Challenging Unwritten Farm Rules: Bringing Farm Expectations into 2018


Challenge the Unwritten Farm Rules: Bringing Farm Expectations into 2018

by | Jul 10, 2018 | Farming Business

Challenge the Unwritten Farm Rules: Bringing Farm Expectations into 2018

Susan Forward who authored “Emotional Blackmail” has a simple tool changing the way people have always done things. She says all you have to ask is “Where is it written?”. This is great! As we continue to get further into 2018, many farmers are stuck in old gender roles and are scared to challenge them. It is time to stop that. Here are some common unwritten farm rules that you should be ready to change.

Challenging Unwritten Farm Rules

Large Farm Vegetable Gardens

“Where is it written…that in order to be a good farm woman you need to grow a garden”

Well, that comment by me in front of 300 women in Saskatoon lit a Twitter fire. It is 2018, and there is good food available down the road at the local farmer’s market, the neighbour who has a bountiful garden, and the grocery store that is open 7 days a week. Women and men who hate gardening would be wise to let that go.

Just for the record, I like to garden, and I just planted my 37th garden this spring. My goal with this blog post is to have you reflect on updating your expectations for the many roles you keep adding to your job list on your farm, whether you are male or female. It might be time to communicate expectation adjustments with your spouse.

The “Clean” House

“Where is it written…that in order to be a good farm woman you need to clean the house?”

What is workable for the family to function well, and what tasks can be shared by the kids and the other spouse? More young mothers are hiring cleaners, yet some of them are being judged as being lazy.

If you have off-farm income and are managing a full line of household duties, you might want to hire help. If you are a stay at home mom, you also may want to hire help to help your mental wellness if you are feeling overwhelmed. Or you may want to let go of perfection. I am just saying the cleanliness of the house needs to be negotiated as your stage of family life and the farm life demands may mean adjustments in expectations need to be made. I also recommend picking flooring that is the same colour as dried mud. This is why my back-door mat is gray.

Homemade Pies and Other Baking

“Where is it written…that in order to be a good farm woman you need to bake?”

unwritten farm rules - baking

Farmers love pie. I buy pumpkin pies for under $4 at my CO-OP, the only grocery store in town, and I don’t feel guilty that it is not homemade. When homemade pie is on my plate I am truly grateful for the loving hands that fashioned it (sometimes mine). No one can make you feel guilty without your consent. So, if you’re not a baker, don’t feel guilty about it! I keep a jar of almonds as a snack for my spouse who loves the convenience of nuts when he is famished.

Writing Christmas Cards and Thank-You Notes

“Where is it written…that in order to be a good farm woman you need to write all christmas and thank you cards”

I love to get snail mail. I am a writer and love the power of words, especially ones that you can savour in hand-written notes. If you do have the time to say thank-you to your in-laws or text your friends, do it. However you choose to express appreciation is a great building block for more respect and harmony on your farm. Say thanks.

You are not required to write Christmas cards in order to be well thought of. Do what works for what time you have to spend. Comparing your Pinterest posts will steal your joy. Do what works for the time you have to spend, and what your financial budget accommodates.

[Tweet “Being part of the #farm #family, doesn’t require you to follow these unwritten #rules.”]

Childcare From Parents

“Where is it written that children can only be cared for by their parents?”

Some farm grandparents are longing for more grandchild time and some have too much. Again, communication of your realistic expectations for times with child care is your call. Ask for what you need and be clear about what is workable for you at this stage of your life.

Young moms can barter child care with other young moms. It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. With larger equipment on farms, it is important to keep child safety a priority regardless of who is driving. Many young moms are operating large equipment and could use more daycare options or a nanny.


“Where is it written…that in order to be a good farm woman you need to iron”

unwritten farm rules - ironing

Ironing for me is relaxing, but I typically only iron dress shirts and napkins. Yes, I use cloth napkins and do not purchase paper towels. I like cloth rags, too. Boomers may still iron jeans, but not me. I have fond memories of ironing tea towels for my farm mom, but that is gone now with the use of Norwex towels! I think it’s helpful to question why you do the things you do and understand that “different is not wrong, it is just different.”

Off-Farm Workers Supporting ALL Farm Activities

“Where is it written…that in order to be a good farm woman you need to support all farm activities”

I am seeing some conflicts in the farm family dynamic where the female manager of the household is not willing or wanting to be part of the farm business or its demands. There is a strong culture in agriculture that farm women are to be supportive of the farm’s activities in all seasons.

What if the young woman who is your DIL decides that she puts enough time into helping with the cash flow with her off-farm job, and she says she is “not married” to the farm. Yikes.

There is a lot of urgency to talk about role expectations. If it is a perfect night to be out in the sprayer doing crop protection, it is not reasonable to demand that the sprayer operator be home by 7 p.m. to be with the family at the lake for fun. The timeliness of farm operations has to be balanced with the family’s need for fun time, with common sense. This is the trend in agriculture that needs more discussion.

Hopefully, the new couple has had pre-marriage counseling to iron out what cultural values of their farm operation they plan to embrace. If you are the father-in-law who is frustrated about new roles in the next generation, then you would be wise to call a family meeting to discuss expectations in an open, respectful manner.

Keeping the Woman’s Name Off the Assets

“Where is it written…that farm women can’t be part of the farm business?”

unwritten farm rules - farm women in farm business

This unwritten rule rears up on the land maps when it becomes obvious that the farm woman does not have her name on farm assets. How did she let this happen? The fear of divorce is driving this practice.

It is important that you understand your legal rights as a spouse who farms. Come from curiosity to discover how your voice can be part of the decision making team on your farm if you feel that the unwritten rule is “we keep the women out of the farm business”.

What’s the unwritten expectation on your farm? Let me know in the comments below!

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  1. Cathy

    Elaine: You bring up some excellent points. Lots of stuff to think about.

    • Elaine Froese

      Thanks for your feedback Cathy. Hope all is well in Ontario with your fruit and vegetable producers. They work very hard to provide us with a wonderful bounty of food. I hope those folks who garden can appreciate what it means to do it on a very grand scale!

  2. A.H.

    I was criticized in a big way recently by my sister-in-law for not being a good enough aunt to her children. My husband and I run our business together, I am as involved in the day-to-day running of it as he is, both the physical part and the clerical part. We also have 3 young children. She is a stay-at-home-mom with the tending of her home and children being her responsibility but does not work on the farm or have any off-farm jobs either and hasn’t since they were married. She is the wife of my husband’s brother. I was criticized by her (among a couple of other things revolving mostly around us not making time to spend with them) for not paying enough attention to her children. She told me that I’m a bad aunt and questioned if I hate her children. What never came up was a criticism of my husband, who spends equally as little time with them, for the same things. In fact when Birthday cards are sent and Christmas presents bought, that is me that looks after it, not him, so he actually concerns himself even less with his nieces and nephews, even though they are his side of the family, not mine. I explained to her that we have over 20 nieces and nephews between the two sides of our family, some of which we are closer to than others, which is totally natural, but that I am doing the best I can. I assured her I do not “hate” her children, just as I don’t hate any of my nieces and nephews but that she would not likely be seeing any changes in the time we spend with them because the fact remains we are busy and also have a young family of our own that gets priority of our free time. I get that from her perspective we should have more time to spend with them, her reality is very different from our’s so she doesn’t really understand the commitment our business requires from us right now, what I don’t get is that she seems to have understanding towards my husband being busy but isn’t able to have that same understanding towards me, because in her eyes, those are roles I, as the wife, should be fulfilling.

    • Elaine Froese

      Thanks A.H. for your perspective on a tough issue…role expectations for women that are not aligned. Each couple needs to figure out what their priorities are and how they want to parent their children, and relate to the extended family. You are in a very full season of business growth, and attending to your family. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if extended family asked you “How can we support your family?” Outsiders to our family business are critical of the long hours our son works, but his spouse works off farm, and she is very aware of what the seasons of agriculture need. Our renewal place is not working on Sundays so that we have family time, and time to connect with friends. Each family needs to figure out what works for them. I like to say “mercy triumphs over judgement”…(you’ve find that in the Bible !)

  3. Fawn

    Where is it written that fair is equal? That 2 siblings have to be 50/50 when their parents are gone?

    • Elaine Froese

      HI Fawn,
      The new definition of FAIR is helping everyone be successful. Check out my new video on my youtube channel “Finding Fairness in Farm Transition.”
      All the best,


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