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letting go of failed succession plans

I can’t imagine what it feels like to think you are getting married and then find out at the rehearsal that the wedding is called off. Who do you go to ask for help to process that hurt, disappointment, and embarrassment?

There seems to be a parallel type of anger that follows a failed succession plan when generation 2 walks away from the dream of being on the family farm, a different kind of “marriage”. How do you get around this disappointment in the short term to a better point where you can see other opportunities to fill your passion besides the failed plan?

As a seasoned coach, I have witnessed the journey young farm couples take to find healing and wholeness when things don’t work out. A young dairy farmer alerted me to this fact:

“I’ve been seeing a theme among the Ag Women’s network forums: women reaching out to ask others for next steps after failed succession plans.”

Women typically take on the role of the emotional officers of their families. These are the questions they are asking:

  • The farm’s been sold to someone else, how do we move on?
  • The farm’s been sold, how do we mend relationships, so we don’t lose the family, too?
  • Where do we go to get mental and physical help?

In the cases I am familiar with, the farm has not been sold, but another sibling has been deemed the successor. The anger of the son leaving the operation stems from hurt, fear, and frustration. This person found counseling to be a great tool to help process the grief and loss of a life-long dream. The counseling for his wife started first as she was more ready to embrace outside help. When I questioned her motives she courageously said “ You need to do counseling for yourself to quit being sad and angry. It’s a good place to get a neutral view and tools. Close family is too emotionally tied to the situation with all their emotional input.” In this case, the wife sought counseling first, and the husband followed when he witnessed the freedom his spouse was finally experiencing. Today with zoom you can have a counselor anywhere in the country. I recommend Emotional Wealth Management in Calgary and Recovery of Hope in Manitoba.

Also, check out your physical well-being, one of my clients discovered her sadness came from a low functioning thyroid and depression when she went to her doctor.

Letting go of pain and working through the complexity of family business dynamics takes time. You need time to process your grief and find healthy ways to create a new identity. Many farmer’s self-worth comes from what they do in agriculture. I have seen folks move to a non-family member in a joint venture type of relationship to build a new farm career. What may sideswipe you is the unexpected backlash of community gossip or opinion on the “failed succession or transition.” My coaching client did not expect the backlash of negative comments from family or the community. Counselors will likely help create an emotionally healthy response to other’s comments.

Dealing with the loss of a dream is a form of grieving. Our culture is pretty messed up at the moment with the Great Pause and the restrictions on grieving as a group to bring closure and healing for loss. Losing the opportunity to be part of the family farm is a huge loss. The question is how to move on?

You might want to do some coaching to discover new meaning and purpose in your career. What is it that you do where you lose all track of time? What gives you energy? What do your closest friends see in you as your strengths? Could you spend some time strategizing new opportunities? What sounds like a good thing to test out? Currently, I am guiding an older farmer and his spouse in “adopting” a couple to run their farm. We are using a value style indicator and a personal style assessment to gain insight on what values are aligned, and how each person deals with people, tasks, details, and impacting their environment. These strengths and tendencies will help folks be clear about which roles and responsibilities they can tackle well.

Part of moving on is having something to look forward to or something that fuels your desire for life-long learning. One young farm woman is taking more training in conflict resolution with the desire to do farm family coaching and combine that skill set with her deep understanding of the grieving process in her other profession. So women in agriculture, what are you looking forward to? What gives you a sense of excitement and energy? What do you need to let go of in order to create space for the new mission?

Navigating family relationships after a farm split or succession fail takes warmth, grace, and patience. Building the bridges of relationships will go faster if there is unconditional love. If the toxic behaviors of manipulation continue, then relationships will likely always be fragile. People get up every morning and choose how they wish to behave. They can reach out with grace and forgiveness to build stronger family ties, or they can choose to continue to be mistrustful and nasty. You can choose to be open to blessing the other family members with grace and kindness regardless of how you are treated in return, but that takes strong emotional health and clear boundaries of what is workable and what is not acceptable.

Folks can get help from their doctors and local mental health workers. If deep pain, hurt and emotional exhaustion is creating physical distress you need to see your family doctor. You can ask for a depression test to rule out a low-grade depression, or if it exists, you can start treatment under the care of your doctor. Many times we need a trusted professional to work out issues in a safe and respectful manner, and that is where a mental health worker can be a huge support to you on your journey of letting go.

Privacy on social media entices women to share with some trepidation. I would encourage you to reach out to counselors, coaches, and nurses who are familiar with grief and emotional pain.

Dr. Henry Cloud’s book “Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward” (2010) offers wisdom on this topic, and you can get an audio copy. Gary Thomas authored “When to Walk Away” finding freedom from toxic people. Thomas reminds us that “life is about learning to live with loss”.

My book “Farming’s In-Law Factor” has insights on conflict and what to do when things don’t work out. Remember to pay attention to the health of your marriage, you want your couple knot to stay strong.


Elaine Froese CSP, CAFA coaches via zoom, and invites other coaches to join her process. Book her to speak to your group for an engaging online presentation. Visit www.elainefroese.com

Did you enjoy Letting go of the Anger of Failed Succession Plans? You might want to check these articles out too:

Create a Farm Succession Action Plan and Relieve Your Stress
Spoiled Farm Children and Farm Succession: How to Stop the Temper Tantrums
How to Start the Succession Planning Conversation

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Workaholics will discover helpful strategies for managing their time stress. Gain understanding for the tensions of your age and stage on the farm. Learn why some problems are not solvable, but just need to be managed as polarities. Self-renewing people are joyful and productive producers.

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“A joy to work with, heard loud and clear. When the farmers laughed or asked a great question, I knew they were listening and really wanted to learn from her. Her tips were easy to understand. It was just about understanding that conflict happens, and to have the confidence in yourself to ask for what you want. In the glowing review from farmers after her presentation, I knew they had heard that loud and clear.”
Maddy Berner, Event Planner & Communications Coordinator, National Milk Producers Federation National Milk Producers Federation
“I wanted to say a HUGE thank you for your virtual kitchen table chat with Arlan Academy. My wife and I signed up as it was exceptionally relevant to our current journey with potentially transitioning to her parents’ farm. The session was able to cover so many aspects of these crucial conversations and hearing you speak to both sides of the conversation was eye opening for my own perspective on this topic. It seemed to be very well attended and sounded like there were many other people who would echo my thoughts and feelings on it.”
N. Oakley, Farmer, Ontario
“Elaine helped me allocate $1 Million of assets the night I listened to her. Elaine’s presentation brings value to the use of my services in my office.”
Don Forbes, Forbes Wealth Management
“I recently joined in and listened to your Healthy Farmer Agriwebinar for FMC. I truly enjoyed hearing your perspective and even went and grabbed my Mom, away from her work, to come and listen in on some of your main points as well! One area that really stood out for me, both personally with our own succession plans and with our clients, was your discussion involving "Instant Influence" and how ready are you to change? I loved this concept!”
Annessa Good, FCC Transition Specialist, Alberta
“Elaine Froese truly is the Farm Whisperer. With her big heart and stern resolve, she guides families through uncharted waters and helps them arrive safely at their desired destination. She has been there, done that, and has helped hundreds of families come out on the other side. With your family and your farm legacy on the line, you owe it to yourself to start this conversation. You do not need to do it alone. Let Elaine Froese guide you through. Your legacy is being written day by day. How will you be remembered?”
Tracy Brunet, Host of The Impact Farming Show & CEO of Farm Marketer
“You speak like you’ve been sitting at our kitchen table! You know our family issues well. I am feeling more comfortable understanding what we now need to do. Elaine Froese is real.”
Audience Member,
“I attended the meeting you spoke at in Stratford Ontario recently. We held an emergency family/farm meeting today because of issues that I had enough of. We used a 'talking stick' like you recommended and wrote a chart of rules. The rest of the family thought the idea that we needed a meeting was worth rolling their eyes over, until we got started. The younger ones were quick to clue in that they now have an opportunity to be bluntly honest. The older ones took a bit longer to believe they could truly say what they think. In the end, the meeting needed two sessions because there was so much to talk about… and so many things people didn't realize were a big deal to the others. Your lessons and encouragement have given us the tools we need to get to a better place in our relationships and our business. Truly thankful.”
Kim Martin, Dairy Farmer, Ontario
“Helped me develop my framework to start having constructive and meaningful conversations around the farm.”
Tennille Wakefield, Farm Partner
“Some great lessons, Elaine! You continue to do some remarkable and potentially life-changing work.”
James Mitchell, Principal, Conversations Consulting
“Our family had a good farm meeting yesterday afternoon. Your Fairness video was a great topic of discussion. One of the action items after the meeting was to have my two non-farming siblings watch the video before the next big meeting they are involved with on the farm. It will be a great conversation starter as we catch them up on our current plan. As they are younger, we also hope it will help them to ask new questions that may not have been on their mind.”
G.G., Farm Family Legacy Coach, Alberta
“Elaine gives me excellent tools that help me work with my clients!”
Laurianne Osmack, Financial Planner / Partner, Doell Osmak Wealth Management
“She has a sense of “knowing” quickly what is happening in the family dynamic. Her messages to her audiences drive home what needs to be done next to solve the complex issues of farm transition and conflict resolution.”
Audience Member,
“Eye-opening. Excited to open the door of communication with my spouse and farm family.”
Ashley Hoppe, Farm Partner
“The Strong Farms, Strong Families session gave farm families an opportunity to meet face to face with Elaine Froese... hear her own story, experiences and skill set. From this information packed session and related materials, families could identify areas of success in their journey and other places they need assistance. The greatest take away was that participants could see that Elaine Froese is someone they can trust with the things that they hold most precious.... their family and their farm.”
Nancy Atkinson, Nobleford Ag Society, Alberta
“Elaine’s real-life scenarios help her audiences know they are not alone, knowing there are creative solutions to help them get the life on the farm they have always wanted.”
Audience Member,
“A long time female client who had refined the art of procrastination was so moved by the end of your presentation that she accepted your permission to “drop the bananas.” She contacted me soon after for an appointment to do some planning which included the selling of the family “Century Farm.” A very, very emotional decision on her part that was not likely to have occurred without your presentation.”
Don Forbes, Forbes Wealthy Management
“I just have to say… that your work is amazing and I have never forgotten your teachings from our session in Williams Lake at TRU. It is super important work. I know so many people going through the trauma of succession. I hate to use that word, but I was an “out-law” and know it can get terrible. I continue to forward your emails on to others. Keep doing what you do! You are amazing. You kind of walk into the fire regularly… and with a smile. Proud to have met you.”
Megan, BC Rancher
“As my husband and I eagerly started the course we were optimistic and excited to be taking this next step in our Farm Transition. We were starting to question ourselves and whether or not we were just being selfish and greedy, and if this Farm Transition was still an option for us. We barely got through the first Module and were already having such a huge relief. As we moved through the modulus there were so many times that we just sat back with our hands in the air and thought YES. My husband and I would smile with relief because all of the concerns that we have been struggling with were relevant and came up in the modules. We really enjoyed the course and are excited to move on to the next stages to find our farm resolution.”
Shannon Gilchrist, “Get Farm Transition Unstuck” online course participant
“My hubby farms with 2 brothers and parents, and it’s become a really toxic place. No communication, no respect, etc. Twelve months ago, my husband’s brothers told him they don’t want to work with him anymore and offered him a pay out. His parents did nothing to stop it! He had no choice but to leave. Three months later, we moved off the farm and into town. He has been offered heaps of jobs and is now truck driving and carting hay and grain. We have tried communicating with his parents about what happened but they are not interested. So basically my hubby has lost his family. Very sad but we as husband and wife are overall in a good place and moving on to create our own life. Please continue on with all your wonderful work in helping families on the farm. I continue to tell any farmers I know about you, that they must ‘google’ you, and read your books.”
Donna, Farmer, Australia

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