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

Readers Gripe About Rural Living

July 15, 1996

I solicited readers to send me their gripes about life in a small community. Here are some of their thoughtful responses.

"I am starved for intellectual stimulation with other people. Social life centers around high school sports and we have absolutely no interest in attending ball games . . . I get so bored with the small talk, gossip and trivia that seem to fill others' lives, but which just don't stimulate me. I read a lot!

"Another problem that is new to me is that church membership so strongly determines friends. Most people are good friends with couples that belong to their churches. Religious fundamentalism is very strong here . . . and has succeeded in molding the school curriculum to suit their beliefs.

"Another big problem in rural communities is the competition for farmland to rent or buy. We have had people ask to buy or rent land on the flimsiest of reasons . . .

"Another gripe: our children are intelligent . . . and the school system didn't work well for them at all . . . If they had been athletic, it would have helped but they inherited their parents' klutziness.

"There are, of course, good things also about living in so small a town. Driving is stress-free and that is a blessing as I do not think I could handle city driving . . . Yards and homes are usually well kept and nice to see. We have no rotting inner city. That, however, often blinds us to the needs of others in society. A trip to town always results in small talk that relieves loneliness. We are still safe to walk anywhere and leave homes unlocked during the day." - An Iowa reader

"A gripe I have with living in a small community is in conversation with others. Generally it focuses on what everyone else is doing in the community, not on what the individual in the conversation with is doing.

"I moved from Fargo to a small community. The people I had contact with in Fargo spoke of what they or their children were up to and the current topics in the news. So it was a big adjustment to listen to the 'gossip' of a small town.

"Part of the reason people in the smaller towns don't talk about what they are up to is they don't want to appear to brag. But I'd much rather hear what is happening from the horse's mouth than from the neighbor down the street." - A North Dakota reader

"It is interesting that sometimes what we have learned is just 'small town' phenomenon common to all rural areas is erroneously labeled by recently arrived residents as peculiar to a particular culture or ethnic group. This isn't necessarily the case. Just as there is a mix of characteristics among town residents, so there is variability in the residents of small towns. In either place you will meet fine people who enhance the lives of others and harsh people who tend to be takers.

"I have also noticed town people sometimes have a more difficult time understanding why country people would choose to hang on to farms, living in grinding poverty rather than sell out, get a ‘real’ job and live comfortably off the proceeds of the land sales.

"When you lose a 9-5 job, that is all you have lost. When you are threatened with losing a farm, you are threatened with losing your children's heritage, the childhood home of your parents, yourself and siblings, your lifestyle and often relatives put pressure on you to hang on because they would be losing some of those things too.

"Another example is the attitude, 'If it was good enough for me, it’s good enough for my kids' . . . There are many aspects of country life that are well worth preserving and thank goodness for the people who make an effort to do so. However, there is a downside as well. Maybe the last generation could make it on little or no education, but the next one will surely struggle without some sort of training.

"Acceptance of adolescent pregnancy - certainly not unique to rural communities - and early marriage is setting a weight on the shoulders of their young people they may later regret. Tolerance of bullying, incest, domestic violence and alcoholism scar the wholesome beauty of country living.

"Community closeness can be a great benefit to families in helping to keep track of kids, sharing resources in meeting their needs and helping each other out when the going gets tough. The other end of the spectrum is the betrayal parents feel when they are trying to encourage their adolescents to delay serious dating or sexual involvement and well-meaning neighbors are providing encouragement and means for those very things behind their backs.

"Perhaps the most important message here is that all helping is NOT helpful. If it is not done appropriately, ‘helping’ can have serious consequences. The attitude that ‘kids will be kids' needs careful examination. Too often the trouble kids get into today is the kind that will stay with them the rest of their lives.

"Every place has its good and bad qualities. Sometimes I do indeed wish for a little more freedom, privacy and tolerance. Yet overall, you have just never met warmer, more supportive and good-hearted folks than live in my little town. I think I'll stay put right where I am." - An Idaho reader