A new daughter-in-law asked… “How long do you have to be married before you get to be family ?” This powerful question is part of Jolene Brown’s new book “Sometimes you need more than an 2 x 4!…how to tips to successfully grow a family business.”
Jolene Brown and I are friends and colleagues. We both have strong messages for encouraging farm families to address the tough issues, treat others well, and grow great businesses. I would encourage you to consider her new book as a gift to the new brides in your neighbourhood. (www.jolenebrown.com ) I am asking the young farm women I meet to give me their insights as the “daughter –in-law” for my next book on “daughter-in-law dynamics.”
This week I had the awesome privilege of working with a well-adjusted farm family who sought my facilitation skills as an outsider to help them get more clarity about the farm’s successor, and everyone’s expectations for the future vision of the farm. The mother tearfully asked me to read a special letter to open up the family meeting.
The hand written three page note was dated by a young couple ( now parents ) almost three decades ago, and had been hidden from the adult children, until now. The intent of the letter was to be a guide to the parents to treat their family in a much healthier fashion than what they had experienced as a new couple on the home yard, too close to the founding parents.
I have their permission to share it with you here, anonymously, since they really don’t want the neighbours to figure out who they are !
Use their words of wisdom to craft your own note of encouragement to the next generation, and set healthy boundaries for dealing with family conflict on the farm.
“As parents we will strive to follow these guidelines and if we have trouble doing so we’ll have to think back to the first few years of our marriage and the trouble we saw.
1. Communication: If they are 5 or 20 years old we must treat our kids as friends and always listen to them and encourage them to talk to us. Ask them “What they think”,
“What happened?”, or “What should you do?”
2.Respect each other and respect each other’s privacy. When they are young, knock before entering their bedroom, for instance. Respect the kid’s opinions—even if they disagree. Don’t pry or snoop.
When the family is out of school and possibly married we must:
-give advice only when it is requested
-remember that our way of doing things is not necessarily the only way
-accept their right to do things their own way…they are still learning.
-share our experience as information, not as direction
-treat our children’s spouses as our children
If someone in the family wants to farm:
-encourage them to further their education first or try working at some other occupations for awhile to compare and become more aware of life’s choices.
-respect and support their decision and remember—advice only when asked for
-if they still wish to farm and there is enough farm for two families and you’ll be able to work together then, an operating agreement which recognizes individual contributions to the business must be drawn up with all involved parties not having any uncertainties.
-if it is a married child ( or soon to be ) it will be their decision only whether to share the yard site, but tell them because of experience you would encourage them to have a yard of their own. The new couple having their own yard would lend itself to a quality relationship. We would give any assistance necessary to achieve this.
-management decisions must be shared from the beginning.
-when the children show they are sincere about farming we shall provide documentation to ensure their eventual ownership of the farm.
-all points on the previous pages apply to this situation also.
Signed, Mom and Dad .
Jolene Brown says :” The business must decide, “What, if any, is the busess role of a spouse ?” In-law family members must express their wishes, if any, for inclusion or involvement in the business. It’s best clarified before the ring is on the finger.”
So, what is your family’s code of conduct? What expectations do you have of the newlyweds on your farm team ? How are you treating your successor’s partner…who lives with your adult child and is not married ?
Divorce is devastating to a farm business not to mention the farm family dynamics. Just ask the young farmer who I spoke with on the phone today. Many couples who struggle with in-law relationships early in the marriage don’t go for counseling to help them set healthy boundaries and clear expectations like you read in the letter above.
You might want to buy a copy of “The Language of Love and Respect” by Dr. Emmerson Eggerichs, to encourage couples of all ages to embrace their new family.
I give this book to farmers who are asking for help in building a stronger marriage foundation.
Its your farm, your family, your choice. Choose healthy behaviours and guidelines of respect. Tell your daughter-in-law that you are thrilled that she is part of the family, and show her love and acceptance in the way she likes to receive it.
If you are a daughter-in-law or son-in-law who would like to be part of my research team for my next book, please email your story to email@example.com. I’m looking for the good, bad and the ugly, so that we can all learn new tools to feel like we are really part of our new family… even 3 decades later.
Elaine Froese celebrates 30 years of marriage to Wes on July 4th this year. Her new action guide “Do the Tough Things Right…how to prevent communication disasters in family business” is available at www.elainefroese.com/store. Call 1-866-848-8311 to book Elaine for your fall agricultural event. Send cards to Box 957, Boissevain, MB, R0K 0E0 and tell her how you’ve made plans for change ! Elaine is a certified coach and member of the Canadian Association of Farm Advisors.