Dear Michael:

We have a family of five with two of our sons who would like to farm. At this point, neither of them are farming as I need the income from the farm for myself until I reach sixty-five or so. Both have jobs off of the farm, but they return on weekends and days off as well as vacation time for seeding, harvesting and taking care of cows to give me a break on some weekends. Neither has really said they want to farm but they are always here when needed.

As you can probably tell, I don’t really have a big enough operation for both of them to earn a living from so I feel like I have to choose one or the other to take over here and I know the other one will be hurt when he finds out. One is good with paperwork and farming and the other likes the cows and can work on machinery. They both have the attributes they bring to the farming business.

So how do I make this tough decision?

–Not Enough to Go Around

Dear Not Enough to Go Around:

I can smell the smoke burning as your mind turns this over and over again.

Maybe you’re just making it too hard on yourself and this may not be as big of a problem as you feel it is and it shouldn’t be tearing you up inside.

One thing you said that I caught is, ‘neither of the boys has mentioned they want to farm’ – which in dad/son translation means, ‘we have never really sat down and talked about it in depth’.

I know you hate to bring it up because you’re afraid to hurt one of them if this talk doesn’t go their way and you might lose their labor. Sons have a tough time talking to their dads and asking, “What’s going to happen when you die, Dad should I plan my life around something? Anything?”

Most kids know enough not to pry into Dad and Mom’s personal affairs.

I’ve had the joy of sitting through hundreds of these ‘first talks’ as many people come to me with the same problem – how do we talk to our children. For me, I love doing it because it’s very seldom we don’t come up with a surprising solution where everybody is happy and no one walks away hurt. Oftentimes, talking to a total stranger about all of the questions your kids have is a lot easier than talking directly with you.

Many times these kids have never been put into the position of “What if something happened to me tomorrow – how do you boys see this thing working out between the two of you?”

Most of the time, the kids themselves come up with the solution as to how the family farm will continue.

Sometimes one of the boys will tell me, “I love the farm, but I don’t want to live there. Love to visit, but I’d like to keep my city job and if my brother here wants to farm, I’ll help him like I help you!” Then we know and we can plan.

Other times I’ve had the two boys say, “Well, he’s good at this and I’m good at that, so we’d like to work together on the family farm. He hates cows and he hates paperwork and both are happy to let the other do their thing. We may have to work off of the farm until we can get enough property, but we’re willing to do that!”

Again, the boys come up with their plan, how they would handle it, and we make sure we get a partnership agreement agreed upon if they’re going to work together and how things will work when the rubber meets the road.

You’d be amazed at what comes out of the mouths of these boys when someone they don’t know asks them “How you going to work this out between the two of you?” and they have to address it – many times for the first time. You’ll also be amazed at the variety of different answers they may have.

Bottom line, in the end, when you’re dead, you want your kids to be happy. Best way to guarantee that is let them come up with the solutions! Usually works best with a perfect stranger though!