Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Off Farm Work Poses Marital Problems

October 5, 1998

In the PBS documentary, "The Farmers Wife's," Darrel and Juanita Buschkoetter, work through the dilemma of working off the farm to generate enough money to live and to keep the farm. First Darrel works in a manufacturing job and later for another farmer. Juanita tries a nursing home, cleaning houses and finally goes back to college to get a degree.

The off farm work takes a toll on their marriage and forces them to make hard adjustments. Here are some quotations from "The Farmer's Wife" that dramatize the challenge of off farm work from each of their perspective.

Juanita: We always thought by farming that I'd be able to stay home and take care of the kids. I still think that. I know I'm old fashioned but I think that's what is wrong in the country. I think kids need Mom at home, at least during their developing years.

He was the center of everything I did, you know? But it's only natural after you have three kids, try to save a farm operation and try to go to school, you just don't have enough energy for all that.

After Darrel had been working for close to a year or so, he and his Dad especially thought I should've been the one going to work because it was too hard on Darrel working. So I went to work in a nursing home and by the time I got done paying a babysitter and gas and everything I only had a couple of hundred dollars left each month. The babysitter had about 11 kids then and Whitney wasn't getting any attention. Finally Darrel realized that he had to go back to work.

He just thinks that he's the only one that's trying. He'll lay on me everything he has to do . . . I have tons of work piled up at home. That's when we've had the hardest times - when we feel like were working against each other instead of working together.

One of the worst things I hate about working right now is that I have that much less time with the kids. I sometimes feel like the girls [three daughters] and I are growing further apart. It just scares me that they're growing up so fast and once they're gone you can't make up for the time that you missed. You just really have to put a lot more effort into taking time with each one of them. Maybe that's better in a way because seems like the things we do now mean a whole lot more.

Darrel: At home the whole day goes by and it doesn't even seem like an hour. But at work, an hour goes by and seems like two days. Sometimes I can't hardly stand the way the clock goes so slow at work because I guess it's because I don't enjoy doing what I've been doing . . . It's been hell. It's been hard on my marriage. It's been hard bringing the kids up.

If I could make a living out here on the farm, I wouldn't have to be in town during the day trying to bring home enough income to buy groceries. So naturally I could do a better job of farming and I could be a better father, I could be a better husband. It's just been hell.

But now she's out making a living too, and she takes care of a lot of the finances. She actually has just as much control over things as I do. That probably eats on a guy a little bit.

Trying to farm during the night and work all day for someone else, it's worse than a living hell . . . Your body feels like hell all the time. You know they expect you to be a slave and if you can go 100 miles an hour, they still want you to go twice as fast. People are still human beings, you know? Everybody needs some credit for what they're doing. If you're just going to be like a robot and he tells you to do this and he tells you to do that, that's not for me.

With me, having to have an off farm job, it built up a lot of anger inside of me because any human being alive can take so much stress and after a while it catches up with you. The day after I shut the combine off, I went to work for somebody else and did all the hard work and the dirty work, running everyday. I think it just made me go crazy.

In the past when I was working full time I missed a lot with the kids when they were real small because I was never home. When I came home I was so dead tired and I had chores to do yet and farming to do yet.

Working on a happy ending. The Buschkoetters eventually worked through their financial problems so that Darrel could go back to full time farming. After her schooling, Juanita got a better paying job - one that offered a challenge and some flexibility.

Darrel regained his confidence. "After the last couple of years I think I changed quite a bit. I feel more complete than I ever did. I thought if I couldn't farm that it was the end of the world. Sure that's my dream to farm, but if I absolutely had to do something else, I know there are other lives than farming. I want to be someplace on either the management end or making things tick."