I’m not a farm widow. This time of year when the tractors and planters start rolling in our area farm fields I start hearing from a few lonely spouses and the “farm widow” chatter starts picking up on social media.
“Farm widow” refers to a spouse, often a wife, left at home while her farmer-husband is planting from dawn to well past dusk. In addition to social media dialogue, you can buy T-shirts with catchy phrases as some sort of consolation or badge to wear.
Maybe I am being overly sensitive, but this terminology rubs me wrong. First, someone close to me became a widow this year. It’s tragic, life changing and terribly lonely. Second, complaining about your spouse’s hours on the job is whiny.
My husband, Nathan, works a lot of hours year-round—just drive by our family’s lumberyard that sits along the main highway late at night and you’ll see his and his dad’s pickups parked in front of their offices.
Working long hours is how my husband provides for our family and succeeds. When there are demands on his time, we see less of him. He works late and solo to get the necessary work done so our small business can continue another day, another year and another generation.
Really, Nathan is not any different than most people in our area who work a lot of hours. I’m proud of his work ethic—I’m not complaining.
We want to inspire a next generation to enter into small business, whether that be a lumberyard like ours or a farm or ranch, because small businesses help support local economies. If we complain more than we celebrate our lifestyle, it discourages rather than encourages young people to choose a hardworking, independent lifestyle and career choice.
Our son, a high school senior, has mapped out a plan that includes earning undergraduate and graduate degrees, obtaining a professional engineering license, owning his own engineering firm and having the opportunity to possibly farm with my family. The combination of building and agriculture stems from the two businesses he grew up in, works in and now will find his own path to couple his passions into his own career path.
Our son has seen the work it takes to build a business and he knows the good, bad and ugly. He wants the independence and benefits of owning his own business someday. He knows he first has to deepen his education and work for others.
The work ethic our son observes not only comes from my grandpa, dad, father-in-law or his father. He sees female role models who equally provide and work long hours across generations in our family. At times, I’m up early or traveling overnight on speaking trips while my husband keeps things going at home.
When we visit my sister-in-law, an urologist, it’s not uncommon for her to be called in for late-night emergencies or early morning rounds. A lot of careers aren’t 9-5 as Dolly Parton coined in my childhood years. Even those that are, still have demands and are taxing.
Of course, we all complain at times about our work. It’s grueling, challenging and sometimes painful. No matter the demands of our work, we choose to keep going or move on and find a new path. But we celebrate our choices more than we complain about them. We have to make a conscience choice to not use terminology that negatively paints a picture of elitism or that our career path is the wrong choice for a next generation.
Lastly, there are millions in our first-world country of abundance and affluence, let alone across the globe without the small business and farming opportunities my family has been given. I still believe in the American dream. My husband works in the building industry. His great-grandfather got off a boat from Germany in 1913 with his carpentry tools in hand. We still have those tools. Our path is easier because of the generations before us.
My parents and family still farm the North Dakota land our ancestors broke in the 1880s. My great-great grandmother was a widowed immigrant with seven children. She built a life in America from nothing. I have said to my mom before, “If I was Grandma Kirsti, I would have gone back to Norway.” As my mom has reminded me more than once, “She couldn’t afford to.”
This time of year, men, women and families are calving at all hours of the night. I know moms who milk cows twice a day year-round. Businesses a part of the agribusiness channel are pushing to keep up with farmers’ as they plant the crop. Farmers are missing out on family time as they put in a crop—a crop that results in a bounty of food choices.
No matter your career role, it’s an important one. Be conscientious and encourage others to follow your career path or forge a new one they are passionate about. We need a next generation to follow and to create new businesses.
I’m grateful I’m not a widow, and my heart hurts for those who are. I’m a small business partner, a wife, a mom, a farmers’ daughter and a proud American of the life we have the opportunity to live and build.
I wrote this originally for my Agweek column. It was 11:40 p.m. My husband wasn’t home. I didn’t worry where he was. He was working with his dad at the lumberyard, preparing for the next day. That particular week he didn’t come home until after midnight any week night. I wanted to complain and feel sorry for myself I suppose. Instead, I wrote this as a reminder to myself more than anything to celebrate what we have in our lifestyle, business and marriage.