As an outsider looking in to the many farm families that I am honoured to share time with, it always saddens me to see folks who cannot seem to grasp happiness beyond what they do as farmers, especially when it is time to let go of control of decision-making and let the next generation be the key decision maker.
This Father’s Day is a great time to sit down and reflect on your relationship to your father and your children. Dads wield a lot of influence as leaders of their families, and some farm men are not in a happy place this year because they have nothing to look forward to beyond farming. Sons are fathers, too. The sons of founders want a happy legacy for their young families.
I think it is time for agriculture to confront the issue of “identity-based conflict” on farms. Dr. Megan Mckenzie, co-author of Farming’s In-Law Factor, says “people get locked into their identity and it becomes inflexible. This hinders them from being able to reinvent themselves, be open to new ideas and new experiences, or to live fully to their potential.”
Does what you do for a living define who you are? This is a tough question to sit with. When you are no longer the main manager, does that mean that you are useless? No! It means that your roles in life have shifted, you as a person still and always will have great value. You are valuable as a human being, not only as a human “doing.”
“But Elaine, my passion and my whole life is farming.” I get that. You love to farm. Farming is your business. You have another system in your life… your family. Relationships that are healthy are your true wealth, because they are your legacy, regardless of the price of soybeans, corn or canola. You are grieving the loss of some deep part of your identity when you cannot be the ultimate decision maker on your farm. You need to let go and let the next generation succeed. Face your fear of “losing your identity and control.”
This does not mean that you are “done.” Your new role is one of “wiser elder” and “trusted adviser.” You can share your wisdom and experience when it is asked for. You can also be proactive and ask permission in a gracious way to share your insights by saying, “Would you like to have my input on this decision?”
There is a verse in the Bible that cautions fathers not to exasperate their children. Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, don’t exasperate your children coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master” (The Message). As a father, what can you do in the next three months to build happier relationships in your family roles?
I hear from many 30-something adult children who are ready to throw in the wrench and quit farming because of the conflict with a father founder who just cannot seem to switch roles. He has no interest in being the “hired man again,” and unless he gets to call the shots, he will just leave. Or not. Sometimes he stays, driving the future successors away.
What could help?
1. Read Stephen Poulter’s book: The Father Factor. Hopefully you will choose to be a compassionate mentor to your successor. Poulter says only 20 per cent of fathers are compassionate mentors. We have too many “time bomb” explosive angry fathers and founders. This needs to change.
2. Go to the doctor. Your negative mood may be depression, sleep apnea, thyroid issues, or something else that has a physical cause.
3. Grieve. Understand that you are feeling loss. No one has died, but your identity tied up in being a farmer is changing. Call a mental health worker or get some professional counselling.
4. Celebrate your marriage. Start dating your wife again and find joy as a couple in activities that connect you to other folks having fun.
5. Volunteer. Serve others. Reignite an old hobby that you have left by the wayside. When you give your time and energy to other people you stop dwelling on what’s sour in your life. You start building a new chapter and reinvent your role.
6. Travel to a Third World country. Sign up for the next Canadian Foodgrains Bank tour. Seeing how farmers in other parts of the world struggle to feed their families will put your priorities in order. Start a food grains project in your community.
7. Write a letter of appreciation to your successor. Show leadership as the dad and thank your son or daughter for all the support that they have given you to grow an amazing farm. Their work, alongside yours, has created an amazing legacy of growth and wealth to be shared. Adult children — write a letter of appreciation to your father, and your mom. Respect and appreciation flowing both ways will encourage the heart of your farm.
8. Email [email protected] with “encourage the farm” in the subject line and I’ll send you a word cloud of encouraging points to attach to your letter of appreciation.
As a farm family coach my goal is to empower family, increase profits, and secure legacy. Be intentional about being rich in relationships!