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

Move Over, There Is A New Queen In The Farm Yard

May 13, 2005

The incorporation of a daughter-in-law into a family operation is a delicate process. Too many farm families don’t include the daughter-in-law or accept her need for a separate definable life as a priority nor is she included enough in the business aspect of the operation.

Mutual respect and give-and-take are necessary in defining important social and family boundaries so that farm families can relax and be comfortable around each other. In a close family business, it is important to work through differences and not ignore problems. Too many farm families don’t communicate their needs and concerns allowing tensions and hurt feelings to grow without efforts to resolve them.

Here are some basic guidelines to help create a respectful and loving relationship.

- Let go of your son. Your son's basic loyalty should be for his wife. Relate to them as a couple. You don't need a special relationship with your son that excludes her. Your chances to parent him are over. Your worries about him are now her concern and responsibility.

Support their marriage. Don't interfere as they work out their differences. Side with your son only if there will clearly be a divorce. Then you can go back to being his primary support.

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 relationships.

Having fairness and mutual respect in the working relationships between father and son will prevent a lot of problems from spilling over into their marriage.

- 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. She will have different priorities for family time, leisure and social commitments than your own. It is her husband, her home, her children, her lifestyle and her territory.

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.

- Accept her as imperfect. If your daughter-in-law is acting out her unresolved parental conflict with you, don't over react. There’s plenty of time for them to figure out that you are different. Your son will notice and help provide corrective guidance to correct the problem unbeknownst to you.

Accept her as she is, her good and bad points together. Your son has to adjust, cope and solve problems with her, not you. An unkind word or a harsh judgment that gets back to your daughter-in-law may destroy the fabric of trust and confidence she has in you for years to come.

Stand back, be patient and let her make mistakes and struggle with life. Give her the support she asks for but don't take over her problems. Keep your doubts and criticisms private.

- Don't volunteer advice. Your ideas may be resented unless she is "ready" for your answers. You'll know when she is ready because she'll ask for help or ideas. Then your advice will be well-received if it is given in a way where she is not obligated to act on it.

Be slow to comment on their affairs unless they encourage discussion. Even then, be a listener and don't be quick to give advice that they might resent.

- Define boundaries. Define your own boundaries when you feel they are taking you for granted. Be clear about what you want in the way of family events, holidays, celebrations and visits.

Negotiate and be accepting of their decisions. They need to form their own identity as a family. Be friendly, hospitable and let them set the tone for how much closeness they would like. Avoid guilt trips.

A daughter-in-law 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.

- Be considerate and appreciative. Consideration, appreciation and common courtesies help make relationships special. The language of love is filled with "please's" and "thank you's."

Balance out favors. One-sided relationships in either direction eventually create resentments.

- Meet your own needs. Your own goals, social life, work and a rewarding relationship with your husband will lift and sustain you. Without your sense of personal priorities you'll be tempted to depend on your children for part of your happiness.

In subtle ways you may unwittingly obligate them to meet your needs. This isn't healthy for the relationship. If your children relate to you out of a sense of obligation, it will take some of the joy out of it for them.

- Focus on the grandchildren. Enjoy family time together, especially with your grandchildren. The safest and most positive way to be in their lives is to focus on the grandchildren. Take their lead on how much to give them. Ask first.

Respect their different lifestyle and parenting style. Be sensitive to their parent's wishes and expectations and don't overstep your bounds.