc., come and stay for a bit really complicates things. We love our friends and family; but it can be hard to balance what we need to be getting done and what they imagine summer in Maine on a homestead to be like. The pies don’t grow themselves, people!
Do you consciously re-evaluate and change your family rhythm with the seasons and ages and stages of your kids?
Absolutely. I have no set idea for how to parent our child other than we need to meet and honor him as he is and where he is. I might love to get the animal chores done prior to eating a family breakfast but there are periods of time where our son wakes up ravenous and the rhythm I would prefer is not the rhythm that is best for our family. Also, living so closely linked to the land, you can’t help but have your rhythm change drastically from season to season.
When you’re feeling stuck, tired, frustrated with your role as Mother, what do you need most to shift your energy and perception?
I get quiet, and if I can, I take some time alone. I get over-stimulated very easily and doing some physical work outside without anyone talking to me, writing for myself or my online journal, or just quietly ordering the house gives me that time and space that I need for all the parts of my best self to fall back into place.
If you could recommend one book to ALL Mothers out there what would it be?
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. I love Cheryl and her perspective on all things human. As mothers, we can be so hard on ourselves and oftentimes so hard on those around us. My theory on the latter is that we subconsciously feel that parenting choices that are in contrast to our own are a judgement on our choices. It automatically puts us on the defensive and makes for a lot of bad feelings and behaviors. Ick. I think it would serve all humans, not just mothers, to broaden their understanding of the human experience and the different places we’re all coming from when we make different decisions for ourselves, our families, and our children.
You know, I’ve got a stack of parenting books on my bookshelf – lovely titles about Waldorf education, gentle parenting, etc. – and I’ve skimmed them, at best. I get extremely turned off by the idea that there’s A Way to parent. When I was much younger, I nannied in Boston and one evening while being driven home, the father of the family I was working for explained his parenting style like this: he imagined all his children like blurry images on old televisions. The picture was there, it was already what it was going to be, but it was his job to bring the image into focus with the dials and antennas the best he could. I was a while yet off of having children, hadn’t even met my husband, and it still had a profound effect on me. I hold onto to that as a solid truth to this day. For me, no parenting book has ever moved me towards a parenting ethos as strongly as that conversation did. Our son is who he is and I’m just here trying to understand that and help him as best as I can. It has been such a beautiful path to follow.
Thank you so much for your presence here, Julie and for so openly sharing your family values, rhythm and vision.