Coming to terms with a farm mom who is difficult to deal with may not be what you were expecting to read. After decades coaching farm families, one might expect that farm moms always are collaborative and willing to negotiate what is the best for all members of the family.
Recently, the word “narcissist” has become part of the language of farm clients. I am not a psychologist, so labels are not for my coaching work. “Counseling is about recovery; coaching is about discovery.” A narcissist is someone who really focuses on their own needs and wants without much thought about what others need or want.
I have seen many farm women live out giving and serving the needs of their families over seasons of hard times and good times. The issue I want to address is: What if? What if you have a difficult mother who is stalling decision-making for transferring assets to the next generation? What if your mother has huge debt and is not willing to seek out financial assistance or mediation? What if your farm mom refuses to seek outside farm advisers’ expertise to help get the management of the farm or ranch back on track?
Stephan Poulter, author of The Mother Factor: How Your Mother’s Emotional Legacy Impacts Your Life, mentions the me-first-type of mother, along with the perfectionist, unpredictable, best friend and complete style of mothering. He also wrote a book on your father’s influence. Poulter suggests many tools for decreasing anger and co-dependence with your mom.
As a coach, it is hard to watch unresolved anger between the generations, especially when you have facilitated tough conversations.
My first encouragement to you when feeling stuck with your mother’s decision-making is:
- Come from curiosity. Be curious about what is going on for your mom. How old is she? What might she be afraid of? Is she emotionally well? What kind of support is she asking from you?
- Would your mother consider professional counseling help or therapy? Would you be willing to go together? If things don’t work out, are you willing to let go and walk away?
- Do you understand or know much about how your mother was treated by her parents and their succession plan? Is there a story she is telling herself that she has not been able to share with you?
- What is the meaning of money to your mother? Bruce Sellery’s work in Moolala: Why Smart People Do Dumb Things With Their Money explores what money means to different people. Does she have crushing debt? Is she so overwhelmed that she has a hard time knowing where to start to get more financial stability in her life?
- What would your mom like you to do differently? You can change your response; you cannot pressure anyone else to change theirs. Can you take suggestions or direction from your mother and then let her know if she has reasonable or unrealistic expectations of your behaviour?
- Are there family secrets that need to be uncovered? Has someone made a vow or a promise to do something for one of your siblings?
- Is mom trying to keep her dead husband’s memory alive by listening to her husband’s voice in her head? Did she make deathbed promises that are no longer workable?
Last winter, I met young ranchers who don’t want the debt load of their parents. They have a mom who likes to “look like she is wealthy, but the truth is there is a lot of debt.” I have another young farmer who has tried counseling and was advised to walk away from a mother who doesn’t work to change behaviour for a healthier relationship. Another son has chosen not to challenge the poor choices of his mother and ignores the impact her volatile behaviour has on his spouse.
If you can shower love and blessing on your mother this year, be grateful for emotionally sound relationships. Those of us who are motherless can choose to model great listening skills for the wounded around us who are longing for better connections to family.
We can also work at exploring the other person’s perspective. What does it look like to be in mom’s shoes this year? Show her grace and empathy.
Can we learn to share our emotions respectfully, saying, “Wow, I had no idea what was really going on for you. Tell me more. It feels good to get a better understanding of your journey.” Expressing emotions is a positive conflict behaviour.
Reach out. “Would you like to talk? I’ll listen.” You don’t have to fix the other person; you just need to be present to their story.
I work to live on a drama-free farm. “Just because there is drama does not mean you have to attend the performance.”
Seek to build on the good. If you are having a hard time finding a card reflective of the reality of your relationship, you might want to use a blank card. Can you be grateful for the good things your mom has given you or taught you? If words are too hard, maybe just a simple clutch of flowers will convey a degree of caring or offer to do a small chore to lighten mom’s load.Every farm mom who reaches out to our team is looking to find better communication to get family harmony. It’s tough when some family members are not willing to do the work to change language or make repair of conflict hurts to build a legacy for the farm family.