Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Readers Respond To Isolated Montana Farm Woman's Letter

May 20, 1998

I received several responses to the letter written by the Montana farm woman who described her feelings of frustration at not having challenging work in her life. She also felt shut out of the family farming operation. I am including some of the advice in this column. I will have another column with more responses.

From Oregon. "We decided that I would quit work. It was a very hard decision as I had worked all my adult life except for brief passages of time. Who and what I was, my self-esteem, self-worth, self-confidence had always been connected to my "job" and "paycheck." Also my justifying not working was hard as the children weren't at home so I couldn't say I chose to stay home to take care of the children.

"After I quit, we purchased two steers and a few months later we purchased a cow with twin heifers. Lo and behold, I found a new career!! I learned how to give vaccinations and medications. I learned about heat, 'AI'ing, pasture management, and everything else about cattle.

"I was lucky to have a neighbor take me under her wing and she taught me a lot. That and 'hands on' experience were my two best teachers. One and half years into this I had begun to feel a bit better about who and what I was becoming. There were still days of tears and tantrums. I still read the want ads and toy with ideas on how to start my own business . . .

"I was also learning to take for time for "me" each day and not feel guilty. Then we moved.

"I am now in an area where I have to be careful of what and how I say things because, (1) I am a woman, (2) I am not from here, and (3) I only have four head and 10 acres and not 200 head and 400 acres. I've taken off my diamond rings, earrings and necklace. I don't polish my nails and I've forgotten how to work in high heels! I have never been a "needy" shopper but I do miss the mall at times.

"At the same time, I have learned that I can be "somebody." All my adult life I never had hobbies. This winter I taught myself to latchhook, to cross stitch, to use the sewing machine. I crocheted an Afghan for myself. I worked with a woman who boards my cows and learned a whole lot. I finally have goals that take the place of outside employment.

"After two and a half years of "ranching" and after two years of being a stay at home wife, I am finally beginning to appreciate my good fortune. Instead of reading articles about criminals and behavior modification, I read about cow herds, pasture management and nutrition.

"Give it time. Transition isn't easy and it doesn't happen over night. I fell into the "martyr" trap and it wasn't nice for me to have to look back at myself . . . I love my cows. They listen to all my problems and never judge me!"

From Iowa. "I have read your letter and feel sympathetic. Several years ago I read an article in the Atlantic Monthly titled, "Dynamite Women." It was written by Pearl Buck who applied that term to women who are well-educated, yet through choice/chance find themselves unable to use their education and talents.

"However, I don't think you can possibly imagine how many thousands of women would gladly trade places with you. You say nothing about physical problems for you or your husband. You have a home, a peaceful country in which to live, you don't complain of economic poverty, and you have a good husband who is living. I, too, have all those blessings, except the last. Want to trade?

"With imagination, initiative, and a willingness to share and serve, you can develop even the few opportunities you have."

After citing a few examples of how she would handle free time, the writer concludes, "This letter can't be long enough to include all the reasons you may soon feel that life is too, too short."

Also from Iowa. Another Iowa woman writes and sent an enclosed envelope. "I want to tell you my story. Hang on. We are out there. I didn't like the advice Dr Farmer gave you! I always look for his column and I'm glad he printed your story. My biggest fear was my neighbors would think I wrote it. There is nothing wrong with you."

From North Dakota, "I know exactly how you are feeling. After 22 years of marriage, I am still the outsider. Management of the family farm is handled by the "family" of which I am still not a member.

"Don't try to change the relationship between your husband and his brother. Their primary concern is making the family farm as successful as possible and passing it on to the next generation. The farm is #1. Deal with it!

"You need to create a life for yourself. I am not talking about divorce. I am talking about a life separate from the farm. Commute if you have to. Spending the week dealing with a challenging job and the hectic city life will make you appreciate weekends on the farm. And just maybe, just maybe your husband will miss you so much he will make you #1 at least on the weekends.

"Good luck and don't be a quitter. Make a life for yourself that you can be proud of. Then slowly, very, very slowly (I am talking 22 years here) try to become part of that family farm.