Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Readers Respond: Boys Who Love The Farm Too Much Grow Up

December 1, 2008

A reader from Illinois sent this response to a column on how young men become focused on farming too soon to their detriment.

"I married one of those sons. I have been married to this son for almost 33 years and can tell you it is not easy. My husband always knew what he wanted to do - be a farmer. He has no life beyond the farm - no hobbies, no interest in sports, no interest in TV or movies. I wonder what he will do when he has to retire.

"My worth and our children’s is measured by the work we do. Our daughter graduated from the University with a degree in accounting. We knew the graduation date for over a year but my husband couldn’t attend the graduation for the business college or the all school graduation because he "had work to do." He did quit in time to come to a dinner in her honor when he found out that out-of-town guests were coming several hundred miles to be there. By the way, we live less than an hour away from the University.

"One young man asked my youngest daughter if she had a dad because he had never seen him. This boy and his brother had been on my son's baseball team for several years! Our four children have undergone at least 7 or 8 different surgical procedures in total. My husband has never accompanied me to any of them. He is always too busy.

"I would like to visit our daughter who lives a few states away from us. Will we ever get there? Not often and not without a fight.

"My advice to anyone who has a son who may end up like this - ‘Do everything you can to encourage him to see the world outside of the farm. Otherwise you’ll be enabling him to make the lives of your future daughter-in-law and grandchildren miserable.’

"Even though life on a day-to-day basis is passable, maybe miserable is too strong a word. But after thinking about what I wanted out of life, for my marriage and for our children, I decided "miserable " was painfully accurate.

"My friend is married to someone like this too. We wonder if the men will ever have any regrets that they missed so much in their lives."

Another letter from a farmer in Indiana.

"I was the son about 17 years ago. My academic adviser at Purdue told me several times to do anything for at least five years somewhere other than the farm. I didn't.

The encouragement for children that can't see past the barn lot to leave - at least for a short time - can't be stressed enough. I wasted four years and a lot of money only because I didn't think about much other than tractors, corn, and combines. Every class I took was only a step closer to the farm for me.

"I hope that most of your observations on this subject don't apply to me, but I fear your description of a self-centered and narrow focus on farming hits a lot closer to home that I like.

"I appreciate the things that I learned on the farm. Your answer for that concerned mother has shown me so many other things I could have and needed to learn and experience. Thank you for your insight."

When do you intervene is this early love affair young men have with farming?

- At retirement. This is almost too late. These men have lived without Plan B all their lives and aren’t prepared for retirement.

- At Mid-life. At this point it won’t happen without a struggle. Pulling this man away from the farm at the peak of his anxious involvement and accomplishment will encounter resistence. Even so, make your voice heard even if he doesn’t like the message. You are important. Your goals and interests are important. Push for a balanced lifestyle that includes fun, leisure, friends, interests, and hobbies.

- Early marriage. Yes. Yes. Yes. Insist on equality, partnership, cooperation in the home, mutual nurturing of children, time for the marriage, broad interests and joint activities beyond farming. Don’t let him put the farm first ahead of you and family. Vacations, family fun and relaxation are a part of family life and make farming worth it.

- Late teens and young adulthood. You hold the purse strings and the invitation to farm. Be patient. Guide your son away from the farm - for those five years mentioned above or at a minimum two years of being on his own. Say no to him and to yourselves even though his help is valuable. He needs a life of his own and to live on his own, to have his own social life, and to work for someone else. The more specialized training and advanced education he gets, the better.

- Early boyhood and teen years. Set limits on farming. Make school success a priority. Extracurricular activities are great. Encourage friendships. Make your expectations known about what you expect in education and time away from the farm if he is to ever join your family operation. Model a balanced lifestyle.