Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Farm Woman Warns About Lack Of Ownership

July 18, 2005

You have probably by this time heard every possible farm family situation, but maybe it will help me to write this out and put words to my pain.

I have been married for more than 40 years to a man who is in his early 60s. He grew up with a controlling and strong-willed mother who knew how to get her way. She is in her late 80s and still controls the family. My husband never had the desire to do other than what he was told to do by his parents.

Outsider. Even though I have always worked hard on the farm in every aspect with the animals, gardening, yard, harvesting, and bookwork, I am still considered an outsider. I do not feel the need to buy lots of things and could be called frugal so spending lots of money has not been an issue.

But from the beginning of our marriage I have tried to find my place in this family. No matter what I did, it wasn't right. I wish I had been mature enough in the beginning to not care and let it blow over, but I tried and tried to find acceptance.

We lived "next door" in an old farm house that needed lots of work that his parents owned - where they wanted us to live. We were on the same telephone party line so there was no private conversations. If we didn't get up when they thought we should, I would be blamed for ruining their day. It became a pattern to blame me for everything. That was easier than requiring responsibility from their son.

They didn't want to fix up the house because that would cost money and this became a huge issue. They would not let us buy it.

No ownership. My issue at present is that I have cancer. It is my wish to leave something in my name to my children. My name is not on anything connected to the "family farm" because I am really not part of that. It was incorporated as a means to transfer the farm to the children. We bought out my husband’s siblings several years back and it was then that my name should have been added to the stock, but it wasn't. Procrastination serves a purpose.

I have been deeply hurt that whenever I bring up the subject. My husband is still afraid of his mother and her ideas that the marriage partner should not have any part in this precious "Family Farm".

Much injustice has been done to wives like me who have been patient, certain that in the long term the right thing would happen. It hasn't. My mother-in-law is someone I do not even care to spend time with any longer.

Eyes opened. It was only after the cancer and the treatment I received from my husband and his family, that my eyes were opened to what has been a horrible life. I am standing up for myself now and insisting that my name be on the corporation too, but as yet I have gotten nowhere.

Procrastination serves a purpose. My name is on the loan however, and I have also contributed money from my family inheritance to the corporation. Stupid huh! I see now that I have been too nice, too patient, too naive, too trusting.

There are many of us out here. Warn the others who still have time.

If my husband or other farmers could only understand the hurt and pain they cause, maybe they would put their loyalties where they belong. It may be a little late for me I'm afraid, barring a miracle, but I hope you can help others. - An Illinois farm woman

Dr Farmer replies. Your letter is the warning. Thanks for taking the time and having the courage to share your feelings with others.

I have seen the paranoia of parents whose protection of the precious "family farm" from the impact of divorce, lack of confidence in their own children, and their own desire to control decision-making do a major disservice to family relationships. I have seen daughters-in-law treated like a threat instead of an asset to the family. I have seen sons robbed of their dignity and manhood by parents who use ownership of the land as a whip.

There are also the horror stories of dedicated and loving farmers being blind-sided by women, very much at fault, who ended up with half the farm. There are sides to every story.

However, it is my belief that the abuse and mistakes made in retaining ownership, not sharing management, and not accepting the daughter-in-law as a full-fledged partner far outnumber the injustice caused by selfish and self-centered women.

Get help. These kind of problems need to be corrected right out of the chute before years pass. Healthy boundaries need to be established between families along with loyalty and true partnership with one’s spouse. There are places to go to get counseling and consultation to assist farm families sort out and correct patterns that could drive wedges in marriages and between families.