Use farm financial stress as a learning opportunity
You have a potentially stressful meeting with your lender on the calendar. The grain markets leave you dizzy and overwhelmed. Your 2019 budget looks dismal (at best). Your operation is causing you sleepless nights and worry. As a result, you are ready to snap at the next bit of bad news.
The stress is consuming you and likely your spouse. What about your kids? How are they coping?
“Parents need to be aware that their children’s stress is strongly tied to their own stress reactions to financial strain,” explains Val Farmer, a clinical psychologist and author who has specialized in rural mental health and family relationships during his 30-year career.
Children, regardless of age, are intuitive, adds Mykel Taylor, ag economist at Kansas State University. “They know when parents are stressed out. They may not understand the reasons why, but they know something is going on.”
When children observe tension with their parents, they are affected in many ways, Farmer says. That can span from being recipients of a conflict that spills over into parent-child relationships to observing parental depression.
“Depression takes a toll on parent-child relationships because mom and dad aren’t emotionally available to tune into their children’s lives,” he explains. “They can’t monitor their children’s activities the way they should. Some teens may have their hearts set on farming and are apprehensive, just like their parents, about their own future in the farm operation.”
Proactive Discussions. If you aren’t honest with your children about the financial strain your farm faces, they will draw their own conclusions, Taylor says.
“We’re more than willing to teach out kids how to do chores around the farm, but it never occurs to us to introduce them to the financial side—at any age,” she says. “We may think our kids aren’t able to understand the big and complex financial concepts of running a farm, but they can understand simple math and a simple budget.”
Now is a great opportunity to show how the farm uses a budget to be sustainable and profitable. “Let them be part of the adjustment in family living expenses,” Taylor says.
Farmer agrees. “Keep them appraised of the decisions and plans you have for dealing with it,” he says. “Explain your moods, edginess, preoccupation and apologize for any unfairness due to your own stress reactions. Children can handle material losses OK if their family relationships are solid. By sharing your financial struggles with them, you enlist their active support, cooperation and contributions to the family’s well-being.”
While it might be hard to believe, Farmer says, good memories can come from difficult times if children can pitch in and offer support to their parents.
See the Support You Need First
Of course, you are stressed and overwhelmed by the current farm economy. Monitor your emotions and seek professional health resources for depression and anxiety, suggests Val Farmer, a clinical psychologist and author. This will help you support your spouse, children and team.
“Parents need to first reach out and get the emotional support and guidance they need to cope—just like the airline instructions, ‘Place the oxygen mask over your own mouth first and then assist your children with theirs,’” Farmer says.
If you and your spouse are quarreling, find a counselor, support group or other resources. “Going through a crisis is hard enough but even more so when you aren’t getting along,” Farmer points out. “Children watch and are affected by the marital conflict. If the parents aren’t operating as a team, they need to fix the team.”