Letter to a Young Farmwife

My Generation

What happens when the laundry piles, the children need and you know not how to balance farm and husband and life?

Published on: February 13, 2013

I have, occasionally and lately, seen those Internet memes floating around with quotes and such and my favorite lately says, "Don't compare someone else's highlights reel with your behind-the-scenes footage."

And to that I say, amen.

{The farm version of that quote would be, "Everybody has a junk pile. Somewhere." Believe it; I've been on a lot of farms in my career. It may be discreet and it may be tucked away…but there's always a junk pile.}

At any rate, it was that exact quote that came to mind as I wrote my February column, addressed to young farm wives everywhere. Granted, that's a small slice of the population, no? But certainly, an underserved one. And one that shares some incredibly unique experiences and burdens, given our modern edict to do more, more, more.

As I shared in the column, the truth of what lasts is much simpler, and hits much closer to home when coming from a more experienced farm wife: "In the end, you won't be sorry if you put your farm and your family first."

Simplifies things, doesn't it? Especially when you know it came from a woman who drove the combine, made the meals and battled cancer, though certainly not all at the same time.

And I believe, in an age where it seems as though Facebook wants us to believe that everyone else is doing it better, let me assure you: they're not. It's just as hard on a farm in Kansas as it is on a farm in Illinois. You should see my ironing pile, the bottom of which has not seen the light of day since sometime in July.

But does it matter? Not today. Maybe when my husband wants that one shirt. But not today.

Regardless of how deep your ironing pile is (or dirty dishes, or dirty laundry or dirty floors or…), remember this: it won't last. And you can do this.

And so just below, in case you missed it in print, is "My Generation" from February. Or, you can click here to read the PDF version - it looks just like the page in your magazine!

 

 


Letter to a young farm wife

 

Dear young farm wife,

We've never met but I feel confident in calling you a friend, knowing that were we to gather some hot tea around the kitchen table together for a bit, the friendship would be a given. After all, we are some of the very few people in this world who walk the same path.

I'm writing today because you've been on my mind. I'll be 37 this spring and though I have no problem with birthdays, it reminds me that I've been at this farm wife thing for a solid 15 years now. Which is to say, I'm no longer a young farm wife. Birthdays make me contemplative, and I find myself remembering how very hard it all was. At least in the early days.

Like you, I spent a lot of my college experience developing leadership skills and taking part in leadership training and helping lead various organizations. And yet – and yet – very little of that prepared me for farm life. Perhaps because I'm one of those people who hears the phrase, "let's develop a mission statement," and wants to curl into a fetal position.  

But I am a planner who likes to have a basic understanding of a given situation squared away before I get there. And if I've learned anything that's helped me be a person in my world, it's been at the arm of another farm wife, sitting and listening. Because she's been there.

In those early days, I wondered if I was doing it right. If I was helping in the field enough. If I was keeping the house clean enough. If I was doing my part enough. If I would ever figure out how to balance my work with the farm.

Then we had children and balance felt like a rhetorical question.

From all that college leadership experience, I learned how to work with people and I learned to identify how others operate and lead…and what to do when that's vastly different from how I operate. I also learned the value of working with people who don't think the way I do, especially at 4-H House. Living with 55 women gives you first-hand experience in those sorts of skills. It was invaluable.

Especially on the farm. Learning to truly appreciate your differences will help you learn to work with your new farm in-laws. They will help you identify your family's strengths and weaknesses. And if you have been blessed with in-laws as I have, they will want you to succeed as much as you do, because they know if you succeed, so will their son.

But at the heart of any operation, of any farm family, is just that: plenty of heart.

And that's the thing you can't learn in a leadership class.

Heart is thing that reminds you to love your neighbor. To take them a meal when they need it, and maybe a little fellowship.

Heart is the thing that reminds you that - while you may have a career of your own, or perhaps small children underfoot, or a long to-do list, or all of the above - when your husband says he needs your help, you should go help.

Not so long ago, I was told by another farm wife, "In the end, you won't be sorry if you put your farm and your family first." And this by a woman who's cooked meals, driven a tractor and battled cancer, though not all at the same time. It may not be the advice a young career woman wants to hear. But it's true. I know there are times when you just can't drop everything. But when you can? Go. And help.

My farmwife friend from above echoes the same advice my mother-in-law has passed along, namely that you can have it all but not at the same time. "You can't keep the house and do the laundry and fix a big meal when you're in the combine all day," she said.  

And maybe you've heard your young friends say it's ok if you don't like your husband's family? They may have added, "You aren't marrying them, you're marrying your husband!" Because I sure heard that when I was dating. But it's patently untrue, especially in a farm family. When you marry a farmer, you marry a business and a family and a lifestyle. You need to love them all.

If you grew up on a farm, I hope your family was a shining example of this. It will serve you well.

For a former farm kid, though, you may now realize this whole farming gig is harder than your parents made it look. One young farm wife recently told me that her mom made it look so easy: managing home, kids, career and farmer…three meals a day, chauffeuring children, chores, and always on-call for parts runs or escaped livestock.

This just in: it's not easy. It's actually pretty messy.

You may have noticed by now, there's never an off season. Autosteer is a euphemism for, "I won't be in until 10." Tile plows mean fall fieldwork doesn't end until planting. Some days, you eat when you eat, and sometimes that's at 9 p.m.

Livestock and weather will be the two greatest detriments to any activity you may plan. Ever.

You may feel like your attempts at doing it all fall just short of complete chaos. But it looks much better from the outside looking in. Trust me. That's why it feels like everyone else is doing it better than you.

Still, in the end, it comes back to heart. Take care of your family. Help your husband. Earn your neighbors' respect. Do you work well. And get up each day knowing that no matter what went wrong yesterday, today's a new start with new mercies.

You can do it.