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One day at a time: Tips for the ‘Great Pause’

Elaine Froese for Progressive Dairy Published on 02 June 2020

Sun streams onto my computer in my farm office as I imagine what life is like for you on your farm. I’ve just been blessed by the wise words of Donna Brighton, a wise coach and realistic woman in the Brighton Leadership Group.

Brighton says change is an “external situation” but transition is an “internal process.” Our families need us to lead from the core of who we are in this time of disorientation.

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Farm families are making all kinds of internal transitions during this time I have framed as the “Great Pause.” I learned that term in April, and I’m sorry I can’t attribute it to who said it first.

May and June present time to celebrate families, particularly the roles our moms and dads play on the farm. Some of you have parents in long-term care. The ongoing pandemic fuels anxiety, and the ways you want to give comfort are no longer options.

My mom passed away at age 65 in 1998, and I missed her this month, especially as I planted the garden and visited her perennials passed on to me.

Moms typically take on the role of the chief emotional officer of the farm family. They desire family harmony and too often get caught in the middle of intergenerational struggles.

Brighton encourages us to think, “The only time that exists is right now. You can only make decisions in the now.”

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Where are you at with your understanding of the current situation on your farm? Are you happy with how everyone is pulling together and keeping a positive outlook? Do people treat each other with respect and kindness, behaving well towards each other, even when there are plugged air seeders and late meals?

What you believe at your core are your cherished beliefs. As a woman of faith, part of my morning routine after breakfast is to spend some quiet time with my Bible and journal, and pray. Where I stand is that God is in control, and what I know is that I need to be emotionally, physically and spiritually in tune to be able to lead my farm team with positivity and practical decision-making.

Brighton calls us to make a list of the assumptions we are making. I recommend keeping a daily log of where we might not be standing in the same reality as our farm family.

Our bodies respond to our perception of reality, and fear sabotages us. Do you recognize your response to what is happening around you? I get teary-eyed on my gravel path through the line of trees when I finish a stint of grandchild care in the house next door. The bush triggers happy memories of creating forts and houses when I was a carefree young farm girl. If we perceive anxiety about our current circumstance, our bodies will go to flight, fear or freeze up. The alternative is to choose to be intentional about our stand to focus our next actions so our brains shift from fear to the future.

Brighton says forward action requires:

1. Focus on where we are going: We are focused on planting crops, caring for animals and nurturing a positive culture on our farm team. Each day you can write out the three priorities for that day and what actions will move you forward. I have a routine of getting lunch and supper planned before 9 a.m. so if my day gets interrupted on many fronts, the main priority for me is under control. Employees can have quick morning check-ins to set the plan for the day.

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2. Action: This is what we are doing to accomplish the myriad of tasks before us, one day at time. There are some essential actions for us leading our families:

a. Care for self, our farm team and our customers. Remember, your daily routine matters. You cannot give water out of a dry well. What are you doing to sleep well, eat well and have some renewal time, even just three minutes to re-set?

b. Cash flow. Make sure bills are paid and creditors know our current situation.

c. Communication by face-to-face, texts, phone calls, emails. In times of high stress, you need to communicate more frequently and with less duration. Be careful with your tone of voice. Start by saying “I am just curious …” Listen well, and mirror back the message you think you heard.

d. Commitment to goals. Be focused and aligned as a farm team.

3. Intention: This is the strategy for how we are going to get things done. John Wooden, former UCLA men’s basketball coach, said, “Never mistake activity for achievement.”

4. Time: What is next? When I coach a farm family, we always close the meeting with “What are your next steps?” Talk does not cook rice. We can talk things through and challenge assumptions, but ultimately we need to act.

Brighton encourages three kinds of time blocks:

a. Thinking time. I suspect you have time for this while enjoying auto-steer. I like to have this time when I go on a 40-minute walk down my lane. You might like to record your speaking and then have it transcribed to transfer your thoughts to digital words you can reflect on further.

Journaling is also a great way to track your thoughts. Julia Cameron, author of Artist’s Way, calls this “morning pages” where you sit up in bed upon awakening and write two pages of your thoughts before your feet touch the ground. My friend found this practice to be very helpful.

b. Time for yourself. Moms would likely appreciate a block of time to do some personal things. Have you asked her what she needs? Ask dad, too.

c. Connection time. My husband, Wes, is teasing me that I now have a phone room. It’s where the grandbabies sleep, but it also has a comfy, padded rocker I use to call friends and connect in the evening. As an extrovert, I can practice physical distancing, but I need to call and converse to stay happy.  end mark

Elaine Froese is here to serve farm families. Text (204) 534-7466 or visit Elaine Foese to share your story. Tell your family you love them.

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