After a tough decision, why does young man leaving his parents’ farm feel guilty?

Can their problem be solved?

The Problem (submitted by Z.C.) 

After college and three years working for a farm equipment dealership, I married the love of my life. We moved back to work on my parents’ large grain and livestock farm. I found myself working from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day, believing I would prove my worth and earn Dad’s approval to take the reins. Instead, my wife and I (and now two young children) found it to be a communication nightmare, a complete grind for me, and a disaster for my wife, who became depressed. After months of counseling, attempting communication with my parents, and escalating depression, I decided it would be best for me and my family to move away.

This was a long-coming, tough decision. I now have a great job and the time to support my wife and children. I know we are in a much better situation, but I really miss being a farmer. I’m left with a big hole of guilt and desertion of the family and farm we left behind. Can you help?

The Solution

I read your words guilt and desertion. I read the same words and see respect, maturity, and admiration. The same story, a different perspective. I am grateful you reached out for the professional help of a counselor. Continue that journey if needed. 

I also feel like you made the best decision for your family. The four of you are your first and most important obligation. Not all farm operations demand 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. hours, although, depending on the business, there are always peak demand times where the head and tail meet, but it’s not a lifelong sentence. Successful businesses know the work is never done, yet they acknowledge the need for “white space” – vacation, pacing, recognition of accomplishment, celebration, and appreciation.

You might seek and accept an opportunity to work for a farmer at your new location. I know many would be delighted to hire someone with experience, motivation, values, and work ethic. That way you can clarify responsibilities, hours, expectations, and fulfill your goal of farming while not sacrificing your family. 

This is not the same as the position you accepted or created when working for your parents. This time, recognize your responsibility for negotiating and setting boundaries, and make sure your wife understands the expectations and agrees.

The “hole of guilt and desertion” that developed after leaving the family business may lessen in time as you give yourself deserved credit for a happier family and increased self-respect for a job well done and appreciated. Include connections to your extended family. Continue to reach out to your parents:
Be pleasant and polite, happy and grateful, and invite them for holidays. Remember, they may or may not respond with a welcoming manner, but don’t lower your standards of connection and appreciation. You can always talk about weather and kids and listen to what’s going on in their lives. 

Remember, living your life well is a tribute to the past gifts and lessons your parents gave you. It’s also because of the education, experiences, faith, people, and other choices you’ve made in your life during your journey to today. I am glad for your email. You are a testament to making decisions and taking actions that focus on your own family.

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.

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