We have been keeping bees on our property for six years, which means that our children (who are 8 and 4) have grown used to having honey bees as part of our extended family and consider themselves beekeepers too. If you don’t raise bees, it might sound funny to think of bees as family members who we like having around. After all, you’re probably used to carefully getting out of their way when a wasp or yellow jacket lands on your watermelon or hoping that you don’t have a nest in the corner of your deck.
But raising honey bees is a lesson in the symbiotic nature of life.
Having our children get used to honey bees and appreciate what they bring to our homestead has offered a wealth of valuable life lessons that we believe will stick with them as they enter the world. Come to think about it, these lessons have been equally valuable for us grown-ups.
Bear with me as I get a bit metaphorical, but I’m feeling a real need to think about how humans could live more peacefully with each other these days…
Species are interdependent
This website is name “The Happy Hive” because we were inspired by the amazing life that thrives within a healthy hive of honey bees. Think about it – bees go out into the world to pollinate and in doing so help the flowers and vegetables and fruit trees to produce the food we need to survive. They do this not for our benefit, necessarily, but because bringing nectar and pollen back to their hive helps their colony to survive.
Can you imagine if we humans acted in a way that helped our own families to survive while also offering huge benefits to the wider world around us, without even knowing or expecting something in return? Without bees, humans would suffer, and that has taught my children that we need to value other species for what they contribute to the environment. I hope that they will later learn to translate this to our own lives – how can we live in a manner that helps to contribute to society and our environment and not just take from it?
Understanding promotes compassion
My children are not afraid of our honey bees. They know how to recognize them as they flitter around our yard and even how to slowly approach them to watch them work. We have photos of our daughter at two years old squatting in the yard over a dandelion to examine a worker bee. Because they have learned that the honey bees are just doing their job and won’t hurt you if you don’t bother them, they have never learned to be scared of them. They understand that other types of wasps and yellow jackets can be more aggressive, but likewise they have learned that leaving them alone is the best policy.
I hope that this lesson carries over into the general sense of engaging with the world – the more you learn about other species or other humans, the better you can engage with them without fear or judgment or competition. Understanding their perspective and what they are trying to accomplish is the first step in building compassion.
Cleaning the rocks that sit in the bee's water source is a great job for little ones!
Caring for Others is a Big Responsibility
Yes, we harvest honey from our bees, but we don’t do so at the expense of their health and hive. We always leave enough honey for them to thrive or feed them a supplement. We pay close attention to their hive to ensure that they are not suffering from disease or being invaded by predators. We care for “our” bees and take responsibility for their well-being.
Like children who are raised on family farms, our children are learning about respect for other living things. It is a responsibility to own and raise animals and we hope that they will always bring an ethic of care to that role whether they become dairy farmers or simply have family pets. It’s a lesson in taking responsibility for the well-being of another living thing that can also go beyond animal care to other care-taking responsibilities that will come later in their lives – a responsibility not to be taken lightly.
Each time my husband puts on his “Beeman” suit or my children take a spoonful of honey during cold season, I am reminded of these valuable lessons and the seeds they are planting within our family. I may not use these big fancy metaphors when I talk with them about our bees, but I see them living their lives in a way that reflects these big ideas and I try to reinforce them. In time, perhaps I’ll pull back the curtain and check in with them to see if they too recognize these lessons, but for now its enough to see the joy in their faces when they spot on of our bees in the yard and come running to tell us about it.