The biggest mistake farmers make? Loving the farm too much
Why the Farm Comes First. Consider these frequently voiced motivations: "It is what I love; I can see progress in front of my eyes; the land is a legacy from my parents and grandparents -- I need to pass it on to my children; and a farm is the be...
Why the Farm Comes First. Consider these frequently voiced motivations: "It is what I love; I can see progress in front of my eyes; the land is a legacy from my parents and grandparents - I need to pass it on to my children; and a farm is the best place to raise children."
Or these: "There is variety to my work day - no two days are alike; I am my own boss; I can be close to nature; I realize my dependence on God; my neighbors and my rural community are wonderful - I belong here; I am in true partnership with my spouse; by providing food and fiber I am doing something noble in the world."
All true, however, when farmers love the farm too much a lot can go wrong. When weather, markets, disease, accidents, disability, divorce, death of a loved one or family disputes threaten financial livelihood and the very existence of the farm then this love turns into denial, avoidance, depression, rigidity and feelings of fear, anxiety, guilt, self-blame, anger and despair.
The success formula of persistence, hard work and dogged determination no longer works, and, if anything, it makes frustration and inner emotional turmoil more intense. "When old dreams die, new dreams take their place. God pity the one dream person."
Farmers in denial stop being problem-solvers. They may engage in "blue sky" solutions. They may escape into their work routine. Or addictive behavior. They keep their fears to themselves or try to blot them out.
Worst of all, farmers in denial don't open up to their spouse and thus deny her the opportunity to help or even know the problem. Also they do not offer a listening ear or learn of her perspective on their situation.
Seeing no solution to keeping the farm and seeing no other alternative as good enough opens the door to suicidal thinking. If one's own identity becomes identical with the farm or being a farmer, it creates a vulnerability to forces outside of one's control.
Loving the farm too much actually hurts the work and quality of life. In self-justified service of the farm, a farmer can become too self-centered and cause these additional problems:
1. Marriage and family suffer. Putting the farm first distorts priorities. The farm is a tool, a means to an end. What is the goal of farming anyway? Answer. The happiness and well-being of everyone on the farm.
The farm competes with important needs such as emotional intimacy, recreational companionship, family commitments, obligations, domestic support and parenting. It opens the door to living separate lives without sharing the struggles and excitement of each other's daily lives. Farming could be and often is a true partnership but too many times it is not.
2. Perfectionism and workaholism harm relationships. Having things done the "right" way and on time can be a problem if the farmer is demanding, critical, harsh and demeaning when working with a spouse, family business partners, children or employees.
Negative interactions with their father on the farm and/or discouragement of off-farm pursuits turn children against farming as a lifestyle. When wives are emotionally alone and isolated, they become unhappy. When children observe conflict and/or emotional distance between their parents, they want something different for their own lives.
A narrow focus also increases personal vulnerability to stress. Farmers then bring the stress and mishaps of the workplace into personal relationships without understanding how anger, demands, and blow ups affect others.
Living a balanced lifestyle with recreation, vacations, friendships, leisure, hobbies, spirituality and other interests outside of farming increases coping abilities and better farming decisions. It helps with "out of the box" thinking when tough times come.
3. Pride is an obstacle. Perhaps pride, competition and self-reward have something to do with an impulse to plow the profits right back into the farm. He put his well-being above others' well-being.
However, the ultimate goal in a highly competitive business is to still be in business. This means hard-nosed decisions and following one's convictions regardless of how it looks across the fence. Pride also stops farmers from going for help.
One farmer observed, "We've learned to circle the wagons and do some soul-searching. We've sorted out our priorities. We've learned to cut corners and be creative in our efficiencies. We've had to deal with realistic values, no matter how pretty the paint."
A farmer needs a partner, to care about others, a support system, a balanced lifestyle, and a willingness to seek out good ideas and advice.
If tough times break a farmer from loving the farm too much, the purpose of the farm brings enjoyment to life instead of being an unforgiving, relentless force that brings misery and pain.
Dr. Farmer started a syndicated weekly newspaper column in 1984 that was published for 28 years until he retired in 2012. He can be contacted through his website: www.valfarmer.com . Mike Rosmann's column will return next week.