Dear Country Wives,

I know you’ve married a farmer.  I know he’s probably a lot like my farmer husband: kind, patient, a little hard of hearing and occasionally wears shirts to town that you wish he wouldn’t.  And I know that today you find yourself smack in the middle of the annual fall marathon we like to call harvest.

I see you in the grocery store with your cart piled so high that the bread just fell off.  I see that your toddler is out of snacks and is crabby because it’s almost lunch time. I see you in the post office, running in and out, saying a pleasant ‘hello’ and I know you’ve got to hurry on your way and we’ll have a better visit in the fall.  I see you at our kids’ activities.  I see that you are exhausted because your baby isn’t sleeping and you’re not sure how you’ll make it through the next few weeks until this marathon is over.  I see you posting photos of your children going back to school, your meals in the field and gorgeous harvest sunsets.  I see that every day you are trying- despite the hard, busy, long days, you keep trying.

I hear your spirit as you talk about harvest and how many acres are left to go.  I hear you focus on the good, even though both you and I know that some days we just muddle through, knowing this time of year is temporary.  I hear you speak of the excitement your children feel when they get to ride in the truck with their dad or eat their slice of pie in the field on a cozy September night.

As a farmer myself, going on 12 years, I know that one of the major challenges you face this time of year is managing the children and the household on your own.  Your partner works long days and so do you.  If your little ones aren’t sleeping well, it’s not only challenging physically and mentally, but it can also be dangerous.  Sleep deprivation during harvest compounds stress and makes a challenging situation almost impossible.

From one farm wife to another, here are my best tips for helping your little ones (and yourself) get the sleep you need for a happier harvest.

Adjust nap schedules– If you have a child who takes a daytime nap and others who don’t, capping a nap early can be a great strategy to find a bedtime that works for all your children.  For example, if your two-year-old normally naps from 1-3:30 and goes to bed well at 7:30, yet your older children need a bedtime closer to 7, cap your two-year-old’s nap at 3.  This means you will wake him up so he’s also ready for bed at the same times as older siblings.

Combine bedtime routines- Bathing kids together and combining their bedtime routines saves a lot of time.  As long as you can do it safely, try to combine baths for your little ones, then have everyone get dressed for sleep.  Choose one book to read each night instead of reading multiple books and sing one song prior to saying good night.

Involve children in age appropriate ways- Getting kids involved in harvest makes them feel they are a part of it, as opposed to something that consumes their parents and leaves them with less attention.  Get kids outdoors to ride on the combine or in the grain truck.  Have school aged kids help in meal preparation or run lunches out to the bins. Of course, safety should always be number one when involving children.  My experience has been that little ones who have spent some time with the parent they see the least will be easier to manage at bedtime.

Figure out a meal strategy that is mindful of children’s sleep needs- Meals in the field are an important part of harvest.  Famers who have a chance to stop to eat and even have a short visit will feel rejuvenated and ready to take on the evening shift.  The littlest ones are often the most important part of the meal in the field around here.  When Papa, Dad and the farm hands get a chance to see the kids, they walk back to their job with a smile.  A major challenge with meals in the field, however, is the preparation, cleanup and bedtime, all happening within the span of a couple of hours.  Some nights, when bedtime needs to be quite early, I’ll send the meals out with my husband and stay in with the kids.  I’ll get everyone to bed, then clean up afterwards.  Other times, when bedtime can be a bit later, we will all deliver the food to the field.  I’ve learned to always feed the little ones before we go out and everyone eats early around here so we can get back for bedtime.  It works well for us as we’re on an early to rise schedule this time of year and the farmers are ready to eat by 5pm.

So, my dear country wives, I know that you set the tone for your family.  I know that even though you are dog-tired you will keep on looking after all the people who make up your harvest family through these dusty fall days.  I know that the day will come for you when harvest gets easier, the baby sleeps well, toddlers are sweet and children ride in the combine with excitement.

This time of year is tough but so are you. Happy harvest and sleep well.

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