Bulletin #4803, Farm and Family—Finding Balance

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Maine Family Farms: Life and Business in Balance

Adapted by Associate Extension Professor Leslie Forstadt and Associate 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:

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

Owning and managing a family farm offers unique benefits and challenges to the family members involved. 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, however, be challenging to create and sustain boundaries between the family and the farm business. One way to meet this challenge is to pay as much attention to family relationships as you do to the management of the farm business. Family relationship management is entirely different from farm business management.

Maintaining family relationships entails attention to personal relationships, parenting, cooperation, and love and respect among family members. You might be thinking, “easier said than done.”

Strategies for Maintaining Balance Between Work and Family

Managing boundaries between the farm business and the family is challenging. For example, managers of farm businesses need to decide how to distribute income between the farm and family expenses, and how to balance work and family time. Intensity of feelings, confusion between family roles 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 University of Maine Cooperative Extension Maine Family Farms: Life and Business in Balance bulletin #4802, “How to Run Farm Family 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 Family Farms: Life and Business in Balance bulletin #4804, “Understanding Roles in the Farm Family.”)

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, such as weeding, food preservation, or planting. It could be an activity at home, such as making dinner, having a game night, watching a movie, or reading together. It could be an in-town 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 with one another.

Keep the Big Picture in Mind

Your family and your farm are both at home, which is quite likely part of the reason you started a family farm or you may be farming away from your home with family help. During times of personal or farm crisis, your focus is on finding a solution or strategy to help address the problem at hand. At the same time, it is important to remember that the crisis is one snapshot in the lifespan of your family and farm life. This moment may be the hardest, but the crisis will not last, and your perspective and the circumstances will change. If you are having trouble getting through a crisis, you can call “211” to find a counselor or crisis line, or call Maine’s statewide crisis line 1.888.568.1112.

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 you can find balance right where you are. Most farmers know a special, quiet spot on the farm that’s just for relaxing, or a place to take a walk on paths through the woods, or a nesting place for bird watching.

Change the Conversation

  • 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 and your family assess how you are doing at balancing, or managing, or integrating (choose what feels best fit for you!) the farm business and family life. Use it as a conversation starter, and add your own questions if something is missing. Questions to which you answer “No” or “Unsure” provide good starting places for conversation.

Farm and Family Questionnaire (Check the response that best fits how you feel.)

Statement Yes No Not 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 a 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.

Special thanks to the following reviewers:

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

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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