Focus on family during stressful times

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Editor's note: The following ran in the September 2009 edition of Dairy Herd Management. With stressful times again facing dairy producers, it is applicable to today, as well.

Whenever I speak to a farm audience, I remind everyone that farms can be replaced. But when you lose a family relationship or destroy a marriage between a husband and wife who once loved each other and shared a dream, you seldom get another chance.

The inability to cope with stress effectively (especially during difficult economic times) and to keep problems in a proper perspective is a rather common mistake. Too many times we keep emotions bottled up inside. The attitude is that “I have to find a way to work this out by myself.”

But you don’t have to do it by yourself.

Feeling isolated

Some individuals withdraw and hide their feelings from others during stressful times. Even when someone asks, “What is wrong, you seem troubled?” the common reply is “Nothing for you to worry about.” 

This sense of isolation in a family or a marriage solves nothing. Not allowing others to help who share our feelings only makes matters worse. This often results in a personal state of mental depression during extended periods of stress. 

A sense of helplessness in not being able to change the present situation builds up a mounting anger that soon spills out to those that we love.    

A farm wife once shared with me: “We are in financial trouble and my husband is having problems working things out with our lender. But my husband cannot yell at the lender. It just takes one little slip around the house and his screaming at me never seems to stop.”

This situation would test the breaking point of any marriage. The real tragedy is that many farm family relationships end up being broken during troubled times.  

In my seminars, I challenge the audience with the statement “farm people are so private that it actually hurts.” Foolish pride and personal stubbornness prevent many from seeking help even when others are there to listen and understand. The fear of admitting a personal problem or asking for help can be overwhelming. Thus, feelings and emotions get locked inside and hidden from others.  

Strong relationships essential   

Family members can draw strength from each other and provide a supportive role that helps one deal with the stress of farming.   The bond that holds a family together can grow stronger even during difficult times.  Knowing that you are not facing a problem alone is critical. 

This begins with a willingness to share feelings with others, which builds trust.

Admitting personal fears is a necessary, but difficult step. Share your burdens with others to help put these problems into a more manageable perspective. This requires open and honest communications within the entire family and a commitment to work through this together.

Try a different way   

The importance of focusing on a positive attitude and keeping family as the top priority cannot be overstated.

A couple once shared with me that “all we had when we started out in dairy farming 38 years ago was each other and nothing else. And even if we would ever happen to lose our farm, we must make certain that we still have each other in the end.”

Sharing a few simple words of appreciation and love can make a dramatic difference in any family relationship or farm marriage. 

It is so easy to get caught up in the working demands of the farm itself that we forget what is most important — having each other in a family. Family priorities get ranked in the wrong order and actually lose their importance.  

Keeping a sense of humor is important as well. Never lose the ability to smile and enjoy life itself.   Never forget the importance of family in your dairy operation. And never stop counting the family blessings we richly enjoy and treasure, but often take for granted. 

Ron Hanson is a Neal E. Harlan professor of agribusiness at the University of Nebraska.



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