I was basking in the glorious harvest sunshine and exquisite fresh air on my walk this morning as my cellphone rang. “Hi Elaine, it’s Charlie (not his real name)… Do you remember me?” The phone was crackling, but he repeated his name, and I said, “Yes!” noting the desperation in his voice. He needed a listening ear and some options for a sibling who was pushing for a Thanksgiving family meeting.
After 10 years of coaching farm families, and almost 20 years of crafting a Thanksgiving column, I should recall the trends. As Thanksgiving approaches farmers are bent on getting the harvest off as quickly as possible. Their disgruntled family members are intent on having “A BIG FAMILY MEETING” just after Mom gets the turkey bones put away for soup.
Do not do this!
Keep the family celebration time separate from the business planning time.
Strong families need to celebrate being a family. The celebration of Thanksgiving is for folks to gather and be thankful for the blessings of the past year, and look forward to creating more good times together. Some families are grieving the loss of a loved one, and this October 14 will be the first Thanksgiving with a significantly empty chair at the table. Be kind and loving to one another as you all grieve losses differently.
Successful farm businesses that are profitable have a habit of meeting on a regular formalized basis to discuss the strategy and operations of the business. This family business meeting is more effective when it is held on a different day than the day the family eats turkey together!
I receive a number of calls in late September leading up to Thanksgiving that deal with strategies to cope with disgruntled siblings who are coming “home” at Thanksgiving to set the record straight.
Invite all of the family to the Thanksgiving table on Sunday, October 13 for turkey.
Craft an agenda for the family vision meeting that will be held on October 14 after a full breakfast. The folks who have to travel will want to head out after lunch.
Set some guidelines, and ask for input via email before you meet.
Ask, “What is the most important thing for us to discuss as a family? Why is this so important to you? What is your vision for the farm? What is your vision for the family? Get people to start thinking about these things before they drive up your lane. You might even want to book a local hotel boardroom or neutral space away from your farm home.
Go to Staples and buy a flip chart, you can write it off as a farm expense, and while you are there buy the “EASY” button. You’ll need it to keep a sense of levity in the meeting. Raid your kid’s old bedroom stash of stuffed toys, and pick out an appropriate stuffed animal that you can toss to each other as a talking stick at the meeting. Whoever holds the animal gets to talk, without interruption.
Buy a copy of Ann Voskamp’s book A Thousand Gifts. Ann is an amazing writer and photographer who lives on a farm in southern Ontario. Her blog at www.aholyexperience.com is one of my favourite things, and a great inspiration to be thankful for simple blessings. Ann’s book is the result of a challenge made to her to be able to count 1,000 gifts. She does this on her farm with very creative writing and thoughtful responses to all that happens around her.
Recycle that hardly used Hilroy scribbler or science notebook as your new gratitude journal. Start today by documenting at least five things you are grateful for.
Today I am grateful for great harvest weather, a loving, faithful husband, clean tap water that is not brown like Winnipeg’s, garden tomatoes, and affectionate adult children who hug me any time. These things are poignant since I received an email this week from a woman whose 15-year marriage has just crumbled, calls from a distraught farming son grieving the loss of his dad, a stressed-out dairy woman who feels trapped, and queries from an off-farm working guy who wants to know how to get family meetings started for his family farm’s legacy.
Grab some untreated corn seeds and put one on each plate this Thanksgiving. Have each person speak of one thing they are thankful for. Your resilience as a farmer is increased when you have a positive attitude, have learned to count your blessings, and you know how to be content in many circumstances.
For those readers who are people of faith, you might enjoy reading Faith Today’s article on my work. They have dubbed me “Canada’s Farm Whisperer.” Here is the link:
This fall, Dr. Megan McKenzie and I are busy compiling our new book Farming’s In-Law Factor. If you have a story that you would like to share with us, or if you would like us to coach you briefly through an in-law issue you are experiencing, please email me at [email protected] with IN LAW FACTOR in the subject line.
Harvest is late this year, and with those pressures, along with the demands of community and coaching, I am thankful to get good sleep, and take one day at a time.
At 56, and turning 57 at the end of this month, I am the “poster child” for the average age of a widow in Canada. So I am thankful to have a husband, and for tools that help women cope with loss. I hope to get more of my documents in order again this winter.
Are you up to the challenge that Ann Voskamp took? Can you count 1,000 things on your farm that are gifts to you? If you do five a day, in just 200 days that will be 1,000.
Practise thankfulness every day of the year, not just in October.
Happy Thanksgiving! †