The cartoon featured a man and wife sitting upright in their bed with the man holding a pitchfork and a Holstein cow between them. The caption reads: “Honey you love your cows more than me!” Some dairy folks don’t find this funny, because they see a grain of truth in the humour. The cows often come first before family.
Many farm women who call for coaching are tired of being last on the list. My question is, “How did you allow this to happen?” We all need to take responsibility for the choices we make. Loving ourselves enough to take good care of our body, mind and spirit is not selfish.
So perhaps after a long harvest and the regular grind of caring for cows 24-7, it is a good time to take stock of your many roles as a farm woman. What would you like to hang on to, and what would you like to let go of?
Each of us fulfils six major roles as we journey through the adventure of farm life:
1. Self-care. When was the last time you were to the doctor to check out your physical well-being? You don’t get any martyr medals for ignoring that pain in your back or shoulder. Your physician can also run a quick checklist of questions to ensure that you are not suffering from a low-grade depression. That lingering sadness maybe a sign to you that you need medical treatment to get your joy back.
2. Couple: Married or “almost married”… Whatever your partnership looks like, staying in healthy relationships requires time and attention. The Alpha Marriage course encourages one hour per week of focusing on “the state of your union” with intentional time and conversation. This might be a walk down the lane, or sharing a hot chocolate at a favourite café or your own coffee table. Share each other’s needs. Love does not read minds. Use a journal to help you work through the seasons of your life, and mirror back to you what you need, what you are receiving, and where the gaps of enjoyment are.
3. Family. Moms tend to get stuck in the middle as mediators. Stop this triangle of your adult children going through you to complain about the founder (Dad). You can let go of your referee sweater and let your adult children confront their issue directly with those they have issues with. If this gets heated, use a third-party facilitator at your next family business meeting. Families that stay together need to pray and play together. What celebrations or fun activities can you enjoy away from the farm or on the farm to give you a sense of refreshing and renewal? Bonfires, walks in the woods, cycling?
4. Farm. This work role is the one that typically overwhelms farm women. They keep serving, adding on new jobs, and forget about subtraction. We all need fulfilling meaningful work. Time flies by and we wake up wondering if it is time to create a new chapter with less stress. Farms can consume all the available cash for growth or debt servicing at the expense of a personal wealth bubble for the founding couple. Farm women need to have access to personal wealth and make decisions with spouses for their personal goals, not just the farm’s goals. Do you feel you are being fairly compensated for the farm roles you perform? Do you know you could cope well as a farm widow? Are you embracing your farm financial status or avoiding the conversation?
5. Friends. Women typically are more concerned about rapport rather than reports, according to author Deborah Tannen. Relationships are very important, so my question is, “Who is your emotional support group beyond the farm family?” If your response is, “I don’t have time for my friends,” then you have just nailed your own stress issue. Being rich in relationship is a huge piece of the resiliency power to manage the stress of farming and life in general. Fast from Facebook, avoid it and pick up the phone and visit your friends with face-to-face conversation not just “Facetime!”
6. Community. Volunteers are the lifeblood of vibrant small towns and events that bring community together. Sometimes, as your personal health and ability to manage all the roles you carry are changing, you need to learn to say “no, not at this time.” I’ve found great joy in buying pie at the farmers’ market to help a young farm woman, and that same pie is delivered to the required church function. I still make pie, but I can choose to spend $8 not to make my own pie. Again, the choice is always there to find a different way to meet community expectations and still get a good result.
In all of these roles that you manage as a farm woman, consider, “Does this role or expectation make me feel heavy or light?” Lightness is a good decision that aligns with your current needs and values. Heaviness leans toward obligation, duty and guilt. Don’t go there.
Life is not a straight line, but more like a Slinky that stretches and curves and bounces around. Every morning we get to choose to embrace the day. It is good news that you are healthy enough to get out of bed, walk and create plans for your life. Be thankful for the many opportunities you are given as a farm woman. Just make sure that you are enjoying your choices, and not resentful that you feel pressured to live someone else’s life, and not your own intentional one. Seek out coaching or counselling to guide you in making better choices so that you love yourself more than the cows.