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Loyalty to farm and family

Agriculture.com Staff 07/06/2010 @ 5:13pm

Your column for the August 2009 issue was especially interesting because it addressed a long-standing issue in farm country: loyalty to the farm business.

The column concerned a son's need to make a choice: spend time with his children or do farmwork.

I have been a farmwife for 19 years, and it still surprises me that grandparents consider their own grandchildren to be a threat to the success of their farming operation.

The son in this story made some mistakes, which cost him his first marriage and the convenience of having a ready-made babysitter while he farmed to his heart's content.

Now he is expected to give up time with his children. I think what this family needs is flexibility.

If the currency of love is time, then fathers must show their children that they matter by spending time with them. Yes, farming is very time- and labor-intensive.

But I suggest that sensible priorities and family loyalty are not always central issues on busy family farms.

Some farmers use work to avoid relationships or to prevent children from developing strong relationships outside of the nuclear family. Other farmers use work to prove their self-worth.

Sometimes constant busyness helps farmers cope with economic uncertainty because (as the thinking goes) God will bless those who keep busy. Could the grandparents in your column find a way to show more compassion?

Work hours might be adjusted to better fit their son's schedule. A careful look at the daily schedule may show a need for better time management.

Maybe precious time is wasted getting started or around meal times. And finally, I suggest that some of the work the grandparents want to accomplish may be unnecessary.

The grandparents should assess their motives to see if they are jealous of the time their son spends with his children. Maybe they feel guilty for not being a caring parent to him. Maybe they want him to suffer because of his mistakes.

At one of my seminars in Australia a few years ago, a farmer listened for a while, silently, to wives' complaints about excessive time spent by their husbands in the field. Finally, he dryly concurred with the women's comments, saying, "I call it 'recreational plowing.' "

The demands of both farming and family life are great, but A.B. is right, decisions on time use are too often based more on personal priorities than on objective time management.

The Australian farmer was only half joking. His priority was often to spend time away from the demands of family life, wrapped in the peaceful cocoon of a tractor cab.

A.B. suggests that "sensible priorities and family loyalty are not always central on the family farm." She also taps into much deeper motives like resentment, guilt, and punishment. But those are topics for another column.

Just as in the rest of life, time use and commitment on the farm are a matter of priority.

Honestly weighing our responsibilities and motivations, and then applying mature time management to our conclusions would help each one of us to find a better balance between our work and family life.

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