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The Problem, Submitted by Y.N. via email:
Our son graduated from college and has been farming with us for two years. He got married a few months ago. We provided them a house, vehicle, and some land. During their dating and start to the marriage, his wife was warm and friendly but now has turned cold and distant. We’ve asked her and our son for a time to hear them out or time with a family counselor, but she wants nothing to do with us. Our son asked that we not talk to her as he wants to try to work things through with her. We honestly have done nothing to her and don’t understand this hostility toward us. We’re baffled, and we’re feeling upset, disrespected, and unappreciated. Can you help us?
Y.N., one side of a story is not the story, and I understand you’re in the deep dark hole of wondering and wishing. Without participation and insight from your son and daughter-in-law, imagination, speculation, and emotions will plunge you deeper. There are productive things you can do, and addressing this question requires a look from the family and the business sides.
The Family Side
You and your husband might gain valuable insight from counseling to help cope with the problem. You may learn about roles, what you can or can’t control, and ways to improve a sensitive relationship.
If you have already sincerely reached out, you will now do as your daughter-in-law wishes – stay away. If you accidentally cross paths, be pleasant and polite. Invite them to family gatherings, but do not expect participation. When your son is at work, talk about work, not your sadness or frustration or anything about his wife. Do not talk about this problem with anyone other than a professional or with each other.
Do honor your son’s wishes to resolve things with his wife – without you. They’ve not been married long, and this might take some time. You can let him know you care and will be glad to listen and learn if or when they are ready to share. Understand this is not for you to solve unless invited. Their position is based on their reality, not yours.
The Business Side
Are the house, vehicle, and land you provided fringe benefits for full-time employees or are they a gift with legal titles transferred? If fringe benefits, the business can decide to continue or end the benefits based on contract and work performance. If a gift, it’s given without expectation of appreciation. Remember, you cannot buy acceptance, appreciation, or communication by gifting.
If your son continues to try to please his wife and you, then his health, work performance, or relationships may suffer. You and your husband, as owners, may decide this is too much tension for a positive and productive business. As owners, you then may make a business decision that it is better for all to end his employment.
You will always love him as a son. Please respect his new family unit. It’s time to distance yourself from their personal decisions. This may improve his marriage, your family relationships, and the working environment.
Your Transition Team Members
Jolene Brown is a professional speaker, author, farmer, and family business consultant. She shares her passion, experience, and fun-filled spirit with farmers and ranchers across North America. Her tested business tools provide leadership and management solutions for the people who feed, clothe, and fuel the world. jolenebrown.com
Dr. Donald J. Jonovic is founder of Family Business Management Services in Cleveland, Ohio. He focuses on management, growth, and ownership transition issues. familybusinessmgt.com
Myron Friesen is co-owner of Farm Financial Strategies in Osage, Iowa. During the past 17 years, he has worked exclusively with farm families across the Midwest to develop farm transition strategies. farmestate.com