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Two Degrees of Separation

19/05/2016


This article was previously published in Western Producer, May 12, 2016.

I probably stopped giving too much attention to Dad’s opinion when I reached the age of 18. Of course I take a lot more notice of it now, as I’ve gotten older and realize the value of his life experience. But back then I had left home, I was either working on a farm or at Ag college and our worlds didn’t come that close together. I went on to serve in the army, go to university, get married and have a family. I made my own decisions, made my own mistakes and moved away from the close proximity of my parents.

As an adult, I can’t ever imagine having to ask my parents for money, have them scrutinize what I spent it on or ask permission to go on vacation or get a loan for new vehicle. I also can’t ever imagine my wife having to live and rear our children under the constant gaze of her mother in law.

And yet, this is the reality for so many young farm families who stay on the farm to take over the business. Often cash is tight and it makes sense to build on the same yard as Mom and Dad or have Mom and Dad move off the yard in order to accommodate the next generation. Frequently, there is only one bank account which is operated jointly.

And then there may be other things to consider, like attitudes towards child rearing, money, alcohol, work and education which may differ between generations and between families. How many times do I hear things like “they can’t manage money” or “my son doesn’t work as hard as I did”?

And yet the reality for most of the world, is that the kids leave the nest so they don’t have to endure the constant judgement of their

parents. True, they might still be exposed to an opinion or two but they aren’t living and breathing it on a daily basis.

I blame the “honeymoon period”. Those early days when everyone is getting along when decisions are made in the glow of family harmony, which only set them up for failure later on.

In family businesses, there is one thing which will help you above all else and that is understanding the three circles of the family business; family, ownership and management and understanding which circle you are making a decision in. Whichever circle you are making a decision in, remember that formality, will always be your friend.

So before you build that new house on the yard, there are a few things for you to consider:

  • Set some boundaries around the overlap between family and business.
  • Understand that everyone needs their own space.
  • Keep in mind your children are also adults who need financial autonomy.
  • Recognize that your children won’t simply accept that they are a source of cheap labour and that they will want to manage the business sooner than you might want to let go of that management.
  • Accept that your new daughter in law might not react well to your input on child rearing or whether or not she should work off the farm.

Elaine Froese wrote an excellent book on the topic; “farming’s in-law factor”. I would urge you all to read it. But read it before you’ve built that house next door and begin by reading the sections that apply to others, later focusing on the section which applies to you. In this way you will perhaps begin to understand other perspectives before simply looking to reinforce your own.

In the end, there will need to be give and take from all sides, compromise and an ability to communicate where a difference of opinion doesn’t become a personal insult. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Put in some rules in place before the first foundations are dug.

Contact Bob Tosh, PAg., FEA, Farm Management Consultant at 306.664.8303 or [email protected]