Sometimes a short conversation lights a huge fire of controversy, and this column may create a few sparks, so please read carefully all the way to the end.
A farm family with a very strong-willed daughter-in-law asks their business planner how to make progress with decision making since the “in-law” seems to have an opinion about every farm business decision made. The planner advised the farm team to consider farm business and shareholder decisions as their “territory”, making it clear that the spouse — the daughter-in-law — was not part of that decision group. What would you advise? Everyone has an opinion, so let’s dig deeper and figure out what a daughter in law needs:
Your daughter-in-law has been raised in a pay-cheque family, so she is used to a quick, consistent cash flow, benefits, and paid vacation. Can you explain to her that the farm cash flow works differently? The capital reserves for large purchases take a few months or years to pay-off to zero? Explain that decisions are made to find assets that generate revenue and a house is not typically a revenue generator on the farm, so be careful with those farm home expenses. Keep good track of family living costs.
Succession planning takes a long time to work through. A farmer I worked with in 1993 confirmed to me this year that they are just nicely finishing up all the details. What attitude are you bringing home to the family unit from your business meetings? Are you frustrated? Does your spouse realize that there are always many sides to a story?
Young mothers of your grandchildren are doing their level best to raise happy healthy kids, stay married to your son, and still have friendships beyond the family. Your daughter in law may need more social time than you do, although you might want to explain the weather and time pressures of seeding, calving and harvest.
If you’re an introvert and you don’t need people to get energy, you may never understand her needs as an extravert. If you aren’t happy with her social life, is it really any of your business? Does it affect your ability to manage the farm? Or are you just upset that her life looks better than yours?
Picture perfect house
The home design channels don’t favour delayed gratification in renovation of the farmhouse. Stories still abound about the mother-in-law who can’t accept the new paint colour on the wall of her former home. I also met a farmer this winter who was exasperated that his daughter-in-law never ever wanted to live on the main yard. He was hoping for a new location, and she was not interested in leaving the city. What is this conflict really about? Do you have the courage to call a family council and talk about your future farm vision, your values and cherished beliefs?
Expectations are the shortcut to discontent, so maybe it is time to clarify some expectations about lifestyle choices and residence.
Predictable family time
Many young farmers tell me they are not willing to work as hard or as long hours as their parents. They want a “life”. Work life balance is not balance, it is more like buoyancy, keeping your head above water, and pausing for family time with some predictability.
We all work long and hard when the pressure is on, but for some workaholic families, the pressure cooker is never released with fun and friendship for the family. A young dairy farmer solved this problem by joining ventures with his new business partner, his best friend, so that both families have guaranteed family weekend time on alternate weekends. What new business model are you considering in order to keep your family harmony healthy?
Please and thank-you
Many new family members are just looking for common courtesy and grace that you extend to the feed guy or fuel supplier. The lack of appreciation is one of the barriers to succession planning. Practice being more gracious to all farm team members, and their spouses.
I know a young farm wife who is horrified that her mother-in-law does not have the common decency to open the gifts the young woman presents to her. Her husband is not protecting her or helping his mother understand that Mom is seeding the divorce cloud.
(Don’t) pretend everything is just fine
Keeping peace by avoiding conflict serves no one. Courageous conversations need to happen to change promises into written agreements, produce a family code of conduct or job descriptions for the farm policy manual.
I am curious why many young women who come from a totally different conflict style family are not given the chance to express their concerns and issues in a forum that is respectful. You allow the accountant and financial planner to look at the numbers, but are you being honest about the tension and poor family dynamic that will blow apart the best-laid plan? If you can’t resolve conflict, gain some skill in this area by taking a conflict resolution course, hiring a facilitator/mediator or get some phone coaching. Unresolved conflict grows ugly as time goes on, when there are fewer options to resolve a fight that was really very fixable in the early stages of the conflict.
Privacy with respect
Your son and daughter in law may now occupy the main yard home residence. You are used to being on site to lend a hand and be the “hired help”. But your intent to help out may be misinterpreted as “interference” not helpfulness. This is where the line, “I was just curious…am I doing things that are irritating you? My intent is to be helpful like my mother-in-law was. Just checking.” Respect of all members of your farm team will be helpful and pay huge dividends in the emotional bank account of your farm family.
I happen to be a strong-willed daughter in law myself, so I would recommend honest, open communication to iron out those irritants that are interfering with your decision making process. Ask yourself: “What do I need, and what is it that she needs that she is not getting?” Then ask her the same questions!
All the best with your courageous conversations. You’ll be glad you broke the daughter-in-law barrier early in the battle.