Learning How To Be a Good ‘In Law” On a Family Farm Or In a Family Business

jones family

I have really struggled with how I want to represent this blog and myself on this blog.  Should I focus on parenting, technology, or giving voice to the 2% of us that feed the other 98%?  I follow so many wonderful Agriculture advocating blogs (aka agvocates).  Some write about new equipment, some about biotechnology, and others share wonderful recipes and stories about their toddlers.  While I love all of these posts my children are getting older (8 and 11), I do not have a degree in any science related field, my hubby and father in law (FIL) are the equipment experts on our operation and I am just not sure what my area of expertise is!  I have many blog posts started and because of this struggle I have not been able to decide which ones to finish.  So I have come to the conclusion that my blog needs to be about a little of everything because that is what the role of a farm wife requires, a little bit of everything every single day.  Although my passion lies in sharing stories about the positives and possibilities of biotechnology and the realities of modern day farming operations, today I am writing about another issue; how it feels to wear the hat of the ‘daughter in law’ in a family business.

Being the one to marry into a family business is a difficult task indeed.  Often work routines, beliefs, values, and pay structures have already been established.  Although the new ‘in law’ has often been raised by an entirely different set of values, this person is sometimes expected to abandon their previous experiences and ‘go with the flow’.  Opposition or voicing new ideas can be viewed by other members of the business as causing trouble.

I am not personally comfortable sharing many stories from my own experience because it reflects on more people than just myself.  I will say that a frequent joke from my FIL (right from the start of my marriage) has been to make reference to numerous farming operations and how they were successful and running smoothly ‘until the boys got married’ or ‘until the women got involved’.  Although it was a mutual business decision between me and my hubby, I had given up my dream of finishing my degree to instead dedicate my energy, money and basically my life to this operation and now I was being made to feel like I was nothing but an inconvenience to the farm.  This feeling has been difficult to put behind me.  In my FIL’s defence his wife (my MIL) left the farm 32 years ago so a woman’s opinion in the business was a new thing for him to contend with.  I know I am not alone in this struggle because in preparing this blog I asked some of my farm wife friends if they had any stories to share about tension with their in laws.  Many of them told me ‘I could write you a book!’.  In the end they all decided against sharing their stories publicly because these are deeply personal conflicts that are often inappropriate to discuss outside the family especially when you live in a small community.

While we as an industry are quick to develop new technology the mindset of many farmers is still stuck on don’t ask, don’t tell, find out in the will.  But ‘farm families that have regular communication through business meetings are 21% more profitable’ (Dr. David Kohl, Virginia Tech University (Victoria 2004)- pg. 8 Farmings In-Law Factor, Elaine Froese & Dr. Megan McKenzie

In order to help me work through some of our farm family issues I signed us up to attend a few farm succession and farm conflict workshops.  On the morning of one such event some pressing matter came up and the hubby had to stay home and work (as so often is the case in this business).  Even with a 2 hour drive in the dead of winter I knew I needed to gather information for those on our operation who didn’t have the time so I went alone.  The speaker that morning was Elaine Froese CAFA, certified coach with experience coaching over 600 families.  When I walked in the room I quickly felt out of place being the only person under 60 but I managed to worked up enough nerve to ask (during a Q & A opportunity) “what should you do if the older generation refuses to talk about succession?”.  I could feel the angry glares of those in the room that were guilty of this very thing but Elaine simply paused a minute then nonchalantly said “just leave”.  She followed up by talking about how open honest discussions are the foundation of a strong healthy business and if conversations aren’t happening money is being lost and relationships will crumble.  Out of the whole day those 2 little words stayed with me the most.

Now of course I didn’t go home and tell the hubby to pack up because we were shipping out.  I did however feel empowered to make some changes because I realised we weren’t ‘stuckOur life was our choice and we could make it whatever we wanted.  A few years down the road and our operation and relationships are running more smoothly because of that shift in my perception.

I enjoyed listening to Elaine speak so thoroughly that I listened to her speak again and again, I read her book ‘Doing the Tough Things Right’ and interacted with her on social media.  If a friend complained about family business issues I told them to look her up.  I eagerly awaited the release of her new book ‘Farmings In-Law Factor’ and asked her for a copy before it was even for sale.  Elaine’s books are an emotional experience for me and have helped me come to a deeper understanding of myself and the other people involved in our farm.  I can’t help but thinking how much better/different things could have been if someone had handed me a copy of ‘Farmings In-Law Factor” on the day I was married!  ‘You don’t have to stay stuck’; ‘you have the power to make changes in your life.  It’s your family, it’s your choice’ – pg. 96 Farmings In-Law Factor, Elaine Froese & Dr. Megan McKenzie.

Being young and naïve I have spent the last 14 years on the farm wading through the daily stress of payment deadlines, the busy season, long work days, and not knowing what the future held.  All the while thinking we just have to get through today because tomorrow will be better or we just have to get through this year because next year will be better.  As I get older I realise that the reality is; life on the farm is filled with uncertainty and inconsistency (just ask a farmer if they know what ‘this is next year country’ means!).  Because of this it is critical to find tools to help us navigate the storms as best we can and strengthen the relationships we have.  I feel that Farmings In-Law Factor is a great start for both the older generation and the young.  Not only will it help you to understand the complexities of your relationships but it also lays out, in simple terms, what could be wrong and how to fix it.

‘The general rule of thumb is that 50% of farms do not make a successful transition to the second generation and 90% fail to make it to the third’ (Lammers-Helps 2013, 51) – pg 179 Farmings In-Law Factor, Elaine Froese & Dr. Megan McKenzie


 Don’t just leave it to faith that it will all work out.  Family farms and businesses can be a wonderful lifestyle and the perfect place to raise children.  Or they can be a stressful emotional rollercoaster that strains relationships and destroys families.  Be proactive and ensure your farm is healthy enough to survive for future generations.  Elaine has graciously given me 2 copies of Farmings In-Law Factor for a blog page giveaway!  Re-blogging this post, sharing on facebook directly from Agriculture Today’s facebook page, or re-tweeting on twitter are all eligible methods of entry.  Feel free to mention in the comments (or personal message me) if you have shared to ensure that I don’t miss your entry!  Draw to be made on August 31st.  Drop by Elaine’s page and say hi; https://www.facebook.com/farmfamilycoach, you can also purchase copies of her books at; http://www.elainefroese.com/store/

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15 thoughts on “Learning How To Be a Good ‘In Law” On a Family Farm Or In a Family Business

  1. Laura C

    It’s as if you wrote about my family! Great blog! I’m the only one in the family with a college degree, and it just so happens to be in agriculture economics and finance. Although those subjects are a weak point in my FIL’s skillset, I’m 26. And he’s 60. Boy did that cause some stressful (and almost resentful) first few years of marriage! Luckily its starting to turn around and its all because we started attending succession planning workshops together and I’ve been able to demonstrate what I can do to contribute with hubs and my farm. We’ve got a ways to go but its a relief just to take the first few steps!


    • I feel your pain, no one really understands the struggles of a family business until you have argued over a work issue at the Christmas dinner table. It is a pride issue for the FIL to admit that we can add value to the business. But in the end this business is all about family so we have to make it work. Thanks for stopping by my blog!


  2. Holly

    We will have to take family photos again! I’m so happy that you used it in your blog! 🙂 and great article!


  3. Ginger Byers

    This post hit home. I feel very alone in the struggles I have had with my in laws. I really wish people would open up more about this topic. I think we could learn from others mistakes and successes. I can’t get my in laws to go to succession planning workshops. My husband and I own 50% of the business but I’m supposed to keep my mouth shut and do as I’m told. I’m responsible financially. It’s at the point I barely speak to them other than for work. I would love for people to talk about this topic more.


    • I can feel the frustration in your comment and I know that feeling all to well. The older generation on our farm would not go to succession planning either so I went alone, I read the books, I asked the questions, I made the phone calls to accountants, I worried about planning for a disaster or tragedy and you know what? I found out some things I was doing wrong along the way. A shift in my attitude and perception went a long way in making things better. Its still not perfect and never will be but I whole heartedly encourage you to read Elaine’s books. Maybe you can get your in-laws to read them too, maybe not but at the very least it will give you some insight and let you know that this is VERY normal and that there is hope. As I said to someone in a private message; if a marriage can survive farming and in-laws; it can survive anything! Take comfort in knowing that relationships can be repaired and things can get better. AND start interacting with other farm women online – I can give you some blogs to follow and facebook pages – finding other people who ‘get it’ has helped me greatly. Thanks for reading!


  4. Barb Luther

    Awesome blog! I look forward to reading them as they are so well written (and because I stand behind all topics you have written about). Thank you for pointing out Elaine’s books and website. It will be a great help!


    • Thanks Barb! It is hard enough for us women who were raised on a farm to take on the role of the daughter in law, I can only imagine how hard it would be for someone with no farm experience! Thank you for your kind words.


  5. Good beginning to a long conversation. I am fortunate to be a SIL that came to farm with the FIL farm. The FIL has been good at succession planning and we have taken over the operation almost completely. Still, open communication could always be better and it is farming; we are often in next year country!
    Keep up the good work; enjoy what you do and it doesn’t even feel like work!


    • Thanks for reading Jim! I think navigating through work/business issues is a never ending process, happy for you that your family is willing to deal with things though. Hope we can both stay out of next year country for awhile! Happy Harvesting.


  6. Audrey

    Well said!


  7. Thanks for your post! I’m a daughter-in-law on the farm for the past five years and enjoyed the read. I’d love the book by Elaine!


  8. UPDATE: Diedra Schaan, and Kristie Murray are each a winner of a copy of “Farming’s In Law Factor”. Your books are in the mail ladies! Thanks to everyone that participated.


  9. Thank you for stepping up and saying something and being brave enough to post it. I have spent 25 years, my personal money and all of my time with no compensation and things are still the same no matter what we’ve said or tried I’m still the outlaw. My mother in law passed away my father in law will be 91 and my husband spends a great amount of time dropping what he does to try and make a living to help his dad because he just can’t do what he use to. He has accidents and just can’t keep up with technology. Although he does amazing for 90 it’s so difficult for my husband. For over 15 years the farming was suppose to be turned over for my husband to do and his dad still won’t let go. Our lives have been on hold for what ever they decide. I could easily walk away but its not so easy for my husband. I loik forward to reading Elains book.
    I was glad to read your post.
    Thank you


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