Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Can City-Raised Women Adjust To Country Life?

June 7, 2010

Can a city-raised woman be happy in the country? Of course she can!

All it takes is four or five years of apprenticeship in a strange environment where :

- she is removed from her own family.

- she lives in a different culture: Minnesota Nice.

- she is part of a family business where expectations and ways of doing things are strong.

- she lives with a husband who puts in long hours and can justify every one of them.

- she has to budget household and family living expenses based on variable paydays with prices for farm products being set by outside forces.

- She is expected to fit in and do everything right with a husband who may or may not be a patient teacher.

During this time, she is to hold her own with her husband, be an equal partner and to be treated with respect. Maybe she’ll start a family and care for little ones while proving she is a good farm partner.

Suppose she comes from a loving family where the husband/father is home and relaxed in the evenings and weekends – her expectations couldn’t be more different of what a father and husband should be doing.

Worse yet, suppose she comes from a "dysfunctional" family and she brings her own problems, needs, hangups or strong expectations into the marriage. Suppose her husband’s family has extreme personalities and is a little dysfunctional too. Suppose she is career-oriented and can’t find a job in her job-scarce rural community.

Sounds a little crazy doesn’t it? Yet women do it all the time.

How do they do it? What are the key adjustments they have to make? How do their husbands help or hinder the process? Is the mother-in-law is helpful - or critical? How do new farm wives learn to set boundaries around their marriage and family life without offending anyone? How do they learn about farming and the rural lifestyle?

You won’t find the answers spelled out in bridal books, so I'll take the liberty to emphasize a few points.

1. All these adjustments and difficult times are normal. It takes time. Many city-raised women have been down this path and have learned to love their new life, the rural lifestyle, their new in-laws, the open spaces and the new rhythm and rationale of things.

2. A crucial factor in adjusting is having a support system that patiently educates while accepting the newcomer. The local culture and rural mentality need to be explained. Family dynamics need to be figured out. Skills on the farm need to be learned.

Husbands, mothers-in-law, and other city-raised farm women can play a positive role in easing the transition. "Dumb" questions need to be asked in an atmosphere of patience and acceptance while keeping up a semblance of self-confidence. Women in this position often walk a tightrope of being assertive and self-confident,

yet being humble enough to understand how much there is they don’t know.

Sort out the chaff of strong male prerogatives and entitlement from the reality of farming. Learn to know when these guys are blowing smoke so they can get their way - or when they are right and you have to adjust.

3. City-raised women need to demand courtesy and consideration in a rushed and occasionally tense environment - even when they don’t know what is going on. Offending spouses and in-laws need to reign in their temper problems. Communication skills that eliminate harshness and criticism will keep things positive.

4. Primary loyalty and partnership with the husband are crucial. The farm couple needs to be a working team and not let the newcomer status or other family members drive a wedge between them. It’s all about boundaries - good healthy boundaries. It helps when the husband understands and wants this too.

5. City-raised women often learn the hard way that the people in the local community are intimately connected - if not related to each other. Anonymity was left behind in the city. Welcome to life in the fish bowl.

Comments and attitudes will be scrutinized. Criticisms not meant to be for public consumption will often get back to the party being talked about. Part of living a rural community is knowing how and when to keep your mouth shut. Spontaneous and expressive people will have more trouble. A few truly confidential relationships will provide needed emotional outlets.

6. A new farm-wife needs to learn to do her part and pitch in with community affairs and volunteer activities. This is a give-and-take society. There are many social expectations. A newcomer who expects a lot of leisure or time for specialized interests will find her personal time encroached on by the community.

City-raised women have to adjust and find balance in their lives by learning to say yes and by learning how and when to say no. Again it is about healthy boundaries - this time between the self, family, and the community