Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Off-Farm Work Takes A Big Toll

April 15, 1996

I conducted several interviews with farm women who have professional off-farm employment and whose husbands also have off-farm work. Listen to their voices as they talk about their lives. I have a new appreciation for their struggles, worries and reasons why they persevere.

On coping. "We hold the basics together, the marriage, good kids. Our kids are self-sufficient. We organize on the weekends. We get by day-to-day. We have our faith and our health."

"We set priorities. We live day-to-day. We keep our sense of humor. We let some things slide. The boys pitch in and help."

"We rely on grandparents and close friends. Our friends trade back and forth. We have two or three back up plans for childcare. We plan ahead with the work schedule and children's activities.

On coming home to the farm. "It going from work to work. It is no fun doing chores at 8:00 pm or when it is freezing or a blizzard. There is always fence to build. I have a good paying job. I bring the job stress home with me. Sometimes I think a mindless job at the factory wouldn't be all that bad."

"Seasonal work is hard. It is frustrating. Calving time is a challenge. We don't see much of each other. It is quick meals and a messy house. I have to work on the records at night."

"It's craziness. I come home exhausted."

"I'm dead tired after 8:30 at night. The farm is always in the back of your mind."

On financial stress. "The goal was to use the jobs until the farm was viable. We are not solving the problem. Finances are worse. We are losing our enthusiasm. I feel trapped. It is frustrating and tiring. People in town have no clue about the magnitude of the bills we have."

"I work for economic reasons. It is getting worse. We had a terrible crop. Things have been so sour for so long. There is no money to spend. We have to come up with the money for the operating note. We don't want to borrow more. You are never quite sure if you are going up or down. You don't bring it up. You don't want to talk about it."

"It is a life of stress. The big problem is how to cope in a down year."

'I'd rather be home. It is not possible. It is survival. We aren't making a lot of headway. It is discouraging not getting ahead."

On children." The kids are frustrated. Their friends have nice cars. They can't have everything they want."

"When the children were younger, there was more stress. Life was less manageable."

"I try to have one to one time with my children. When they were younger, it was hard. They didn't understand."

"I feel for the mothers of young kids. Little kids need you. It is stressful when the kids are sick. I don't know how the women who work night shifts do it. I worry about teenagers being alone and sick kids staying by themselves."

"When the children see what we are doing, they aren't interested in a future on the farm. It is the amount of stress they see."

On marriage. "It's frustrating. We don't see much of each other. You can't do the things you want to or go where you want to go. We can't go together. We get upset with each other. We work it through. We've learned to ignore each other really well. Sometimes we take it out on the family."

"The marriage is hard. We aren't as close as we used to be. Work on the farm was togetherness. We used to combine marriage with other things."

"Our personal life has suffered. It is non-existent. We are at each other more and at the kids too."

On volunteering and social life. "There are too many meetings. There is no time to help neighbors. There is no fellowship among farm women. We are too busy to get together."

"I take roles that involve the kids."

"People are gone. There is no time to visit. You give up doing things socially. My new support system is at work."

"We are too tired. There are times when I've said, `I don't want to go!’"

"It's hard on the leadership pool in the community. Too much is going on. The very few women who don't work do the volunteering. It's not fair."

On reasons to keep going. "Farming is fun. It is a lifestyle we enjoy. It is a new year and we are eternal optimists."

"We are trying to make it on the farm. We work with our family. We are doing something we are proud of. We do a lot of interesting things around here. The children have learned how to work. It's how the kids turn out that is important. We like it fine. We want a piece of the country."

"The first ten years were good times. It is the memory of those years and trying to get them back that keeps us going.

"We like the whole lifestyle - the freedom, the elbow room."

"With spring there is new life, new hope. We like being outside in the yard, the garden and the fields. The farm has its rewards. We do it together."