Names Can be Deceiving
We had managed to keep in touch for decades, even though I had never met them. We sent the annual Christmas card their way. But honestly, to me, they were simply another name on our mailing list. I really hadn’t connected the dots.
Over the years, my husband, Dale, told me his friend Lena, a Ph.D., and her husband, Dan, a software engineer, were raising their seven children in a castle in Wales. Well, after all, the mailing address contained the moniker “Wolf’s Castle.” Therefore it must be so, right?
We had actually not heard much back from them over all those years. But we kept on. And then the opportunity arose for us to actually visit them in Wales, over three decades since Dale and Lena had first met!
Heading Towards the “Castle”
We followed the GPS as far as we could go, but then we switched to the directions Lesley had written for us in an email. She told us the navigation system would only take us so far.
After many narrow roads and frequent turns, we came upon the “two pillars” she had told us mark the entrance to their property. Sheep filled the verdant fields along the way.
As we pulled up, we saw the “castle” had morphed into a farmhouse.
“Well, I guess I was wrong about the ‘castle’ part,” my husband conceded.
Later, after we had exchanged all the proper greetings, introductions and niceties, we sat down around the heavy, square kitchen table to cups of tea and snacks.
Steeped in History
When we inquired about the house, Lena’s husband Dan began.
“You know, you are sitting in a house that’s older than your country.” I let that sink in. Yes, the two-foot stone walls and the deep fireplace in the other room bore witness to that fact. I began to imagine all the stories these walls could tell.
If every man’s home is his “castle,” then this surely was Dan’s (and Lena’s, for that matter). They had lived in this 17th-century farmhouse for over 20 years, raising their seven children. The youngest, now 23, just graduated from uni (university) in the last year.
The home did have eight bedrooms, actually. Most of them, including the ones we stayed in (Dale & I in one, our youngest son Luke in another), were all relatively small, but quite comfortable and sufficient.
“I kind of insisted each child have their own space, their own room, no matter how small. Each person needs a place to call their own,” Lena shared. And then she admitted, with a wink, “ But really, I needed a place to send them when they had done something wrong.”
How a Farmhouse Becomes a Castle
We enjoyed some lovely time with these new – and old – friends. But it wasn’t until the following day, in a discussion with their daughter, Lara, when I began to understand how this upbringing in a farmhouse really was a noble experiment.
Lara – at 27 years old, is adult child #4. She and her husband moved into a renovated attached barn with their two little ones, ages ~2 and 10 months about two years ago. The two little ones are quite cherubic in appearance and disposition. White-blond, ringlet curls, round faces, brilliant blue eyes, and very alert.
I asked her what it was like growing up in such a family, in a rather remote place.
“You know, it never felt like there were too many of us. It just was. It felt natural and supportive. We kind of helped one another out. Mom and Dad were really good at nurturing that in each of us at a young age. There was a lot of love.”
I meditated on that for a moment. And then I responded.
“You know, it’s precisely because you grew up in such a loving family that it didn’t seem overwhelming. Yours is a highly functional family, and, from what I can tell, that continues today, right?”
“Definitely,” she replied.
“If you flip this 180 degrees and add heavy doses of dysfunctionality into the picture, this is when seven children would feel overwhelming.”
As I contemplated this I realized indeed – Lena and Dan had raised their children in a castle. They had instilled in their children a life of community, cooperation, faith, hope, love and meaning.
All of the kids have become confident adults, well on their way to successful, contributive and, in many cases, quite global lives. Indeed, this castle was standing the test of time.
So, What’s the Takeaway from Our Experience in a Welsh ‘Castle?’
The takeaway for you is simply this: With love and nurturing, kids thrive and grow into healthy, contributive adults. Farmhouse or castle. Or something else. The material environment matters only so much. The love matters so much more.
True, marriages don’t always stick. Dysfunctionalities can raise their ugly head. But the goal should always be to foster a loving, nurturing environment for our children. One filled with curiosity and acceptance.
And this can turn an ordinary farmhouse upbringing into something quite royal!
What are you doing to give your children a "royal" upbringing, even if you face material concerns?
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