The summer is slipping away quickly, yet I hope that you’ve carved out some time for visiting, camping and fishing. We all are busy farmers, but deep down there is a longing that I see for folks hoping to have a deeper sense of connection. This column is an excerpt from our book Farming’s In-Law Factor:
When we find ourselves in the midst of hectic lives on farms, sometimes it’s difficult to find time to connect with friends and community. If we aren’t careful to nurture our relationships with others, we may find ourselves isolated, with only the support of our immediate family. Social and emotional support networks are important, particularly on farms. Friends and community are not just a nice bonus for farm families, they are essential. They serve several important roles. Friends are great for fun, relaxation, renewal, and leisure activities. They provide an excuse for much-needed breaks from farm labour. More than just a good laugh, we can share joys and frustrations with them. They are good for our sense of well-being and our frame of mind.
When we need insights, friends can give us an outside perspective of what is happening in our lives and our farms. They can act as our sounding board. Watching our friends’ lives unfold helps us to see other examples of families, marriages, parenting, and farm activities. Good friends can give both positive feedback and constructive criticism when we can’t see the situation clearly ourselves.
What happens if you become socially isolated?
If people become socially isolated, they may lose a sense of what the range of “normal” looks like. Their world may become so small they are unable to see the possibilities that exist or, on the other hand, they may think their untenable situation is “normal.” In several of the most conflicted farm families we have worked with, these off-farm relationships have been severed over time and the families are left in isolation to sort through the troubles.
Community relationships can reassure us we’re not alone and people care about us. They can help hold us up, both emotionally and in practical ways, when life’s storms hit. In community, the celebrations in life are sweeter and the tragedies more bearable. “By reaching out to others and taking advantage of their support and friendship, you can gain strength to deal with your problems and an ability to take control of your situation.”
Social time and being connected to community or to the family of origin can be a life-giving factor to the daughter in-law (DIL) or others on the farm team. Sometimes the demanding nature of farming can make it difficult for a DIL to leave to be with her family. “The farming operations and related livestock and crop responsibilities made it difﬁcult to visit extended family members who resided outside of the geographical area, which was particularly the case for extended maternal family members. Some farm women expressed sadness in their inability to travel great distances to see extended family members.” It’s important that the rest of the farm team ensures that this visiting can happen without it being a huge burden for the DIL.
Questions for reflection:
- If you were feeling worried about something, whom would you call?
- If there was a tragedy, whom would you call?
- If you wanted to go out for the evening, how easy would it be to find someone to hang out with?
- If you had really wonderful news, who would be delighted to hear this news?
- Whom can you share just about anything with and not get the sense that they are judging you?
This summer I will be spending time with family and friends to refresh my soul and fill my “coaching well” so that I have sound emotional strength to coach farm families come September. I also want to encourage you to seek out resources to support your mental well-being. I have found a new magazine from www.bphope.com which is a great resource to support folks who struggle with bipolar depression. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, one in five Canadians is struggling with a mental health issue. As a depression survivor I am on a personal mission to encourage people to get medical help and treatment for depression in all of its various forms. My mental wellness plan for the month of August is to take a break from my professional work, and focus on my family. What is your plan to take time for family, friends and community this summer? †
One time I had a wise friend tell me that my then boyfriend wasn’t treating me well enough. In the midst of the situation I was in, I couldn’t see that for myself. I am forever grateful that he did that for me. I once told that friend that I was concerned about his mental health. It was one of the most difficult things I ever did, but I did it with love because I was sincerely concerned about him.