This holiday season, I bet you probably spent some time with family. And when we’re together with family for the holidays, it can bring up a few of the patterns that farm families often see – not only when it comes to communicating as family members but as partners in a farm business.
I see two important things to remember when it comes to working with family. The first is separation. Now, I know that doesn’t sound very cheerful or in the holiday spirit, but stay with me.
When you’re working in a family farm business, you end up spending quite a bit of time with the family members who are involved. You make business plans together. You go to meetings with the seed dealer and banker together. You make important decisions together.
Then on top of working with them every day, they’re part of your family. And that much time together can become a challenge sometimes. As much as you love them, you might start to feel like you’re just not going to have very much separation or time without them – ever.
So if you get into a business disagreement with one of your family members the day before Christmas – guess who you’re still going to see the next day? It’s not like they’re going to be kicked out of the family.
The bottom line is: you’re going to be spending time with them – regardless of whether there’s healthy communication on the business side of things or you’re in the thick of a heated disagreement about the future of the farm. So you have to set some boundaries. Maybe think in terms of wearing different ‘hats’ – do I need to act here as the farm leader or as a dad or son?
The second thing to think about is how to navigate the balancing act between business and family. What do most people talk about when they sit down to the dinner table at night? You probably talk about what happened during your day – which was work – which they already know about if they work with you all day on the farm.
How do you figure out where to draw the line and keep things balanced between business and family? You’ll probably end up feeling like all you ever talk about is farming and your farm business if you’re not careful about this.
Maybe there’s a family member who is good at noticing when that balance is a little ‘off’ – and brings it to the attention of the others. That’s a tough job – but necessary for healthy relationships and a healthy farm business. The key is that the family is a separate group from the business, yet the family is running the business. Every farm family is a work in progress.
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