Young farmers often live under parental microscope

I probably stopped paying much attention to my father’s opinion when I reached 18.

Of course, I take a lot more notice of it now as I’ve become older and realize the value of his life experience.

However, back then I had left home, either working on a farm or attending agriculture college, and our worlds didn’t come that close together. I went on to serve in the army, attend university, get married and have a family. I made my own decisions, made my own mistakes and moved away from the close proximity of my parents.

As an adult, I can’t ever imagine having to ask my parents for money, have them scrutinize what I spent it on or ask permission to go on vacation or get a loan for a new vehicle. I also can’t ever imagine my wife having to live and rear our children under the constant gaze of her mother-in-law.

And yet this is the reality for so many young farm families who stay on the farm to take over the business.

Cash is often tight, and it makes sense to build on the same yard as Mom and Dad or have Mom and Dad move off the yard to accommodate the next generation. Frequently, there is only one bank account, which is operated jointly.

And then there may be other things to consider, such as attitudes toward child rearing, money, alcohol, work and education, which may differ between generations and between families. How many times do I hear things like “they can’t manage money” or “my son doesn’t work as hard as I did?”

And yet the reality for most of the world is that the kids leave the nest so that they don’t have to endure the constant judgment of their parents. True, they might still be exposed to an opinion or two, but they aren’t living and breathing it on a daily basis.

I blame the “honeymoon period,” which are the early days when everyone is getting along and decisions are made in the glow of family harmony. However, this only sets up families for failure later on.

There are three circles of the family business — family, ownership and management — and it’s important to know in which circle decisions are being made. As well, no matter which circle you are making a decision in, remember that formality will always be your friend.

So before you build that new house on the yard, here are a few things to consider:

  • Set boundaries around the overlap between family and business.
  • Understand that everyone needs their own space.
  • Keep in mind that the children are also adults who need financial autonomy.
  • Recognize that your children won’t simply accept that they are a source of cheap labour. They will want to manage the business sooner than you might want to let go of the management.
  • Accept that your new daughter-in law-might not react well to your input on child rearing or whether she should work off the farm.

Elaine Froese wrote an excellent book on the topic, called Farming’s In-Law Factor. I would urge you all to read it, but do so before you’ve built that house next door.

Begin by reading the sections that apply to others and only later focus on the section that applies to you. This will perhaps help you understand other perspectives before simply looking to reinforce your own.

There will need to be compromise from all sides and an ability to communicate so that a difference of opinion doesn’t become a personal insult. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Put some rules in place before the first foundations are dug.

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