November 4, 2009, Hawai’i
Over four years ago, Becky Hendrickson moved with her family from bustling San Francisco to a 23,000 acre ranch on the Big Island of Hawai’i. As the mother of five daughters, ages one to twelve, Becky homeschools her girls with a focus on loving nature, developing personal responsibility and limiting the world’s negative influences.
What took your family to Hawai’i? Would you describe your physical surroundings and how they differ from your previous homes?
My husband and I have spent most of our married life living in the San Francisco Bay Area, and planned to raise our girls in the city. However, when my husband got a job offer managing a property in Hawai’i, we felt, surprisingly, it was the Lord’s will that he take the offer.
South Kona is about as different physically from San Francisco as it can be. In San Francisco, we lived in a two-bedroom condo on the corner of a very busy six-lane street. We walked to school, church and work. Our building employed 24-hour security personnel. We had very limited outdoor space. By contrast, in South Kona we live in the middle of a 23,000 acre ranch. We are surrounded by trees, grass, guava bushes, grazing cattle and a view of the ocean. Our nearest neighbors are half a mile away, and they are our only neighbors! Beyond that, it’s three miles down the road to “civilization.”
How has your mothering changed since raising your children in Hawai’i? What inspirations or traditions have you adopted from your new culture? What new challenges have you faced?
In many ways, I feel more comfortable being a mother in Hawai’i than I did in San Francisco. I often times experienced embarrassment in the city because of comments or looks I would receive from those who clearly believed I had brought too many children into the world. I remember feeling such relief and joy when I went grocery shopping in Hawai’i and discovered, to my delight, that I was not the only mother in the store with four children tagging along behind!
The people of Hawai’i are very family oriented, whether or not they are members of our church. Extended family is also very important here, and members are very concerned with those in their family circle. I often hear the phrase, “She is my cousin.” This is a loose term and could mean the two are related in a very roundabout way. Still, the family connection is made and is meaningful.
Another tradition that I enjoy here is that all the adults are considered “aunties and uncles” by the younger generation. At church, instead of “Sister Hendrickson,” I am “Auntie Becky.” For me, it is a reminder that I really am a caretaker for all the children I come in contact with, whether I brought them into this world or not. And how nice it is for my children to have so many aunties and uncles around, even though we have no blood relatives on the island.
I have seen a negative effect, however. It does take a village to raise a child, but the parents need to be ultimately responsible. There are unfortunately many children in Hawaii who are abandoned by their parents and are left to be raised by grandparents, aunties and uncles. This situation becomes difficult for everyone, but is especially felt by the children.
What do you feel that your children are taking away from your time in Hawai’i that they wouldn’t get living elsewhere?
I have always desired to teach my children personal responsibility and a good work ethic. I think that living where we do opens up options for learning these things that would be learned differently elsewhere. Because we have so much outdoor space, we have room to keep animals. The girls are in charge of caring for them. Our animals include a cow and her calf, a dog, a pig, three guinea pigs, two rabbits, fish and shrimp. President Boyd K. Packer once said something to the effect that it’s good to have animals around for children to learn responsibility. They soon learn that animals don’t feed and care for themselves. Our girls understand this.
We also had mice and a lamb that died. I feel this is something important to learn about, too. Death is difficult for young children, and I am glad they had some experience dealing with it before their grandmother and uncle passed away.
Because we are able to keep a cow and milk her, the girls have a great connection with where things really begin. If you asked many kids (or adults!) where milk comes from, they would likely answer, “The grocery store.” I love that my daughters experience some things on a more basic level and see the work that goes into actually getting the milk, cheese, yogurt, or beef. It carries over to many parts of life.
Also, because we live in Hawai’i on a ranch, we are surrounded by nature and it is so beautiful! We enjoy seeing the ocean daily and the girls are free to experience nature at its finest. We don’t have to do as we did in San Francisco, and go “find nature.” There is a great book out about children and nature called Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. The author links the absence of nature in children’s wired lives to the rise in child obesity, attention disorders, and depression. It’s interesting reading.
Would you discuss the role of nature and environment in your home? Why is it important to you to limit commercial influences in you home?
I have long felt that since we are natural beings, it makes sense that what is natural is best for us. We try to eat “natural food,” meaning that which is made up of things we can easily identify. I also cook from scratch because the food resulting from my efforts is more delicious, more nutritious, and much less expensive than processed foods.
When someone is sick, it makes sense to me that whoever is sick should get plenty of rest and lots of fluids. We try to go with natural remedies whenever possible before getting a prescription for a chemically made drug that may have serious side effects, which are not usually discussed by doctors. As an example, one of my daughters occasionally gets a stuffy ear, due to allergies. Instead of taking her to the doctor, where she would undoubtedly receive an antibiotic, I cut up an onion, put it in a paper towel, and have her hold it on her ear for 10 to 15 minutes. This does the trick by drawing moisture out of her ear and leaving her feeling comfortable again.
As a mom, using nature as an ally is fulfilling to me. Over the four years we have been in Hawai’i, we have not needed to get prescriptions for any illnesses for our girls. When we were in San Francisco, our pediatrician pronounced our family one of the healthiest she had known. I honestly feel that this is largely due to focusing on good nutrition (yes, we eat candy and other junk, too, but try to moderate), getting a good amount of sleep (all our girls have an early bedtime and I don’t wake them up in the morning — they wake up when they are finished sleeping), and not being stressed out by an enormously busy schedule. I don’t think that is healthy for anyone.
Now, the question about limiting commercial influences. We got rid of our TV many years ago and could not be happier about it. There is a whole world out there that is largely ignored when we spend time in front of a screen. And the time that is freed up, because we are not concerned with making our schedule fit with our “must-watch” TV shows, is huge. Being a bit removed from it, I am always astonished when I see what is acceptable on TV with each passing year. It is mostly not what I would want my family (or myself!) to view. I realize that there is some “quality programming,” but I argue that if you love the cooking show, you would learn a whole lot more about cooking by actually cooking, rather than just watching it on TV.
We also view very few videos. I feel strongly that when it come to screen media and kids, less is more. Children find all kinds of ways to spend their time and learn without realizing it , when they aren’t absorbed in watching or listening to what money-hungry programmers offer them.
I understand that you are homeschooling. What is your daily schedule? How do you manage with little ones around? What are your educational priorities?
This is our first year of homeschooling. I had quite a bit of fear at the idea of teaching my children in our home, but because their two previous private schools closed due to financial difficulties, I had to really look at the idea seriously. My husband and I became convinced that this was the best educational option for our daughters, and so we jumped in with both feet. We ordered a wonderful curriculum which we are very satisfied with. We have also added some extras. My husband teaches our two older girls “night classes.” So far, they have worked on astronomy, Photoshop Elements, and Page Plus classes. He has also, with the neighbors, undertaken a building project. The goal is to build a fort (designed by six of our collective children) complete with fire pole, dungeon, and swinging bridge. We have also added piano lessons, Spanish lessons with a native speaker, and French lessons using language software.
My daily schedule starts out something like this:
5am- Arise, work-out, pray, read scriptures, do some paperwork (bills, budget, etc.)
6:15- Shower and prepare breakfast for family
7:15- Eat breakfast as a family and have devotional/scripture study
8:00- Clean up breakfast, girls care for animals and make beds, etc.
8:30- School begins at the “Princess Academy”
At this point, my two older girls follow their weekly plan, which we map out together on Saturday. They have a list of all their assignments to complete during the day, and we try to focus on “eating the frog” (getting the worst part over first). The three younger ones come with me into another room for circle time, which we all enjoy. After circle time, my kindergartner and baby usually play while I focus on my third grader until snack and recess. The older two girls, who are in 5th and 7th grades, mostly follow their curriculum along without needing as much direct “teaching” from me. I am always available to them if they get stuck, or have questions.
Not all days go smoothly. Some days no one wants to work. Some days the baby needs extra attention or an early nap, so my attention is divided between all the competing needs. I just do my best each day as it comes. I find that if I try to do three things at once, I go crazy. So I will pause and perhaps tell the girls to go play for 10 minutes while I get the baby down, or go read their book until I can get to them and answer their question.
After snack and recess we hit the books for a hour or so longer, until we are ready for lunch. Our book work is usually done by lunchtime. The afternoons are spent practicing piano, working on French, cleaning the house, folding laundry, playing, reading or running errands.
I find that I have to remind myself daily (or more often) to not worry so much about the mess that is continually being made. It’s always cleaned up before dinner time, and my heart is at peace again!
My husband and I outlined our educational objectives before we started homeschooling. Through our education we will strive to develop:
– a strong and active intellect
-the ability to receive direction from God
-the discernment of truth and error
-the refined capacity of the senses
-the discipline to communicate in a manner consistent with who we eternally are
-uprightness and integrity
-the ability to bear social, emotional, mental and physical burdens with grace
-a sense of reverence toward and trust in God
-a love for purity and virtue
-the healthy function of our bodies
-active service on behalf of just and virtuous causes
-enthusiasm toward the opportunities of parenthood
-self-reliance and provident living
How have you relied on your scriptures in your role as a mother? Have there been specific instances when the scriptures have given you insight into how you should treat your children?
Reading from the scriptures is important enough to me that I generally rise at 5 o’clock in the morning to read the scriptures before my daughters wake up. I feel that the scriptures truly are an iron rod, and that if we hold tight to them, everything will come out all right. If nothing else happens when I read the scriptures, I at least know that I have put the Lord first in my day, and I know He honors that effort. I find inspiration and insights that are uplifting. The spirit is invited into our life and home when we read the scriptures. I need that, and my family needs that.
One of my favorite scriptures that I try to remember in my mothering is one we usually associate with the priesthood. To paraphrase Doctrine & Covenants 121:41-46: Power and influence (including that of motherhood) can only be maintained by persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned, kindness, and pure knowledge. We must reprove with sharpness when moved upon by the Holy Ghost(I usually reprove when I am angry or irritated) and afterward show forth an increase of love.
Another scripture which has proved helpful many times is Abraham 4:18. I found this scripture while wondering how I could give instructions to my children and have them obey me. Just asking my 5-year-old and 3-year-old to go tidy up their room wasn’t working. “And the Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed.” I realized that for children that young, I actually had to watch them obey, and encourage them along the way. That was a very helpful insight which led to one of my parenting hints (I keep a list for myself inside the cupboard): “Never make a request unless you are willing to help them follow through.” Sometimes children just cannot obey without a little help from a parent. Happily, this gets better as time goes on. I don’t need to watch my older girls clean up their room, but I do follow up with them, always.
What are your favorite ways to spend time with your children?
We enjoy each other in so many ways! Just earlier this evening we spent a couple of hours enjoying a family Halloween party planned and executed by our 10-year-old, complete with dinner, bobbing for apples, cookie decorating, pin-the-nose-on-the-pumpkin, trick-or-treating, and musical performances.
We love singing together. The girls are old enough to hold a melody or another part while Greg and I sing more parts. We enjoy games, karaoke, reading aloud together, working on projects, going on overnights, hikes, or just running errands. We also love cooking together. My husband made up this great game where we pick some recipes randomly from several cookbooks, make a grocery list, go buy the ingredients, and make a meal out of the recipes we picked. We all love it.
At A Glance
Location: South Kona, HI
Marital status: Married 15 years
Children: Five (ages 12, 10, 8, 5, and 1)
Occupation: Homemaker and full-time mother/teacher
Schools Attended: Brigham Young University – Idaho, Utah State University
Languages Spoken at Home: English (Italian French, Spanish, Hawaiian)
Favorite Hymn: “How Firm a Foundation” and many others
Current Church Calling: Young Women’s Beehive advisor
Interview by Neylan McBaine. Photos used with permission.