Farming a good place for a healthy work/life balance
By Keith Roulston
Prompted by the actions of a couple of high-profile business leaders, the problem of finding a proper work/life balance has been getting a lot of discussion lately. It’s an area where farm families have an inherent advantage.
Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, started the discussion when she admitted in an interview: “If you ask our daughters, I’m not sure they will say I’ve been a good mother.”
Mohamed El-Erian caused even more discussion when he quit his very, very well-paid job as the head of a $1.87 trillion dollar California investment company so he could spend more time with his young daughter. The decision was made, he explained later, after his daughter presented him with a list of 22 “milestones” in her young life that he had missed because of work.
Part of this pressure on working parents is because the bar has been raised on what it takes to be a good parent. Back when I was growing up nobody probably used the term “good parent”. People were just parents, struggling the best they could to pay the bills and feed and clothe their kids. There may have been a few “bad” parents who worked young children too hard or took discipline too far (and that’s a lot further than a swat across the backside) but there wasn’t much of a definition of what a good parent was.
My childhood provides a neat example of the advantage of having a farm parent. For about the first half of my years growing up, I had both parents at home. In my preschool days (and there was no kindergarten then) I spent my time following either my father or my mother. I’d tag along when my father fed the animals in the barn and milked the cows, when he fixed stubborn equipment (where I learned a colourful vocabulary) and even went with him to farm auctions or the salesbarn. In the house I watched my mother preserve the season’s harvest, prepare meals and make Christmas cake. I learned a lot, including from both parents, an early sense of self-worth carrying out what small tasks I was capable of at any given age.
But times were tough and finally, unable to make ends meet from the farm alone, my dad took a factory job. He would disappear each weekday and though he might talk a bit about what was happening on the job, I had no idea what he was really doing while he was away from home. The factory was nearby where my grandmother lived but looking at it, none of the secrets of the life inside its walls were visible. I got to know my dad much less from that time on because I was missing access to this substantial part of his life.
I’m reminded that farm families aren’t immune to getting the work/life balance wrong. Some people can be workaholics in the barn or on the tractor or combine just as they can in an office in a skyscraper. Sometimes the job before us can seem so important that family life can be pushed to the side. We all need to make time for good times with spouses and children.
But the great thing for farm children lucky enough to have one or both parents at home, is that even work becomes something of a family experience, as long as it’s not too hazardous to onlookers. Farm kids also get a healthy understanding of the relationship between working and the reward, monetary and otherwise, it brings. It’s not like the parent who goes missing from the child’s life for hours at a time and the money that’s mysteriously “just there” when the pay cheque is deposited.
Wise farm parents can also use appropriate farm work to build a work-ethic that will benefit their children for the rest of their lives.
So if you’re lucky enough to be a full-time farmer, you and your kids are blessed.◊
Keith Roulston is publisher of The Rural Voice. He lives near Blyth, ON.