Parenting Off The Grid: Goin’ Back to Nature

Do you have fantasies of sitting around a wood stove reading stories to your children? Do you fantasize about living in harmony with nature? Would you like to garden alongside your children and raise your food naturally? If so, Parenting Off the Grid may be for you.

“Off the grid” is an expression that may be unfamiliar to those who live in urban environments. It’s a movement that embraces a commitment to live as self-sufficiently as possible. Some people are committed enough to live without public utilities entirely. Others use a combination of solar power, farming and a minimalist lifestyle to make themselves more self-sufficient than most people. There is a certain type of western U.S. resident that aspires to this lifestyle which is more readily available in Montana, Wyoming and certain parts of Colorado.

Sitting around a fire reading to the children sounds incredibly romantic. However, there are realities to the “simple life” that can be overlooked. Living off the grid is not for the lazy or squeamish. Cows have to be milked all the time. Someone has to cut the chicken’s head off. The hours are brutal and there is no vacation pay or sick time. If you don’t chop wood, you will freeze. If you don’t gather food, you will starve. There are no corner bodegas in backwoods Wyoming, however charming it may seem. There are also many woodland creatures besides the adorable bunnies and chipmunks that hop amongst the trees. Bears, coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions have to make a living and they will fight you for territory if pushed. The problem with multiple acres is that they need to be mowed, fenced, cleared or otherwise tended to.

When you live off the grid, you have to address concerns that more urban dwellers don’t consider. Here are some examples:

  • You need to secure your trash really, really well. If you don’t, bears may come to visit and they aren’t even-tempered guests.
  • The excrement your family produces has to go somewhere. Some families opt for composting toilets, which use little water and age the byproducts into a useful tool called “humanure”. This is a convenient fertilizer for the garden. Other families opt for a human litterbox sort of situation. There is also the option of wandering through the woods with a shovel.
  • Don’t go into the woods during your period. Bears can smell menstruation.
  • You have to get a reliable, clean water source that doesn’t freeze up on you regularly.
  • Learning to use a gun is essential to ward off uninvited visitors like mountain lions, bears and bobcats.

Parenting off the grid has special safety challenges:

  • Make sure the kids wear orange hunting vests because you don’t want them to be picked off by hunters.
  • Teach the children that bobcats and cougars are not friendly and should not be considered as pets.
  • Review bear safety information with children. They should stay as far away from bears as possible. Also, they shouldn’t roam the woods with tasty treats especially stuff like bacon that leave a lingering scent.
  • Teach the kids to make an obscene amount of noise when they’re wandering around an undeveloped area. Noise usually scares off bears, coyotes and other cantankerous animals.

You will have to develop skills that you may not have considered. These include:

  • Grinding grain
  • Spinning wool
  • Preserving fruits and vegetables
  • Executing meat animals
  • Butchering
  • Chopping wood
  • Keeping a wood stove hot
  • Milking cows, goats and anything else that might wander into your yard
  • Building your own wind turbine
  • Looking at the same darned people every day without a break which can devolve into a “The Shining” sort of situation, especially during a long winter
  • Dealing with snakes
  • Living with the scent a skunk makes which is worse than you might have imagined

If you are interested in pursuing this lifestyle, there is (of course) a community at dedicated to living off the grid with children. There are supplies at and

Image courtesy of: Swans by Middle Farm Pond.

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