I am curious, when you read this article’s headline, who did you think of first? Was it your new daughter-in law who asks piles of questions about why you do things the way you do on your farm? Did you imagine your son-in-law driving quickly over the gravel as he left the yard? Is it your mother-in-law who just cannot seem to remember you need an email invite to block time for the shareholders' meeting? Or is it the father-in law who is having a hard time “letting go” of having the final say on big decisions for your farm team?

Froese elaine
Certified Farm Family Coach
Elaine Froese, CSP, CAFA, CHICoach and her team of coaches are here to help you find harmony thro...

There are many overlapping systems in play on a family farm. Your family circle is your nuclear family which relates to your parents or in-laws, and your siblings, who may also be business partners or farm heirs.

The next circle is those who labour on the farm, family as well as employees who are not related.

The management circle is where key operational and financial decisions are made for the farm, and lastly you have the ownership circle where the equity grows to the owners.

Draw four circles on a blank piece of paper and put the names of the players in each circle.


If a member of the older generation is pulling back on labour but not training the successor to be a manager, then frustration grows as college grads do not want to be doing all the grunt work without compensation and power to make decisions for business growth.

Fear of failure looms on the minds of founders who worry the next generation might make huge mistakes and “Lose the farm!”

How do you be seen and heard in the decision-making process as an adult successor or as an in-law? Is there a difference?

It depends on the culture of your farm.

Do the parents, founders acknowledge or value the input of their successors and their spouses?

Or is the culture’s unwritten rule “Let’s just keep it simple and not let the in-laws be any part of decision-making!” Ouch.

So what does your farm team truly value? The emotionally healthy farm teams value honesty, respect, teamwork, skill affirmation and curiosity. They don’t prejudge the outcomes of tough situations, and they seek to explore all possible solutions, research and ask powerful questions.

“I’m just curious, daughter in-law, what are you needing in this moment to have a better understanding of your role and our expectations of you on this farm?” Practice that sentence. It is a powerful question.

Listen to her answer. If you have a son-in-law, you can ask the same question, as they typically are caught being in a different conflict resolution style and have married into the family dynamic of your daughter’s story.

Here’s a helpful communication framework developed by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, who authored Non-Violent Communication. A language of life: Life changing tools for healthy relationships.

  1. Observe. What are the behaviours you are seeing? Do your in-laws go “silent” when you are in the room? Are you being excluded from farm business decision-making and then hearing all about it at your supper table from your frustrated spouse? Ask directly to the founders for clarity. “I’m just curious, what is your intention for helping me understand the operation of this farm? Do you intend for me to stay out of the decision-making process? That is not how I expected my role to be.” Be careful in your language not to make judgments like “you always, you never …” An observation might be: “When I see you invite only the successors to the farm business meeting, I think there is a reason why I am being left out, and I would like to know why.”
  2. Feeling. You need to identify and express your feelings. “I feel scared when you say that.” Rosenberg says, “By developing a vocabulary of feelings that allows us to clearly and specifically name or identify our emotions, we can connect easily with each other. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable by expressing our feelings can help resolve conflicts."
  3. Needs. If we express our needs, we have a better chance of getting them met. I can relay countless stories of in-laws needing to have more respect and founders asking for the same thing. I often have said, “We get the behaviour we accept, and love does not read minds.” Are you making assumptions about what your farm team is thinking, feeling, needing and wanting? Are you able to ask the other person, “What do you need in this moment? Or in the next month? Or when you step back?” Rosenberg says emotional liberation involves stating clearly what we need in a way that communicates we are equally concerned that the needs of others be fulfilled.
  4. Requests. You can make a request for certain behaviours and action. "What do you want from me?" Be clear using positive language to ask for what you want.

We all long to be seen and heard on our farm teams. Let me know how new language and insights empower your decision-making.