When there’s tension in a farm family, it can mean a much bigger impact than just hurt feelings. With that in mind, today we’re going to discuss some of my favorite tips for creating family harmony on the farm.
The coaching theme lately has been older brothers and young brothers (a good bit younger) trying to figure out how to farm together. It is a bit of a trick since the older brother typically has a bit more equity because he has been on the farm for a decade or more.
If you’d like to read more about conflict between farm family siblings, be sure to visit this post once you’re done reading about creating family harmony.
Farm Family Dilemmas
The dilemma of how to give each sibling what they need as a successor sometimes breaks a mother’s heart. She loves all of her children, as does Dad. She’s trying to figure out the way ahead so the family will be in harmony, and the farm will have a strong team.
It could be adult children who show up as loving adults, responsible, respectful and ready to create solutions. It’s the farming successors who show family relationships are the core value to be protected. They also show the farm is a business, not a monster to be fed.
So, what can be done for creating family harmony?
9 Suggestions for All Members for Creating Family Harmony on the Farm
1. COME TO THE TABLE
Be willing to discuss ideas and options. What is your big picture vision of farming with your parents and your siblings?
The accountant can give you some creative share structure options, partnerships, and operating agreements once you are clear about what each sibling needs. Share your “why” or intent for the things you are asking for.
2. INVOLVE THE DAUGHTER-IN-LAWS
Readers asked for an article on daughters-in-law who farm and conflict resolution. So I delivered.
After all, I am her. I’m a farm partner who supports the farm team.
Some daughters-in-law are more active agronomists, livestock keepers, and bookkeepers. Everyone’s role can look different, but all are important.
In my books, the farmer’s spouse can be a daughter-in-law or a son-in-law. The daughter-in-law needs to understand what kind of debt is going to be serviced. She needs to be clear that she is willing to help bring in cash or income for family living. If she’s a homemaker, that’s fine. But the farm will have to cash flow more revenue for debt-servicing. Is this viable?
3. KNOW YOUR FAMILY LIVING COSTS
You need to eat and be clothed. Parents can’t be expected to give you a free ride with free house rent or utilities forever. Once you cover your basic living costs, what do you have left for servicing debt or buying assets? You need disposable cash to grow.
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4. REALIZE YOU’LL ALWAYS BE THE OLDEST, MIDDLE, OR YOUNGEST CHILD
You can’t change your birth order or become older to “catch up” to your older farming sibling.
But what you CAN do is grow up, be mature, and make responsible choices with your time, resources, and energy. I know a young rancher who worked hard with neighbors to make hay arrangements for his growing cattle herd, and he also bartered his labor to get ahead. He was not using his youth as an excuse to just coast.
5. VISIT YOUR LENDER AND FIND OUT WHAT YOU ARE GOOD FOR REGARDING LOANS
Do you know your net worth? How much money could you come up with quickly to leverage some debt for an awesome opportunity to gain assets to farm? You might not be able to afford land, but can you access some rented land and pay for inputs? Your mom would like you to be independent with your living (laundry, meals, etc. ) and ready to be independent financially.
6. BE PATIENT
It took your parents 40 years to get where they are today. It’s 2020, and farming has big dollars attached to the adventure.
Be open to learning more about financial transparency. Negotiate what you are willing to commit to and for how long. If your parents are going to roll over or gift assets, they want to know that their wealth will be protected. They also want your marriage to be strong and enduring.
Set some reasonable timelines and dates on paper so that everyone can digest what a workable timeline is for everyone to get closer to their farming goals.
For more on taking control of the financial future of the farm, take a look at this article.
7. REMEMBER TO BOOK TIME FOR FUN
Strong families celebrate.
I wish you could see the tears in Mom’s eyes (and Dad’s) at the end of a family meeting when she tells her adult farming children that she’s proud of them and loves them dearly.
Appreciation and encouraging the heart of your farm business is done with words of affirmation, gifts, and time spent together with gratitude. Don’t kid yourself that all the stuff you collect in your house is important.
Life is not about things. Write your folks some nice words in a card this year.
8. DECIDE EVERY DAY HOW YOU ARE GOING TO INTENTIONALLY ADD TO YOUR FARM FAMILY’S EMOTIONAL BANK ACCOUNT
When siblings farm together, especially at different stages of the family life cycle, they need to recognize they’ll always be in different phases of that cycle.
Parents are not responsible for making all of their children economically equal. Yet their heartstrings are pulled to want to help each child achieve success. Farm owners may want to help the younger siblings, just as they have helped the older farm and non-farm siblings in their own way.
This is not an easy dance.
The founders need to take care of their own income streams for the next 30 years and protect their wealth as they make the transition of ownership gradually. It also helps if there is a “personal wealth bubble,” as Merle Good says, to help draw non-farm cash for living needs as we age.
Farm transitions can be difficult, but there are ways to keep them fair, and I discuss them here.
9. YOUR MOM WILL ALWAYS BE YOUR MOM
Someday mom and dad may also be your business partner. This is where role confusion really mucks people up. They cannot switch “hats” as they relate to each other in the different roles they play. Practice saying, “As your child, I feel valued and respected as a member of this family, and as your future business partner I am looking forward to creating solutions to make a great future for my own family.”
Need help creating family harmony on the farm?
It’s one thing to read these words and another thing entirely to put them into action. But I am here to help with that! My services include farm family coaching for families looking for the help needed to move towards better communication in the farm transition process.
If it’s the farm succession planning that’s causing tension, I can help with that too. Farm family business coaching is a forum for talking about the tough issues, the bull in the middle of the living room no one’s talking about. I can help you keep family business meetings a safe place to respectfully work out an action plan to create harmony within your farm family once again.
I look forward to hearing from you.
If you enjoyed this article and you’d like to dive deeper, don’t miss these posts:
This article was originally published in September 2016, and has been updated in 2020.