Dr. Val FarmerDr.Val
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Seven Ways To Help Make Dad's Retirement Easy - er - Easier

October 5, 2009

"You only grow by coming to the end of something and by beginning something new." – John Irving

Some people aren’t interested in growth. They want to keep on doing what they love and know they are good at. They want to be productive.

A strong-willed workaholic father who has lived single-mindedly for the farm or ranch will not prepare himself for retirement. Farmers like this slow down when their physical body gives out and the capacity to do the long hard work required is no longer there. But they still like to boss others and control major decisions when the next generation is fully prepared to take over.

Who retires? What kind of farmers retire with grace and purpose? If a couple has lived a well-balanced lifestyle, they will have cultivated interests, hobbies or a specialized area of work. Retirement is the opportunity to shift goals and priorities from the routine demands of the past to a new creative set of goals and endeavors.

Parents who haven’t cultivated leisure activities as part of their lifestyle need another form of work to excite them and entice them off the farm. They understand that their pleasure comes from doing something worth doing, not freedom from responsibility and duty. Parents who look forward to retirement are drawn away by the excitement of something new.

So what can a son or daughter do to encourage their parent’s retirement? Not much. Primarily, they can only make it easy for parents to explore other options to being a full time farmer. Here is some advice:

1. Volunteer to take over. Take management responsibility while parents leave on vacation, a winter trip, a family visit or to attend winter meetings. Encourage them to take leadership positions in their churches, communities, or in rural organizations. When they return and find that everything is in good shape, then their trust and confidence will grow and they will find it easier to leave the next time.

2. Enlist Mom’s help. Mom may be just as frustrated as the younger generation about the never-ending focus on the family farm or ranch. She can influence Dad to try things for her sake.

Mom’s assertiveness is a key. She can insist in activities such as square dancing, visiting the grandchildren, travel or other interests. However, she needs to start long before the retirement years. Interests need to be developed all along the pathway of life, not magically dredged out of nowhere at age 65.

3. Work toward open and democratic decision-making. If there is shared decision-making, the need for Dad to retire from the farm or ranch won’t be a big issue. Then Dad is able to phase out of his management role without feeling he is losing his control. He is just as able to influence ideas if he chooses to do so because of the pattern of mutual respect between himself and his farm partners. With a history of give-and-take in management practices, semi-retirement becomes feasible and workable.

A farmer with a strong need to stay involved can find a management niche that suits his interests while relinquishing control of the rest. When he has something to do and to be proud of - when he has a place to put his

energy and drive – he will be less inclined to interfere with the overall management of the farm. This requires shifting roles from that of owner/operator to consultant.

4. Be prepared to take over. Until parents take responsibility for their future happiness without the farm, they will tend to see the next generation as "not quite ready." Demonstrate your competence, skills and motivation through your dedication and work. Take responsibility.

Negotiate areas of responsibility where you have management control. You need a place to try your ingenuity and initiative.

Sons and daughters can specialize in an area where the father appreciates the help and may not be an expert, such as in marketing, computer applications, machinery repair, or an enterprise Dad tends to neglect. Make yourself invaluable and gain respect, even if it is grudgingly given.

5. The next generation can also develop interests away from the farm. You can volunteer and take leadership roles in the community where you can develop managerial prowess. When your talent and contributions are recognized by others in the community, you will also gain in credibility in the eyes of your parents.

6. Be tactful. Instead of letting anger and resentments build, younger farm couples can approach their parents with a clear description of what they need. Too many times people shy away from communicating about areas of conflict. They don’t give communications a chance.

The more open they are about frustrations, the better - even if it causes parents some discomfort. It is better to push the dialogue so that important issues are talked about. Of course, using courtesy and tact helps ease discussion without arousing defensiveness.

7. Believe in yourself. Be flexible. By being educated and having other income generating skills, you are in a better position to negotiate your issues. It is when couples feel trapped that they become intimidated by their parents and shy away from resolving conflict. If Dad is too domineering and controlling to care about you, get out early and put your talent to use somewhere else.