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Blessing the mother-in-law you are stuck with

I wonder if you have picked out a card this year that says, “To the best mother-in-law in the world.” Mothers-in-law (MIL) are working hard on farms to mediate, meditate, and manipulate the family dynamics for better family harmony and a successful business. They usually are the brunt of many snide comments or jokes, which I think is totally uncalled for. My MIL, Margaret Froese was a wonderful friend and mentor to me for almost 30 years. I miss her.

Dr. Megan McKenzie, who holds a PhD in conflict resolution from Trinity College in Ireland, and I are working on a new project: “Farming’s in-law factor™.” We are compiling a book of tools to help farm families be better equipped at dealing with all the in-law roles on farms, and some of the blended family issues that are more common in 2013.

We’re curious about what is working and not working in the relationship between the farm’s MIL and her daughter-in-law (DIL). So we’ve compiled a list of roles and responsibilities that you might like to use as a checklist for discussion.

What’s working and what is not working — the MIL-DIL checklist

Put a smiley face beside the item that is working for you. If it is not working, then add what needs to happen to make this issue easier to manage.

Roles: I am happy doing… I am struggling with… I need…

Meals to field: Do they need to be full course? Meat and potatoes, or couscous?

Farm records and bookkeeping: I am not skilled at this job, but it is expected that I do it!!

Child care: Am I taking advantage of your kindness? You can say no!

Running for parts: The parts people make me feel stupid, please help me know more.

Off-farm job: I make two times more than my spouse who farms full time; cut me some slack.

Family time: Don’t expect us to work as hard as you do. We are not workaholics!!

Conflict resolution: My family didn’t yell or fight like you do. Different is not wrong, it is just different. Let’s call a meeting and attack the issues, not the people on this farm.

Non-farm family input: We need more privacy boundaries about our farm business decisions. The other siblings should not be running our affairs from the next province!

Social calendar and family appts.: We need to have more fun around here. Our social life sucks. How can we plan for more social time, especially this summer?

Family social worker: I am handing in my mediator job description. I don’t want to wear the black and white referee sweater anymore. Talk directly to those who are upsetting you.

Appropriate dollars to live on: We don’t have enough family living income, and we feel like slaves to the farm. Can we talk about a different salary/ownership arrangement? When is MIL going to get to travel?

Extra hands: I am happy to help out when needed. Please ask me nicely, and don’t gossip or demand my input when I am not able or ready to help out.

Gardening: Local fresh food is great, but I am more excited about flowers than heaps of fresh vegetables. I would rather spend my time with the kids camping or at the lake. I’ll support the local farmers’ market!

Yard maintenance/house maintenance: Who cuts the grass? Can we agree to where our maintenance responsibilities start and end? The farm owns the house, and I don’t feel I can make any changes to it.

Farm business meetings: I would like to have regular business meetings, and keep track of the decision-making log, so we can get things done according to timelines we all agree on. I also would like to have a voice with decisions that impact our family.

Other stuff:…

For some reason farmers really like checklists, so I hope this one gets some courageous conversations started. I often speak to DILs who are feeling “stuck” and apprehensive about changes they would like to see for the benefit of all family members.

The checklist is not exhaustive, so email me other items that you think should be on the list.

Send your best tips for being a blessing to your mother-in-law to [email protected] I will send a free copy of my book Do the Tough Things Right to the first three respondents. Please visit if you would like to be on the confidential list for tele-coaching calls in late May, where I will be your coach in the privacy of the phone line, across Canada. Sign up for the “in-law focus group.”

The women on your farm team play a huge role in the happiness level of the family, but they are not miracle workers. They need everyone’s co-operation to create a family culture that is nurturing and a workplace environment where all feel respected.

Remember, we all get to choose our approach, and our responses to those around us.

Be thankful you have a mom or mother-in-law to send a card to this year. I don’t.

I am becoming a mother-in-law this summer, so I look forward to the journey of care and adventure in seeing our farm with the “fresh eyes” perspective of our future daughter-in-law.

Cherish one another. Listen well. And be blessed by being faithful to care well for each other.

Happy Mother’s Day! Hope you are seeding! †

About the author


Elaine Froese is a Manitoba 150 Woman Trailblazer. She is passionate to guide farm families to find harmony through understanding. Her mission is for you to have rich relationships on your farm. Visit to learn more and book her for speaking engagements at



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