Dr. Val Farmer
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Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Partnership Makes A Big Difference For Farm Women

June 16, 2008

I have often thought that being a woman on a farm can offer the best and the worst life has for women.

The worst. I say the worst because of the vulnerability to stress:

- the stress of running a capital intensive business in a highly competitive industry;

- the stress of operating on borrowed money that will need to be repaid based on future profits;

- the stress of running a business subject to nature and market forces beyond control;

- the stress of adding the off-farm work to major responsibilities on the farm and to a life already stretched thin with many roles as a wife, mother, caring neighbor and volunteer/leader in the community;

- the stress from emotional neglect from a husband who puts the farm and farm work ahead of family and marriage;

- the stress from enmeshment and control by in-laws who don’t understand family boundaries.

Not a true partner. The effects can be destructive, the isolation and helplessness incredible, the pain intense. The money issues and the sacrifices are too great for one spouse not to be in a position of influence. The needs of both husband and wife have to be met. When the farm is meeting mainly the husband’s needs, his wife often becomes angry, resentful and hurt.

Some farmers fight and fuss and guard their privileged relationship with the farm until they find out the hard way that their wives can't take it anymore. It is too hard of a life for a woman unless she feels committed, involved, and appreciated. If she is not a full partner in the decision making, there will be problems between them.

There can be no true partnership when a farmer wants farming on his terms: his decisions, his control of the schedule, his lifestyle, his expenditures, his accomplishment. By trusting a partner, he risks not having things go his way.

I’ve seen some farmers push their wives to do as much work as a hired man and treat them as though they are one - and their track record for keeping hired men isn’t too good.

Worse yet is finding out the hard way that the true partnership is with parents, a father, a brother or a son and that is where the true decisions and loyalties lie. It is painful to experience the bond her husband has with someone else preempt her rightful role as his life partner.

The best life. I say the best because women experience a part of life full of accomplishment and special joys such as:

- the love of soil, animals and nature with its beauty and many surprises;

- the experience of belonging to a community that cares;

- the opportunity to live in an place where teaching children to work and take responsibility is natural;

- the pleasure of family togetherness and fun;

- the enjoyment of freedom and variety in life - where no two days are alike and you are your own boss;

- the support of having family, neighbors, and friends being close enough to celebrate special occasions together and comfort one another during times of loss;

- the association of loving in-laws and relatives who are her special friends and support;

- enjoying life with nature and animals and being a partner with God in the creation of life;

- a partnership with a kind and gentle husband who loves and respects her and willingly shares the journey of life, family and farming with full equality and unity.

A feminine place to be. The farm is a feminine place to be, a place where belonging, caring, nurturing, and loving are a part of the process of living. Farm women do all they do and can still maintain their feminine qualities and perspective. They enjoy being women and being who they are.

Volumes have been written about the special bonds that farm women have with farming and a family farming lifestyle. The next generation of farmers would not be there if farm women didn’t love their lives. Their enthusiasm and commitment to these values are taught to the rising generation.

More importantly, children look and see what kind of lives their parents lead and the happiness they have, and decide they want a similar life for themselves.

A marriage based on a true business partnership and with family involvement has tremendous appeal for women. Roles may differ but the goals are the same.

What makes one experience harmful and the other joyful? Having enough farming profits to make a living as well as a life.

There is happiness being in a position of mutual trust, respect, and collaboration on all important decisions that affect their livelihood and family: being a partner in every sense of the word. Farming is something you do together.