Back in 1987, before some of you reading this were born, I was asked to write about balancing work and family. It’s now 2023, and the same questions come from my audiences around key challenges like how to achieve work/life balance or how to get more family time on the farm.
The dance between work and family time on farms is a polarity. Polarities are issues that never stop or are solved but are something that always must be managed.
Polarities around family time often require an intentional decision. Are you going to work on a Sunday afternoon, or are you going to take the kids skating? Are you going to spend a couple of hours with your spouse helping out with a special project, or are you going to answer the task calls of the farm business?
Seeking out Facebook groups or social media posts for help on having more time with family on your farm is likely not helpful. The posts I’ve observed are long rants of frustration with few solutions in the comments.
Like many other aspects of frustration in agriculture, we need a deep mindset shift.
Your body is not a machine. You are not serving yourself or others well by being a workaholic. When are you going to pay attention to your physical, emotional, and mental needs, and those of your spouse and family?
Everyone needs rest and renewal time. We take ours on Sundays and choose not to work on our farm. As a grain farm, this is workable. On farms with livestock, you need to try to find other labour help or relief workers, or you can block out four or five hours in the day that is designated for family life.
The farm comes first. For many families, this belief is not workable, if it means there is never any time for family during the busy season. The problem with this mindset is you have a need to complete farm tasks that comes before meeting the needs of your spouse and kids. And you accept this as “This is just how it is.”
Conflict on your farm about the pull between work and family needs may be because you haven’t stopped to be creative with solutions for addressing this polarity between managing farm tasks and your desire for quality family time.
“Thinking “after harvest we will do this…” is a way to push family time into the future, but it’s not a workable solution, especially for folks whose love language is “quality time”. How can you prioritize or block out a couple of hours throughout your farming week to be present with your family?
Rain delays on grain farms can help with spontaneous family fun, but what if you are literally in a drought situation where you’re never setting aside time for family life. Google Calendar can be your friend to make this time.
My friend Lauren (Iowafarmwife.com) talks about how her husband spent three hours with their young son at a rodeo, leaving behind farm tasks to focus on creating a special memory for the family. At the end of his life, Lauren’s husband will not regret the fact he got off the tractor for a few hours to have fun with family.
We don’t have any help. As I write this, there are two women cleaning my house. Many of us have been raised to be strong, independent folks who can make things work on our own. It’s time to challenge this mindset and enlist help where you need it.
My coach Lydia Carpenter shares how her farm uses European workers for a season in their direct farm marketing operation. If you say you don’t have money to hire help, can you barter your time with friends or neighbours to exchange time for farm work relief?
How much is enough? Your family needs time and attention. The farm needs consistent management, and we all understand the “all hands on deck” mentality during calving, planting, seeding, and harvest.
Ultimately, we choose how to have measured persistence in getting things done. But if you value intimacy, relationships, and friendship, you also need to pay attention to what is filling your emotional bank account.
The solution for this quandary is talking with your spouse about what fills your tank. Some of you just want time for coffee and conversation to check in with each other, or time to play with young children. Some folks want to be heard and understood, which requires focused listening.
When the need for connection, family support, and play is pushed away time and time again, then people lose hope things will be different. As one proverb says, “hope deferred make the heart sick.”
I recommend you think about these things:
Have Family Days or afternoons when you can focus on family fun and time together with friends. My grandkids have a book called Dadurday is Saturday by Robin Pulver that’s about young kids making a list of things they would love to do with their father on a Saturday. Saturday or any day of the week can be a time when family can be a family.
Have an Educational Day when you can share your love of ag with your kids by doing crop tours, taking in a farm show, or just letting them ride along with you in the tractor. A quick tour on social media will confirm folks are being creative in combining farm labour and childcare. (Note: child safety experts caution us to always be careful when you combine farm activities with childcare) Asking for help from your mother-in-law or bartering time with a friend may help you.
Using cameras and robots on your farm. We recently installed cameras so hubby can see how much rain we’re getting while we are two hours away. Emily Reuschel (Gather in Growth Podcast) and her family took a road trip in the middle of July away from their farm, but they kept an eye on things back home using technology. I know of one young dairy farmer who texted a friend a photo of himself barbequing for a party while robots milked his cows, delighted with the investment that gives him more time to be a present dad.
Use better math. You need to practice subtraction. When farm life seems overwhelming, what do you need to let go of? This summer I let some young women use my garden space, where I myself had only two tomato plants and some gladiolias — that’s it. Where is it written that in order to be a good _________ (fill in the blank), you have to do a certain thing on your farm. Can you just say no?
Determine your personal style and needs. Managing your own needs and the needs of your spouse is the dance of work/life balance. As an extrovert, I get energy from spending time with my grandkids and other people. My husband prefers to re-energize by being alone.
Using one to 10 scale, prioritize or assess your readiness to do family time. How ready are you and your spouse to block two hours on Sunday for the family to have fun? If you answer is 10 and your spouse answers two, then you have some negotiation to do. Can you embrace deep listening for your spouse’s needs?
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