Living off the grid is a commitment to self-reliance and sustainability that requires planning and hard work. Whether you create your own electricity or go without, this lifestyle means that you sacrifice some modern conveniences. So what does this mean for parents? Does this independent lifestyle present unique challenges when it comes to raising children?
To learn more, we asked several off-the-grid families to share their experiences and opinions. In the process, they offered some insight about how parenting might be different for those living independent from the power grid.
How comfortable do you want to be?
Sarita Harbour and Dan Hosfeld moved to an off-the-grid lakeside home in Canada’s Northwest Territories in 2013. At the time, they were raising a toddler and had another daughter on the way. When selecting their new home, they took into consideration all their responsibilities as parents — including washing clothes, potty training and keeping their children cozy and warm.
“There’s a wide range of off-the-grid set-ups,” Harbour, author of the blog An Off Grid Life, said. “Life can be pretty luxurious off the grid, but it can also be pretty bare bones. So much depends on your family and culture.”
The Harbour-Hosfeld family decided that indoor plumbing was a must. They also wanted two sources of heat — wood and propane — as a precaution against northwest Canada’s fierce winters.
“My main piece of advice to people who are thinking of moving off the grid with children or expect to have children is to think about how comfortable you want to be,” Harbour said. “How much of a pioneer life do you want to have? What’s fun while camping for a week or two is very different when it’s day in, day out. … Think about how rustic you’re willing to be.”
Is homeschooling necessary?
The Harbour-Hosfeld family and many of their off-the-grid neighbors choose to homeschool their children rather than drive 40 minutes into town where the school is located, on a sometimes dangerous road. For social interaction and to support each other, these families gather, usually on a weekly basis, for lessons and field trips.
However, homeschooling isn’t right for every off-the-grid family. Harbour said she knows several off-the-grid parents who choose to send their children to school rather than teach them at home.
“Our decision depended on so many things,” Harbour said.
Many off-the-grid families live in such remote locations that traveling to the nearest school every day isn’t a practical option. For some families, the choice hinges more on their beliefs about the benefits of public education versus at-home education.
If you do decide to homeschool off the grid, one thing to consider is whether or not you have reliable internet, Sarita Harbour said. If you don’t, then you won’t be able to utilize online homeschooling programs, which will likely require parents to be more involved as teachers. Access to internet differs greatly depending on your location, Harbour said.
One plus of homeschooling off the grid is that it presents many opportunities to teach children skills and knowledge that will help be more self-reliant, said Harbour, who has found ways to meld homesteading tasks and outdoor skills with the education of her children, Avangelena and Aurora, now ages 9 and 5.
“We teach them life skills that are important for living off the grid and our family culture, and we find ways to fit them into our homeschool days,” Harbour explained. “We might go ice fishing or foraging for wild edibles.”
This hands-on, experiential learning has many benefits, she said, including its role in keeping her children safe.
“We live in a pretty extreme area,” she said. “For example, bear safety is a big thing here. There’s lots of bear activity. As the kids get a little bit older here, most of the people we know here, even if they aren’t hunters, know how to use a gun. It’s a safety issue. And we live right on a lake, so boat safety and learning how to swim is also important.”
When you homeschool, those valuable skills can easily be worked into your lessons.
The healthy aspects of the lifestyle
Mark and Michelle Zeiger moved to an off-the-grid homestead in Alaska with their daughter, Aly, more than a decade ago, and they haven’t looked back. Their 10-acre property is right on the ocean and is only accessible by boat or a 1.25-mile hike through the woods from the nearest road. They write about their remote home on The Zeiger Family Homestead Blog.
“We’re just so immersed in nature here, with the animals all around us and the water out front,” Mark Zeiger said.
The fresh air, the lack of light pollution, their proximity to nature — all of these things, he believes, bolsters their physical health and wellbeing.
The lifestyle also includes plenty of exercise in the form of stacking wood, tending the garden, hiking and paddling. They also eat well because they cook their own meals and choose to consume few processed foods.
Another healthy component of their lifestyle is the amount of quality time they spend together as a family.
“Family togetherness is super important,” Mark Zeiger said. “Eating meals together — people just don’t do that anymore. … Think of the socialization and camaraderie of a family sitting down and eating a meal together. The benefit is immeasurable.”
Some challenges to consider
Many people who live off the grid live in rural if not remote places, and this can present certain challenges for parents.
“Probably one of the biggest challenges is the isolation,” Mark Zeiger said. “A friend can’t just run across the street and grab [Aly] and go. They have to hike in or she has to hike out or some combination of that.”
When the Ziegers first moved off the grid, their daughter Aly was 13 years old, and this separation from friends was difficult for her. But over time, she grew accustomed to the distance and discovered ways that she could still spend time with friends. For example, a friend would sometimes stay with their family for multiple days during a school vacation.
Another big challenge of off-the-grid parenting, if you live in a remote setting, is dealing with medical emergencies. Mark Zeiger and Sarita Harbour suggest parents take courses in first aid and CPR and specifically learn how to handle injuries and ailments common for children.
Lessons of a lifestyle
Living off the grid in the Alaskan wilderness, first and foremost, has fostered a love of nature in his daughter, Mark Zeiger said. As a teenager, Aly used to explore their property with the guidebook “Nature of Southeast Alaska” in hand. Now that she’s in her 20s, she’s returned from college to live with her parents and plans to establish her own off-the-grid homestead surrounded by wilderness, which she’s grown to love.
In addition, off-the-grid living has taught Aly how to be frugal and self-sufficient, as well as the importance of conserving energy.
“[Aly] really respects what it takes to generate our own power,” Mark Zeiger said. “Living off the grid has shaped her power usage.”
Prior to living off the grid, the Zeiger family lived in the suburbs of Juneau, Alaska, and they’d often watch movies together on the weekends. When they moved off the grid, they quickly realized how much power it takes to run a television. At night, they could only watch movies if they’d generated enough wind (and later, solar) power that day. Fortunately, the entire family also enjoy reading.
Similarly, Harbour said her daughters have learned how to check the level on their house battery to determine whether they can turn on the TV or run the microwave. They’ve also learned the importance of recycling and composting as much as possible because transporting waste from their home to a dump site takes so much effort. Her daughters also have a good understanding of where much of their food comes from — the garden.
All in all, it’s safe to say that Harbour and Mark Zeiger believe there are more positive than negative things to say about raising children off the grid.
“The thing is, you’re going to raise strong, kind, self-sufficient kids,” Mark Zeiger said. “There’s going to be a time they don’t need you as much as you need them, and you have to be ready for it.”