Dr. Ron Hanson of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, specializes in dealing with the positives and negatives of families who farm together. Often he gets called upon when farm families are having difficulties. This information is from the second article Dr. Hanson wrote for Minnesota Farm Business Management education programs a few years ago. More of Dr. Hanson's information will be used in future articles.)
Sometimes rather simple misunderstandings as well as the stress of daily life on a farm can quite easily damage the personal and working relationships between family members farming together. Too often the inability to openly share personal feelings and the failure to discuss expectations can ruin any family relationship. This is most often caused by an actual breakdown in communications between family members, especially during periods of stress (i.e. whether financial, work, or even personal) when individuals withdraw or hide their emotions from each other.
Juggling the current demands of work, family and personal needs can become quite a challenge to anyone. Persons can get so wrapped up in their own problems; they fail to communicate effectively with others. The result is that everyone is talking to each other but no one is really listening.
During my many years of farm family counseling, the three most common complaints regarding communications that are shared with me by these family members farming together are: (1) "He/she won't discuss his/her feelings with me." (2) "He/she tunes me out most of the time." and (3) "He/she has time to talk with everyone but me."
Developing good listening skills to overcome this breakdown in communications requires a commitment of time and attention to the other person. Finding or making the time to talk is important. Blocking out the surrounding distractions allow you to directly focus on what the person is actually trying to share in the conversation. Being sensitive to the feelings of others (i.e. may be you were not upset but the other person might have been) and clearly understanding the situation or circumstances involved (i.e. knowing why this person is angry or upset) is important to being a good listener. Although you may not always like or even agree with what the other person is saying, maintaining a level of respect for the opinions of others builds a feeling of trust that allows the other person to openly share their views in any conversation.
I make it a point to remind audiences "that farms can be replaced." There is a life after farming. But when you lose a family relationship or destroy a marriage between a husband and wife who once loved each other and shared a dream together, you do not always get a second chance. The inability to cope with stress effectively and keep these problems in a proper perspective is a rather common mistake in many family farming situations.
Too many times we tend to keep things bottled up inside. The attitude is that I have to find a way to work this out by myself. I cannot let anyone know that I have a problem or I am having trouble dealing with the stress facing me. Some individuals will even withdraw and actually hide their feelings from others. Even when someone asks "what is wrong, you seem troubled" the common reply is "nothing for you to worry about." This sense of isolation in a family or a marriage solves nothing. And not allowing others to help or share our feelings in these types of situations only makes matters worse. This can result is a personal state of mental depression.
Farm families are important. The bonds that hold families together can grow stronger even during difficult times. The willingness to open up and honestly share feelings with others is vital to building a relationship of trust. Admitting and sharing our personal fears of a stressful situation is a necessary step but difficult step. Sharing this burden of stress helps to put these problems into a more manageable perspective. All of this requires both open and honest communications between all family members farming together as well as a total commitment that we can work through this together.
The importance of focusing on a positive attitude and keeping "family" as the top priority in any farming situation cannot ever be overstated.