Why we all need to draw boundaries between family and business

Why we all need to draw boundaries between family and business

For many, one of the top incentives of working in production agriculture is the ability to work together as a family. Spouses are true business partners and family members tend to be employees as well. Admittedly, that can be said of just about any family-owned business in America, but there are some compounding factors that both increase the benefits and the problems when it comes to incorporating family and business in agriculture.  

I sometimes joke that my commute is about six steps long. You tend to live where you work, and thus we all have to be cognizant of drawing the boundaries, something I haven’t always been good at. 

Now sure, if one of the kids has a ball game at 5:00 p.m., I go. I just make up the time later that evening or the next morning. But I’m sure the kids just want a dad and not a boss sometimes, or the wife is hoping for a husband to walk in the door and she gets a concerned business partner instead. 

I used to be bad about assuming the role of ranch manager, business partner, etc., nearly every waking hour. Now I am really cognizant of trying to be simply a dad and husband when I come back to the house in the evenings. I try to set aside Sundays and occasional other days where family activities take priority over ranch obligations.  

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Without question, a family working together is what makes ranching and farming uniquely special. The bonds, the closeness, is something that tends to make those with more conventional means of making a living pretty envious. I think it is practically every rancher’s dream to have his children or at least one kid want to come back to the family operation. After all, it is the family’s ranch or farm. 

I want to wax eloquent about how great it is to see families working together, bound together by a lifestyle that encourages respect and independence within the context of a strong need to work together as a team. Yet, we all have to admit that we have seen the dark side as well; kids who can’t wait to get off the farm, wives and kids who feel more like hired hands than family members,  individuals who can’t separate themselves from the operation and neglect those who mean the most in the process. 

Those same scenarios play out in other industries, as well, but whether it is the lack of separation of work and home life or just the passion and commitment required of ranching families, boundaries tend to get blurred—brothers who don’t speak, daughters who leave with no desire to return even on holidays, broken marriages, parents being cast aside and any number of other downsides. I’m not sure one can carve the boundaries in stone, but if we at least pencil them in, we are aware when they are being erased and take steps to maintain them. 

I want our kids to understand the economics, the costs and the drivers of our business; but I don’t want them to share the concerns or stress that accompanies the occasional environment, management or market disruption. I want our family to be partners in our success, but I don’t want them to feel like employees either. I want to communicate and work side by side, but I want there to be a family unit that exists outside the fences or boundaries of our ranch. I want to succeed and make a living from our operation, but as important as that is, I want everyone to know that it is truly fourth or fifth on our list of priorities. 

When the blizzard hits and 200 heifers are calving, it will always be all hands on deck. But when we gather to eat as a family, I also want the ranch to remain six steps away. 

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