Farming Families – The Most Important Farming Partner

The past few days we’ve been discussing choosing your farming partners.  Today we’re going to talk about the most important farming partner:  your spouse.  Your spouse can make a farm the greatest paradise or the loneliest hell.  How could one person have that much power?  Because farming is one of the few professions where you live and work with your spouse all day.  Every day.

Without further ado, here are my Top 10 Traits in a Farming Spouse:  (I have it on good authority that even non-farming spouses find this list useful)

1.  Positive Attitude – Farming is unpredictable and farming is hard.  Those two make it easy to be negative.  A positive attitude can sure help turn around a bad day sorting pigs, or fixing equipment, or building chicken shelters.  My husband refers to me as the “Eternal Optimist” because (in his opinion) I don’t think anything can ever go wrong.  Which isn’t true.  I know things can go wrong, and in most cases I’ve planned for some of that, but I refuse to dwell on the negative “what ifs”.  Be positive, it makes everyone day better.

2.  Sense of Humor – If you don’t have one yourself, listen to some great stand-up comedians together and use their material in your everyday vernacular.  Our favorites are Jim Gaffigan and Lewis Black.  Those poor men would be appalled at the way we have used and turned and butchered their fine comedic talent in the midst of our everyday lives.  But slipping in a line here and there, particularly if something isn’t going quite right can break either one of us into giggles.  My husband is much better and getting me to laugh than I am to him.  Maybe it’s because he’s had more practice.  Make each other laugh.  It’s either that or cry.

3.  Slow to Anger – My husband will laugh at this one.  “Pot, meet kettle.”  I have a lengthy fuse, but a big bang at the end.  Meaning I can let things go for quite some time, but there is a big blow-out when it comes.  I’m good at being mad.  I’ve had a lot of practice.  And I had a good teacher.  This is an area I continue to work on, focusing on communicating my feelings before the eruption.

4.  Flexibility – Farming has no clock-in and clock-out times.  There will be times when the flerd’s electric fence blows down during the night and you will be in your pajamas at 3am trying to find them with a flashlight.  There will be times when equipment breaks down and the plan for the day completely changes.  Or it rains.  Or it doesn’t rain so you bale hay instead.  Or you forgot to turn the crockpot on before you left to work outside for the next 6 hours.  Flexibility helps!  (And so does a back-up meal plan…)

5.  Passion to Grow Things – In agriculture we’re in the business of growing things.  Whether it’s carrots or cows, soybeans or salmon…we all need to find wonder, fascination and amazement in the simple miracle of life.  The best farmers are those who maintain that sense of wonder.

6.  Desire to Learn – A truly wise person knows there is so much that he/she doesn’t know.  Always be a learner!  Ours is a dynamic planet, with changing growing conditions (sometimes by the hour) and we have to be willing to learn all we can…and then learn some more.  Especially if you didn’t grow up on a farm, be willing to learn.  Farming is not like being an accountant where you can leave your job at the office and no one really has to understand what you do all day.  (My apologies to all the accountants out there, I’m sure your jobs are lovely and just what you’ve always dreamed of, besides farming.)  Your spouse needs to understand what you do and be willing to learn about it.  My husband was raised on a grain farm.  No animals of any kind.  I just pat his hand and say, “Oh Honey, that wasn’t a real farm.”  Our farm is all livestock.  That’s all we raise.  And Hubby is amazing at reading books, articles, blogs.  He talks to people, asks questions.  He’s willing to try new things.  It’s actually a blessing that he had so little livestock knowledge because we aren’t tied down with “That’s the way (insert relative here) did it, so that’s the way WE do it.”

7.  Innovation –  Can you challenge the staus quo?  Can you ask the hard questions?  Dare to innovate.  Dare to try something just to see if it works, and even if it doesn’t…well, at least your learned what didn’t work.  The seven worst words that can be uttered on a farm are these:  “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

8.  Work Together – And I don’t mean “ride with him in the combine”.  I mean actually WORK together.  Doing something that won’t get done unless both of you are there, giving it your all, sweating, acquiring blisters.  It isn’t HIS farm or HER farm.  It’s YOUR farm.  And you both need to contribute to make that happen.  You may think that the cows are “his thing” but there WILL come a time when they have busted through a fence.  “His cows” very quickly become “your cows”.  There’s nothing that brings a couple closer together then looking at a finished project (whatever that may be) and saying “WE did that!  It’s OURS.  Together.  And neither one of us could have done it alone.”

9.  Fight Fair – It’s inevitable.  Two people who live and work together will fight.  The key is to fight fair.  Our kids know when we have a disagreement.  Last night I was reading an article from the paper that I was very passionate about and adding my own inflection and editorial comments.  Kiddo2 interrupted to ask “Are you dis-dis-disa-disagweeing with Dad?”  Nope, not this time, but wait a day or two.  And we all know those couples who say “We’ve been married/together for ___ years and we’ve never argued or fought.”  Well, that means one of two things:  One of you always gives in or one of you doesn’t care.  Because two people, who are passionately invested will argue.  They will fight.

10.   You Don’t Always Have to be Right – And it’s addendum, you don’t have to remind your spouse of how you were right afterwards.  In fact, life will be a lot better if you “keep no record of wrongs” (as Paul told the Corinthians) out there on the farm.  Celebrate the good things, forget the mistakes.  Learn from them, but forget them.

Now, before you take this list, cock your head and look at your spouse wondering which ones he/she has, it was never meant to be a scorecard.  This list is for me, more than it is for Hubby.  Use it as a self-evaluation and ask your spouse to help you in areas that you struggle.  And if you have questions or need some help, please feel free to email me, I’d love to help.  And, one other thing…Did you notice that nowhere on this list is the word “soulmate”?  We’ll talk about that tomorrow.

Day 5 Homework:  What other traits would you add to this list?