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

In-Law Relationships On A Family Farm

July 16, 2001

In farming, a key relationship is between the parents and the daughter-in-law. This relationship can be a landmine of difficulties or a source of pleasure and reward.

The daughter-in-law wants to be knowledgeable about the family, included in key decisions and recognized for her contributions. Another concern is the clarity and fairness of the financial arrangements between the families.

Business tensions. Often the biggest source of tension is the way her father-in-law treats her husband when they work together. If there is disrespect or poor management resulting in her husband’s unhappiness, she will champion his cause and become angry at the dysfunctional relationship.

Long hours in farming are hard enough to accept without having her husband’s time controlled by arbitrary demands or guilt. She will note how the workload is distributed among the farming partners and will react to inequities.

Queen of her own castle. A daughter-in-law will be sensitive to the privacy of her home and her right to have a home and family life according to how she and her husband desire it. Quite likely she will have different priorities for family time, leisure and social commitments than her in-laws.

When it comes her lifestyle, choices and commitments, a daughter-in-law is sensitive to criticism, negative judgments, and guilt trips about social obligations. She will want to feel her husband’s primary loyalties are to her. She will resent being left out of the loop when her husband shares daily news. She wants to be consulted before family and economic decisions are made.

When there are children, she wants their ideas of gift-giving to be respected and in line with family priorities. Grandparents need to check out their ideas with the younger couple before giving a major gift. Grandparents need to be aware of their expectations regarding visits with the grandchildren.

She wants to feel supported in her efforts to share holidays and special occasions with her side of the family. Many families prefer to work out a different social circle and activities apart from their parents. Farming together brings abundant togetherness and contact already.

Suggestions for the mother and father-in-law.

- Accept your son’s marriage as permanent and support their marriage. Relate to them as a couple. Give up your special bond with your son.

- Be patient. They may need time to work on their own autonomy and identity. Be clear in your expectations on what you want in the way of family events and visits. Negotiate and be accepting of their decisions. Be friendly, hospitable and let them set the tone for how much closeness they would like. Avoid guilt trips.

- Stand back and let the new family come to you with problems or advice. Be slow to comment on their affairs unless they encourage discussion. Even then, be a good listener. Don't be quick to give advice that they might resent. Keep your doubts and criticisms private.

- Define your own boundaries when you feel they are taking you for granted. Make sure the business partnership is working well and talk over work conflicts in a business-like manner. A regular family business meeting is the best vehicle for working out normal business conflicts and keeping them separate from family discussions.

- The safest and most positive way to be in their lives is to focus on the grandchildren. Respect their different lifestyle and parenting style.

Suggestions for the daughter-in-law.

- Accept your in-laws as imperfect. Be pleasant, easygoing and try to get along. Watch your nonverbal communication too. Establish a relationship based on trust and mutual respect. Get acquainted, draw them out and be interested in their lives. Be gracious about gifts and hospitality. Consideration, appreciation, and common courtesies are key ingredients in maintaining a positive relationship.

- Be a sounding board for your spouse. Don't create division and conflict by taking over his or her problem. Let them work through their own issues. Be supportive.

- Your spouse is the best one to communicate with his or her parents about difficulties, problems or plans. Don't be the heavy. Form a united front and then let your spouse be the spokesperson in resolving conflict or establishing limits. He or she will have more credibility.

- Don't try to strengthen your marital bond by attacking or undermining your partner's bond with their parents. Don't put your spouse in the middle with loyalty tests. Make your own marital relationship strong and the loyalty issue will sort itself out.

- Don't expect things to be all your way. Negotiate middle ground with your spouse regarding holidays, vacations, gift giving, family celebrations, and amount of visiting and phone calls. Don’t use your influence to keep the grandparents away from the grandchildren.

Problems can be solved through give-and-take discussion and communication. This relationship needs problem-solving just like in the marriage. Too many times conflict mushrooms because of the fear of open discussion. These relationships are too tender and precious to let resentments and anger come between you.