Although a strong work ethic is always a point of pride in agriculture, the farm family also needs to celebrate its successes and to understand why you do all that hard work in the first place.
That kind of perspective doesn’t grow by accident.
Even so, says Rick Dehod, a provincial farm financial specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, if you want the next generation to take over the farm, you do need your kids to have the kind of happy childhood memories you can create this summer.
After all, if all they remember about growing up on the farm is all the work and all your stress, they are more likely to seek careers off the farm that give them work-life balance and guaranteed paid holidays.
“To attract young people back to our rural communities, we need to take time to have some fun,” Dehod says.
It’s too easy, he says, to get so busy farming that we forget that we are a family first. “We need to remember that we are families in the business of farming,” Dehod says. “The primary focus of the farm business is to provide a living for the farm family.”
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One proven way to create memories is to go somewhere new or try something new.
Claudia Hammond, a psychology lecturer and radio host with the BBC in London, England, studied our perceptions of time and memory for her book, Time Warped, beginning with the common perception that while time seems to pass quickly when you are on vacation, when we think back it will feel as though we were gone a long time.
In fact, there’s even a name for it. It’s called “the holiday paradox.”
And there’s a reason for it too, because when we are away, we have more moments that stand out, which means that any given unit of time is packed with more memories than usual.
But, of course, you don’t necessarily have to leave the district in order to create that kind of dense cluster of memories.
Instead, avoid routines, add variety to your life and try to create a life that feels both novel and entertaining, says Hammond.
And spend less time doing the things that aren’t so likely to create warm memories, like watching TV, playing computer games, and being online.
The simple truth is, if it involves watching a screen, it isn’t going to form as many great memories as if you’re face to face with other people, or if you’re engaged in the real world, experiencing real sights, sounds and sensations.
We can use this to our advantage, Hammond says. “If we fill a weekend with new activities and new places, when we get to Monday morning it will feel as though it’s been ages since we’ve been at work because of all the new memories we’ve made,” she says.
And the best way to ensure that we remember the happy memories from our trips is to focus on the positive.
After our trip, if we grumble to everyone (including each other) about how our luggage got lost, that’s what we’ll remember. If we talk instead about all the great things we saw and did, then those are the memories that will stand out.
Hammond also wants us to realize that such activities don’t have to be special or expensive, which is what we might think at first, and which in turn makes us imagine that if we’re going to build memories on the farm, we have to focus on a single break-the-bank event.
Instead, she says, think of novelty and variety, something you and your children or grandchildren haven’t done often before and that you rarely if ever get to do together.
“And if they get to take part themselves, rather than have you do it all for them, it will make it more memorable,” Hammond says.
Get in the habit with your family of mentioning the things you’d like to try or to get good at, and come up with a list of things everyone would be willing to explore.
And when you do try them, remember to turn off your own smartphone. Insist on being fully present with your family during these activities.
Dehod emphasizes that we only get a limited number of chances to create these memorable experiences.
Childhood is short so there is no time to waste. Often by the time children hit their preteen years, their focus will shift to their peer group and it can be tougher to get them to participate in family activities.
So take lots of pictures and create a lasting record of the good times.
Don’t wait for the lightning bolt
Again, this is an area where your leadership and your business skills can actually help your personal life.
In this case, be sure to write taking time off into your understanding of what it means to be good at your job. Then, be sure to talk about this with your family, so they know that having a good life is part of the reason why you’re farming.
You can even write job descriptions and ensure that family time is part of your farm’s management strategy, says Dehod. Also think about what could help you get some time away. Are there jobs you could share with a neighbour? Could more automation or relief staff help you meet your time-off goal?
And remember, the break you take while enjoying time with your family will also help you maintain your health.
Research by Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton at the University of Guelph shows farmers are under stress, with low resilience. Time away from the farm will help you cope and rejuvenate, so you will be better able to problem solve.
Dehod agrees. “It will give your brain a rest and as a result you will make better decisions.”
With summer and school vacation coming, now is the time to make plans for creating those memorable moments. So don’t be so busy farming that you forget you are a family first.
Almost every farm in Canada has someplace within a half hour where you can camp and relax by a river, lake, mountain or valley.
Spend a week there this summer, and make sure everyone knows before you go that you’re only going to slip home twice during the week to check on the things that really need checking on.
The rest of the time that week, you will still have a sort of job to do. It’s to create memories and increase family bonding, says Dehod. “Take the time to celebrate.”