I received a lengthy LinkedIn (LN) message from a woman who is concerned for her farming daughter who lives 6 hours south, and far away from her former city life. It strikes a chord with me as I recall the teary eyes of young women agricultural leaders who express sadness at their lack of emotional support for the things which really matter to them.
I have always considered my empathy as a gift to share and a driver to be an encourager. The lessons of THE GREAT PAUSE have taught us a deep longing for connection. We seek richness in our relationships and a desire to be understood. Mental wellness is a key goal for everyone who has chosen to plant, grow, sort livestock, and manage off-farm jobs while raising children and caring for aging parents.
My LN friend said she would write a book about “moving into someone’s past. How many young women understand the concept of moving into someone else’s past?”
This is an interesting thought. I live in my husband’s childhood home which was built in 1960 when his parents put up two-quarters of the land to secure the house built for $12,000. In 2020 we thought we were moving to town, but plans changed when our son decided to buy a new home just across the shelterbelt.
Housing is a great example of navigating the stories, emotions, and memories attached to the main farmyard. We did not own our home for the first 11 years of our marriage, and when we finally got the title, the renovations began.
“Many women who move to remote farms in their husband’s family lose many of the options their urban friends still have.” Yes, and I would add, a comparison of your life to others, especially on Instagram is a joy stealer. When you are planted in a remote rural area, or far away from city friends, you must be very intentional about creating a new life that aligns with your values and goals. Hopefully, you had some fruitful direct conversations about these core beliefs with your spouse or partner BEFORE you said YES to moving onto the farm.
So, what has worked for you to navigate lonely, epic life changes?
For me, it was finding a robust church community of folks who walk alongside us in the good times and in the bad. It is also part of my routine to pick up my phone and reach out to college friends who live across Canada. They sometimes visit the farm, but regardless I stay connected to folks who can fill my emotional bank account, marvel at the adventures of farm life, and ask if I need prayer. The woman lamenting the young women with lonely hearts is seeking fair warning and constructive advice.
- Know what fills your emotional bank account. Relationships are one of my top 7 values. I work on connecting, and even when the relationship feels a bit one-sided, I get to choose if I want to continue to reach out. What does “self-care” mean to you?
- Find mentors close to the farm. For me, it was Frances McCausland Stobbe Sawatsky, a nurse who farmed had married into the Mennonite culture, and was an Englander, just like me. She is now 95, lives 20 miles away, and we still have phone visits. She became like an adopted mom to me very early on in our marriage, as my mom was over 3 hours away.
- Cherish your marriage. The Alpha marriage course was a great resource for Wes and me. Find out more here. Click here to check out which does zoom counselling across the Prairies. If you are looking for a road trip to Sangudo Alberta, reach out to my friends Dan and Carol Ohler who run couples retreats for farm couples and a great podcast about relationship design, find them here.
- Journal. Write out your thoughts in your private journal to process what is happening in your life. Take time to reflect and write reasons to be grateful. Avoid hanging out in those Facebook groups for farm wives that use a lot of ranting to discuss the angst of spouses not paying attention to needs, while little to no solutions are offered. As Brené Brown would say, “What is the story you are telling yourself?” Are you feeling trapped, misunderstood, or taken for granted? What is your role in change? What questions are you asking others? What choices do you have to create a more intentional fuller life?
- Consider therapy or coaching. If you are in trauma or suffering a mental illness episode you need to reach out for professional help and treatment. The National Farmer Mental Health Alliance has now developed an ag-informed therapy course to help therapists understand the realities of farm life. Go here to check out resources. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is a strategy of wisdom. Folks will not know how you are struggling with your new life in a remote rural area if you keep silent. Depression can rise from hard circumstances, so don’t suffer alone, reach out!
- Be patient and manage your expectations. Your spouse and their family cannot meet all your needs. What can you do to “fill your well?” Understand it takes time and intention to build a sense of connection and community. When we were raising young children a group of us young moms made a point to meet at the lake together for play times. I also had a friend who left her son with me on Tuesdays, and I left my son with her on Thursdays. These blocks of bartered time gave us “adult time” to renew and refresh the many roles we manage daily on the farm.
- Farm families are comfy with their history. You as the “import” are the new kid on the block so to speak and are joining an existing dynamic that may be a lot different than your family of origin. There are many “unwritten rules” in ag families you are going to unpack with powerful questions. Ask “I am just curious, why is it so important to you to ___________”. Fill in the blanks. Come from curiosity, not judgment. Different is not wrong, it is just different. Your in-laws may not see the importance of being welcoming and inclusive. If you want more tips, order “Farming’s In-Law Factor” here.
- Contribute to your community. Volunteer at the rink or your church. Serve other folks who have stories to share with you. Shine your light and share your gifts in serving others. My LN friend says “You can never go wrong with contributing to your community. It may not be anything huge, but just shine your little light where you can and by contributing, you’ll make new connections and feel great at the end of the day!”
Elaine Froese is a certified coach and professional speaker who seeks to help farm families find harmony through understanding. Reach out for a free discovery call here. Tell your family you love them while you can.
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