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Dealing with a non-farm fiance

Agriculture.com Staff Updated: 03/11/2014 @ 1:21pm

By Dr. Donald J. Jonovic

Submitted by T.G., via Email:

My fiancé and I will marry in the fall, and I can see I’m going to have problems with his family.

Please understand. I love all of them, and they’ve been welcoming to me. I just don’t think I’m a good fit with Bill’s family’s culture.

Bill is the youngest of four and the only son. His sisters and brothers-in-law have worked on the family farm their entire adult lives. Family life revolves around the farm and vice versa. They even have their own small family day care center in the oldest sister’s house (and farm office), where each sister has a desk and computer. The men all work the farm with Bill’s dad, and I can see that Bill will happily fit that mold.

Sounds like paradise, doesn’t it? See if you still think so when I add another fact: I’m an artisan baker and want to start my own shop in town. I won’t have the time, the physical ability, or even the desire to spend my days at the farm or in the farm office, putting in time doing my share of babysitting. How can I start life with the man I love without giving up my own?


The arrival of a new in-law, particularly a daughter-in-law, stresses a family’s culture, especially since, in our society, new couples tend to drift toward the new wife’s family. In street terms: “She sure messed up our Thanksgiving traditions!”

Once-powerful drives and needs that bonded families and clans have weakened over generations. More often than ever, family members seem willing to walk away rather than to stay and work out family conflict.

Most families heal, but when a family also owns a farm, an otherwise survivable emotional injury can, instead, turn fatal. This is why a successful blending of the new daughter-in-law and her new family is so critical for a family business.

Every family must work out its own strategy, but here are three hard-learned truths that might help ensure a strong and viable merger.

1. Every marriage results in one new and two changed  families. After the reception, the two preexisting families WILL be changed. Culture change is inevitable, so isn’t it sensible to accept it rather than to fight it? In nature, finding a mate outside the clan expands alliances and deepens the gene pool. The wise choice is clearly to tolerate the stress and to embrace the added resilience that comes with evolution.

2. In-laws are a necessary condition for producing the next generation. Doesn’t this give the daughter-in-law a right to recognition as a naturalized family member with the same rights and responsibilities as her new in-laws? Note: Responsibilities apply on both sides; natives and immigrants all have important roles.

3. While family membership is a shared responsibility, career is a personal choice. We are long past subsistence farming. Agriculture is a profession – not a survival mission – and a farm should be a passion – not an obsession. There’s room in the world for passionate bakers, too.

Open discussion of these truths could help T.G. and her in-laws. Success will depend on the existence of open minds, commitment, humility, generosity, and the kind of love that focuses more on who we are than on what we do.

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