Bulletin #4803, Maine Farms: Farms and Family – Finding Balance

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Maine Farms: Life and Business in Balance

By Leslie Forstadt, Human Development Specialist, University of Maine Cooperative Extension

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This publication series, Maine Farms: Life and Business in Balance, provides ideas for you to consider about the human and relational skills of farming including how to have farm team meetings, stress management, defining roles, and talking about life and business balance, or what some people think of as “work/life integration.” Whatever it means to you, this series is intended to provide you with useful ideas to consider.

Titles include:

Woman and two boys picking fresh produce; photo by Edwin Remsberg

There are many different ways farms are operated and managed, each with unique opportunities and challenges when it comes to communication, planning, and goal setting. Family farms specifically offer the benefits and complexities of longstanding (often multiple-generation) relationships. On the positive side, the family farm offers the opportunity to cooperate, set goals, develop strategic plans, and make decisions that generate profits to support economic success and financial independence. Family members participate in the life of the farm as part of their home lives.

It can be challenging to create and sustain boundaries between the family and the farm business. One way to meet this challenge is to pay ongoing and regular attention to family relationships, just as you attend to business matters that are important to managing the farm. Maintaining family relationships includes paying attention to the interactions, decisions, and opportunities to talk about partnering, parenting, cooperating, disagreeing, and how to stay connected with love and respect among family members. Sometimes this may seem easier to plan for than actually do.

Strategies for Maintaining Balance Between Work and Family

Managing boundaries between the farm business and the family is challenging. For example, if family members are the farm managers, they must decide how to distribute income between the farm and family expenses, and how to balance work and family time. Feelings may be intense, and there may be confusion in navigating family and management roles. Personal temperaments and communication styles all influence how the family and farm business function. Conscious and deliberate goal setting and planning can help family members anticipate possible challenges and create effective strategies for addressing issues related to farm business and family relationship management.

Talk and Listen

Identify feelings and issues that get in the way of sound business practices. Some family members will want to talk about the farm more than others; you may need to set up a time to talk about official business and a separate time to talk about other topics. (See Maine Farms: Life and Business in Balance bulletin #4802, “Successful Farm Team Meetings.”) Talking about feelings and concerns before they become problems can help you develop effective coping strategies to provide the most benefit for the family and the farm business.

Develop Guidelines and Agreements

Anticipate possible problems, and establish guidelines and agreements that provide effective solutions but still allow enough flexibility to address the unique nature of particular issues. (See University of Maine Cooperative Extension Maine Farms: Life and Business in Balance bulletin #4804, “Who Does What on the Farm? The Importance of Roles.”) Setting formal time to do an annual plan can be a perfect opportunity to think through the upcoming season and develop goals.

Find Family Time

The family is busy, engaged in the work of the farm, off-farm work, school, and other activities that keep families bustling. Finding an activity or time for the family to be together as a unit is important. It could be related to farm tasks like weeding, food preservation, or planting. It could be an activity at home, such as making dinner together, having a game night, watching a movie, or reading. It could be an off-farm excursion like seeing a movie, going to a park, or visiting with another family. Every family is different, but the point is to find something that all members participate in, and this time is focused on connecting with one another. Family time is different than a family meeting and the agenda is to have fun and connect.

When a Crisis Hits Home

Having family and farm in one place can be very helpful during times of personal or farm crisis. At these times, the whole family and farm unit are affected, and it may be “all hands on deck” focused on finding a solution or strategy to help address the problem at hand. It can be helpful and it can also be overwhelming when everything is based on one location. When a crisis happens, remember that it is one snapshot of the lifespan of family and farm life. This moment may be the hardest, but responding to the crisis will change. If there is concern that the mental or physical health of someone in the family or farm is at risk because of a farm crisis, the National Suicide and Crisis line can be reached by calling or texting “988. The Maine statewide crisis line can be reached by calling 1.888.568.1112 (Voice) or 711 (Maine Relay). Calling or texting “211” will reach a person who can assist with finding a mental health counselor or clinician.

Discover Peace at Home

It is not uncommon to think that balance must be found by getting away from the farm. “If I could only get time away, it would all be better,” you may say to yourself. This may be true. It may also be true that there are ways to find balance on the farm. Having a regular time to visit a special, quiet spot on the farm that’s just for relaxing or to take a walk on paths through the woods, can be fulfilling without the additional stress of leaving the farm.

Ways to Change Conversations

Family relationships often rely on familiarity and can fall back into communication patterns that may not be productive. If you’re looking for a communication “tune-up,” try talking about what you need and also acknowledge what the other person may need. Here are some specifics

  • Use “I” statements (When ___ happened, I felt ____, because ______).
  • Use listening and reflecting techniques to see if you are hearing the other person(s) correctly (What I think I heard you say was ____).
  • Take a breath and pause before you respond to what the other person said.
  • Avoid blame, and talk about what you are observing.

Farm / Family Balance: How Are We Doing?

This worksheet can help you assess personal balance (or managing, or integrating- choose what feels best for you) with farm business and family life. It can be used as a conversation starter, and questions can be added if something is important and not listed here. Questions that are answered “No” or “Unsure” provide good starting places for conversation.

StatementYesNoNot Sure
I recognize family issues and feelings that complicate our business practices.   
We usually talk about family business issues before they become a crisis.   
Our family has developed agreements or guidelines for addressing business and family issues.   
Our family has decided what roles family members will play in the family business.   
We have a set time each day, week, or month when we get together as a family to discuss feelings and concerns related to the family business.   
We have time each week to spend time as a family, without an agenda.   
Our family is good at identifying issues or concerns related to the family business.   
We usually talk about our issues and concerns, and the family generates possible ideas for handling them effectively.   
Each person in our family has the opportunity to express his or her feelings or concerns.   
When our family is faced with a tough decision, we can usually agree on an action plan.   
The members of our family each have a way to meet their needs for balance.   

Adapted with permission from

  • Aadron Rausch, “Farm & Family Connections: Balancing Work & Family,” Farm Business Management for the 21st Century ID-240 (West Lafayette: Purdue Extension, 2001).
  • Atina Diffley (author of Turn Here, Sweet Corn), personal correspondence, July 18, 2013.

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, 2024

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