Before I delve into my post, I want to give a little background on myself and my family. I grew up on a large cattle ranch in Southern Utah. I am the eighth of nine siblings, all of which grew up working on the ranch alongside my father. My parents raised us to be smart and hard working. All of us graduated with honors, several as valedictorian, and sterling scholar winners. We excelled in athletics and other extracurricular activities. None of us have ever been in jail, tried illegal drugs or been fired from a job. All of my siblings now have families of their own, stable jobs in which they excel or are mothers doing the hardest job of all. My siblings are good and decent contributors to society.
My husband and I have five daughters. Our oldest daughter is 10 and our youngest is going on two. The fact that our children are girls hasn’t relieved them of responsibilities on the ranch. Their Dad works them as he would any son, and they have proven themselves as tough and capable of any cowboy twice their age. From the time our girls were conceived, they have been on horseback riding in the saddle riding with me. Upon turning three they get to go on our 10-day cattle drive on their own horse. I am generally close by, but it’s completely up to them to make their horse do exactly what they want them to while moving the cattle. I love to see how much their confidence improves over those 10 days. It is amazing! They have ridden alone before that trip, but never so long and for so many days uninterrupted. It’s 1,200 pounds of horse against 30 pounds of little girl and the little girl wins! Who would have bet on those odds?
The thought process around this post came many years ago when speaking to my Dad’s cousin. He had grown up on the ranch with my Dad, but had chosen to go into construction. He had commented on how much he loved watching my girls work right alongside my husband and I. The way he talked about it spurred me into questioning why he didn’t do the same with his own children. He replied, “I am not allowed to take my kids on the job site with me. It is illegal.” He went on, “We have become so afraid of hurting our children, that we are hurting our children!” As the conversation continued he explained to me how he had watched his son grow and not find direction in his life. He was a good and smart kid, but his grades in school suffered, and he didn’t excel like his family knew he was capable. His father was convinced that it was simply because he didn’t know how to work. He hadn’t worked side-by-side with his father in order to learn the skills he needed to really succeed in life. His story didn’t end there, he went on to say, “I just want my son to work alongside me, to learn as I did at my fathers knee. But that will never happen. Politicians were afraid of hurting America’s kids, and now that the kids are ‘safe,’ they have entitlement issues that may be irreversible! We as a society have declared war on work.”
The recent event that brought this conversation to my mind occurred with a group of friends and fellow YF&R Committee members. We were viewing self-made YouTube video’s, asking for feedback and comments. I had done my video on branding in the West. It was full of pictures and live footage of my husband, our girls and I and working the cattle. One comment was that if I posted the video, I needed to be prepared for a bombardment of people saying that my children had no business being on horses and working that young.
Further illustrating the point I will eventually make (a bit of humor if you didn’t catch it), America’s Heartland came to my family’s ranch and did a special episode on our three-day cattle drive. I spoke to the rep from the studio several times explaining that for the first day there would be no vehicle access on the drive. So whatever equipment the cameramen needed would have to be taken on horseback. The trail was not an easy ride and I wanted to make sure they understood that this “shouldn’t be their first rodeo.” They assured me they had “taken riding lessons” and that they would be fine. I had my doubts.
So, the evening before the drive was to begin, I took the cameramen and their head man to the base of the mountain we were to climb. I pointed to the beautiful pink cliffs thousands of feet above us and said, “That’s where we are going. Are you ready?” They had never seen anything like it in their life! They quickly explained that they were not experienced enough riders to handle the unfamiliar horses and their gear, and asked if there was another option. I told them we would put the camera and sound equipment on with my oldest daughter. I could see the wheels turning in the leader’s eyes. I didn’t look very old so how OLD can this oldest daughter possibly be? I explained that she was seven. Those wheels turning again…he’s counting the thousands of dollars he is about to hand over to a seven-year-old…estimating how he could word it on the insurance claim…realizing that he has no other option. He agreed.
We sent our oldest daughter ahead of the cattle up the hill with one cameraman. The rest of the crew stayed behind to follow the cattle up. Our other children were also on horses. Our daughter, Rachel, was three at the time. She rode next to the lead man for America’s Heartland. When we finally arrived at the summit he rode over to talk to me. He said, “You have no idea how many times I wanted to get off, to turn back and walk off that mountain! But every time I got the urge I would just look at your three-year-old daughter riding that big horse all by herself, never afraid, never questioning what she was doing there. She was just herding those cows up the mountain with a big smile on her face.”
And so I ask you. Why would we take that away? Why would we deprive children of such amazing opportunities? Can work be dangerous? Can injuries occur? Absolutely! Do we, as parents, have to be careful and use wisdom? Of course we do! But do I believe that the government has the right to tell me that I can’t take my child to work with me? Not on your life!
America’s Heartland went on to do an additional episode on our kids working on the ranch. Their lead man said he was sure he would have viewers who would see our kids riding, and just like he did, they would misjudge the situation. His intent on the mini clip was to open the minds of viewers to our way of life. Help them understand and see that sure, this life is hard and perhaps at times can be risky, but the benefits so far outweigh the risks that it should be a non-issue.
Recently farmers and ranchers won a huge battle with Congress about child labor laws in agriculture. I am grateful every day that my children are still able to to work alongside my husband and I. But often I see my girls working and laughing and wonder if we should have stopped at agricultural child labor. Shouldn’t my Dad’s cousin be able to take his boy to work too? Shouldn’t he, as a parent, be able to decide how best to raise his child?
Some food for thought. Thanks for reading!