Bulletin #4801, Why “Thank You” Matters: Expressing Appreciation Toward Partners and Family Members Farming Together

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Maine Family Farms: Life and Business in Balance

Adapted by Extension Human Development Specialist Leslie Forstadt and Extension Professor Tori Jackson, University of Maine

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This series, Maine Family Farms: Life and Business in Balance, provides a starting point for farm families to think about issues that range from family conversations to managing stress and sharing ideas about life and business balance. Titles include:

Ralph and Lisa Turner, Laughing Stock Farm; photo by Edwin Remsberg

Many times in a family farm enterprise, the efforts, and contributions of individuals are overlooked. Farming is a complex business as well as a labor of love. Too often the hectic pace, the burdensome workload, and the numerous stresses of the farm prevent family members from expressing their actual feelings and need for each other. The focus becomes about getting the job done and the priority is the farm business. Because of this, individuals can feel as though they are being taken for granted by others, their work is not acknowledged, or the relationships are only about work.

In reality, it is not that these individuals are not appreciated, but rather that appreciation is not expressed or shared between family members who are working together. It is easier to compliment a young child’s contribution to the day’s harvest than it is to thank older children or the other adult who has finished the tasks of the day. Even the simplest expressions such as “Thank you,” “I love you,” “I need you,” “Your work matters,” or “I appreciate you” are often left unsaid between couples and family members. The expression of these words can ease tension and reduce resentment by increasing feelings of appreciation, acknowledgment, motivation, and pride.

An older child farming with a parent can feel that “no matter how hard I try or how many hours I work, I never hear a word of appreciation or praise for what I have done well. But if I ever mess up or make a mistake, I will never hear the end of it.” It is easy for someone in this type of situation to become frustrated, unmotivated, and even discouraged to the point of no longer trying to do their best. Likewise, an adult may feel that “all I do is work and never hear my kids say thank you.” It’s important for adults to hear from young people that their hard work for the farm and the home are important. All family members need to be recognized and appreciated.

In farm couples, checking in regularly to make sure emotional needs are met is an important investment, just as much as regularly checking a bank statement. If you find yourself thinking, “If my spouse just told me that he loved me and cared about me as much as his new pickup, I would stay on the farm and find a way to save this relationship.” Or you may feel that “the only thing that we share is our mailing address.” If the demands of the farm override the needs of the farmers, it can be a good time to slow down and check-in.

Fatigue, worry, pressure, and stress without rest, laughter, check-ins, and listening can create conditions where we take out frustrations on those with whom we work on a daily basis. One of the best ways to see how a relationship functions is to observe what happens under stressful conditions. What is the reaction when someone brings home the wrong part to repair the hay baler? How does each member of a couple behave when pulling a tractor out of the mud in the middle of a wet field? What is the tone of conversation at a farm meeting?

Time is the most valuable commodity on a family farm. Yet, allocating specific time to appreciate a farm family member, while it may be difficult, is a critical part of a successful relationship. The needs and personal feelings of the people we love the most in our lives often get ignored or overlooked, but relationships need nurturing.

Part of running a healthy farm is nurturing the relationships of the people who work and live there. Consider the following questions, and use the answers in a private moment of appreciation, or during your next family farm meeting.1 Do this on a regular basis.

  • What are three talents or skills that your spouse/partner (or your parent, child, farm apprentice, or farmworker) contributes to the farm, family, and community that you really appreciate?2
  • What is the best part of your day?
  • In what ways do others help you on the farm?
  • How can you acknowledge your appreciation for the work and talents of your spouse/partner (or your parent, child, farm apprentice, or co-worker)?

It takes effort and commitment to express and share personal feelings with family members and other people who work with you on the farm. Living on the family farm means that just by being there, each member will affect the business in some way. Being a contributor to the farm and the business can be rewarding and very fulfilling. When these contributions are recognized, the experience is even more rewarding. Everyone needs to know that someone else cares about them, worries about them, and notices their contribution. Sharing a few simple words of appreciation and love can make a dramatic difference in farm family relationships.

Special thanks to the following reviewers:

  • Extension Professor Rick Kersbergen
  • Extension Professor Gary Anderson
  • Erica Buswell (Maine Farmland Trust)

Adapted with permission from Ron Hanson, “Expressing Appreciation Among Family Members Farming/Ranching Together,” Farm and Ranch Survival Kit 3 (Washington State University and Oregon State University): 8.

1 University of Maine Cooperative Extension Bulletin #4802, Running a Successful Farm Family Meetings.

2 Henderson, E., & North, K. Whole-Farm Planning—Revised. White River Junction: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2011.

Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

© 2013, 2019

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