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Willingness to be flexible in roles helps ag families cope
Farm and Ranch Life
On a late afternoon during harvest last fall, I was in my garden enjoying the opportunity to unwind after a busy day by meditating while picking beans, pulling a few weeds and appreciating the outdoors.

My farm tenant, Larry, drove his grain cart next to the auger leading to the corn bin, while his helper, Gary, parked the John Deere combine in my farmyard. They were “calling it a day.”
Gary started the auger while Larry opened the grain vent of the self-unloading cart to allow corn to flow into the auger. Usually it takes 15 minutes to unload the cart, so the fellows had some time on their hands.

I hoped the guys wouldn’t notice me. But they spied me even though I was trying to hide behind the trellised green beans (I use old cattle panels attached to steel posts for the beans to climb). When they meandered over to my garden, I figured it was more than to say hello.

They wanted to give me a little guff (actually, I was thinking of another word that starts with “s” instead of “guff”). “Hey Mike, what are you doing in the garden?” Larry said. “This is women’s work, you know.”

“Beats helping you guys,” I replied. “Besides, I enjoy it.”
Noticing my pepper plants with skinny red pods drooping, Gary ventured, “You don’t eat these things, do you?”

“Of course,” I replied. “I like hot foods.”

“Ugh, I can’t eat anything hot,” Gary observed.

“I suppose you cook stuff I wouldn’t eat either,” Larry surmised. “Vicki makes the decisions about what I’m supposed to eat,” he added, hinting that cooking is women’s work, also.

“Yeah, I do most of the cooking when Marilyn is working,” I responded. “To me, it’s relaxing and it gives Marilyn one less thing to have to do.”

Kidding aside, the incident brought to mind the question: What enables farm and ranch families to cope successfully when they are stressed?

Sociological studies indicate production agriculture is one of the most stressful occupations. This is not surprising, given that farming – I am including ranching, here – is one of the most dangerous occupations and farmers have little control over many of the factors that determine their success or failure, such as the weather and market demand.

 Colorado State University professor Dr. Bob Fetsch recently wrote at www.wdmc.org/proceed.htm – click on 2011 – that along with their unique stressors, hardy farm and ranch married partners work together to solve problems.

Fetsch cites studies that report resilient farm and ranch couples believe they are in control of their responses to stressful life events and have a conviction that changes and events can be both challenging and growth-producing.

Couples that are able to exchange roles in response to their partners’ needs are more likely to endure troubled times than those who cling adamantly to traditional gender expectations.
Thus, when Larry’s wife, Vicki, took on full-time employment outside their home, Vicki said Larry took over some of the cooking and laundry responsibilities in their household. Their flexible sharing of roles has contributed to their 55 years of marriage.
Gary also said he helps out around his house as necessary. He and his wife have been married for nearly 50 years.

Unlike many farm couples in previous generations, the most happily married farm couples I know today share traditional masculine and feminine roles, such as child care, house cleaning and farm chores. They “fill in” for each other as necessary, and help their neighbors as well.

Besides giving me a “hard time” every so often, Larry, Gary and Larry’s son, Lynn, have also pitched in to help Marilyn and me in times of need. Just a couple weeks ago Lynn plowed out our driveway with his tractor when I was hobbling from a knee injury. They regularly and generously help keep our premises maintained.
Dr. Fetsch offers additional suggestions about how resilient families build healthy family relations. I added a few of my own recommendations, as well. Family members should:

•Be aware of each others’ strengths, skills and weaknesses
•Focus on family strengths rather than problem areas
•Openly exchange communications about needs and feelings
•Reduce blame and accept responsibilities
•Use democratic or consensus decision-making rather than autocratic decision-making
•Hold family meetings to solve problems
•Adjust family roles in response to needs for the entire group
•Share together in sacrifices when needed
•Encourage spirituality and humor
•Not be afraid to ask for help from others outside the family
•Recognize acts of kindness by showing appreciation to the giver of the kindness

How does your family cope during stressful times? Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas with me.
(I especially thank Larry, Vicki and Gary for reviewing and approving this article.)

Michael R. Rosmann, Ph.D. serves on the adjunct faculty of the University of Iowa, lectures across the United States and abroad and owns a row crop farm in Harlan, Iowa. He is also a founding partner of the nonprofit network AgriWellness, Inc.
Send your thoughts and questions to him by email at mike@agriwellness.org – previously published columns are available for a small fee 30 days after they were originally printed, at www.ag behavioralhealth.com
1/30/2013