Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Farm Wife's Job

Every now and then, someone asks me if I “work outside the home,” which is the politically correct way to ask a mother if she has a paying job. In today's world, this seems like a loaded question. Some people think that a woman has little worth unless she draws a paycheck; others think that mothers should stay at home without exception.

I usually answer this question with a simple “no,” but that answer is not entirely true. First of all, any farm wife can tell you that she works outside the home every day, whether it is to drive a tractor, work cattle, weed the garden, shovel manure, or find the child that escaped to the muddy corral in her church shoes while her mother was cutting up the chicken for dinner. Technically, all of those tasks take place outside the home, and they all involve some measure of work.

Secondly, I do have a paying job. Actually, now that I no longer have a teaching career, I have two paying jobs. Now I am able to tell people that I “work at home,” another humorous phrase that was apparently created to differentiate between mothers who work at home and mothers who just occupy space while children run free and the house slowly deteriorates around them.

The more realistic label for “work at home” mothers would be “work at night after the children have gone to sleep and the supper dishes are done.” Attempting to work in a home during the day when small children are present is dangerous and should only be done by those brave souls who can risk a child screaming, “Mommy, the baby is stinky!” in the middle of a telephone interview.

Productivity is hampered when working in the presence of preschoolers as well. For instance, during the writing of my last column, I was interrupted at least 23 times. I may have lost count in between number 13 (“Mom, can you find the lego piece I lost last week? No, Mom, the tiny yellow one with the point.”) and number 14 (“Mom, are you done with those Cheetos? Can I have them?”).

All in all, it is much safer to work in the dark of night when the phone rarely rings and everyone, including the dog, is asleep and unlikely to have any emergencies requiring Mom’s immediate attention.

Rather than overwhelm the asker of the question with such a long explanation of my daily responsibilities, however, I just resort to “no” and then find myself compelled to explain that I used to have a job, just in case they might think me uneducated or unmotivated. In truth, I sometimes long for that job with its regular paycheck and long hours, since it seems I didn’t have to work nearly as hard as I do now that I’m essentially unemployed.

My fellow farm wives concur and share stories of their husbands coming in to find them simultaneously fixing supper, doing laundry, calming a crying baby, and talking to the banker on the phone. His boots dripping mud on the newly-cleaned floor, the farmer will say, “Honey, are you busy?”

The farm wife is required to lie at moments like that and say, “No, what did you need?” It doesn’t really matter what she replies, anyway. He has a plan for her, and he is likely not even listening to her answer.

He always promises that it will “just take a minute,” but she knows better. As she drops what she is doing to move an auger, go to town for parts, hold a nut in place for an agonizingly long time, move the cows, help pull a calf, or do any one of the other tasks with which the farm needs assistance, the farm wife realizes it may be nightfall before she returns to the house. Her farmer will then ask, “What’s for supper?”

These days, it doesn’t matter what politically correct term you use to label a farm wife and mother. The truth is that the only ones who fully understand and appreciate the scope of her job is those who have been in her shoes.

It's a full time job just being the mother hen around here.


BoufMom9 said...

Excellent! I think this is very true of all SAHMs, not just farm mommies, although I wouldn't dare to wager who has more work to be done during a day.
I get so annoyed when I'm asked if I do "anything else" with my time. UGH!
Yeah, because raising nine children to be productive citizens isn't worthy of my time. UGH

Mum-me said...

What a gorgeous photo of 'little hen'. Although I don't live on a farm I often feel like I live in a zoo! I also feel like I have to excuse myself for 'only' being a mum. We need to all give each other a pat on the back - and reading your blog today was a lovely pat-on-the-back for me. Thanks.

ohfarmmom said...

I certainly relate to this one! Farmers typically never ask (or care) what your plans are for the day. But you can bet, when they ask, "What are your plans for Friday?" it's not because they want to take you out on a date. It doesn't matter *what* your plans were....if your farmer asks what your plans are, that means that your plans are about to change so that you can spend the day traipsing across two or three counties gathering parts, or that you are needed to help move cattle.

Jane said...

I am not a farm wife, but I am a SAHM who does a little part/time WOHM...I think so many of us do more before 9 a.m. than many people do all day!

Another great read!

Frazzled Farm Wife said...

I loved this post. I have been a SAHM for the last 18 years and a farm wife for 20 years. I love the people that ask "what do you do all day....don't you get bored?". Hello.....I don't have time to get bored!!!!!

It's a good thing we farm wives are low maintenance too...never have enough time to adequately put on a full line of make-up AND have our hair done to go "out"....if we get to go out.

Anonymous said...

You wrote a perfect description of farm wives (including SAHM's)! Luckily most of my tax clients are able to laugh when a child screams for attention / crisis during a phone call. Most say, we have been there!

By the way, just tried your Potato Soup recipe this week. It was great!

Life with Spirit said...

Wow! You are a GREAT writer. Very well put. I'm not sure I would want to be a farm wife however. I'll take my suburbia. However, THANK YOU for being one so that the rest of us can have some good eats!

Anonymous said...

It feels so good to know I am not the only one with this absolutely unique lifestyle! I get tears in my eyes because I am living your story. Cows, wheat, combines, kids, and community... Thanks for revealing your world to us. You encourage and inspire!

GreenRanchingMom said...

WOW! You totally nailed it! I agree, and have experienced all of the same reactions, and my honey's "do you have a min, or could" Love your blog!!

Susan said...

I'm way behind here obviously...JUST found your blog.

But, WOW, you nailed it. I can't tell you how many times my farmer husband has come in the house and asked me to come help him for "just a minute." Oh I know it well.

I've gotten to telling him that I'm going to have to put the CrockPot on before we leave for "just a minute" or we won't have any dinner when we get home!! :)

Headed off to other posts now...

Jena said...

Oh my gosh - someone who understands!!! We don't even have kids yet but I have definitely experienced the scene you describe to a T. I work "outside the home" (lol) right now and although my goal is to stay home one day I already see what it would be like. On my day off hubby says, "Do you think you could pick up some grain? Call the builder? Hook up the gooseneck and bring it to the field?" For pete's sake - it is supposed to be my day off.

missy said...

I see you wrote this a good two years ago, but it is so reflective of my life today- my husband is an farmer and works light-dark 7 days a week...first question in the door is ALWAYS "is there anything to eat?".

We have three little girls ages 8months - 5yrs and i've been running a web design business "from home" which yes - means in the wee hours of the night, because attempts to do it during the day = everything falling apart around me.

I enjoyed your post so much, even two years down the road, thankyou.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I read this. I'm going to be a farmer's wife within the next year, and my boyfriend & I are hesitant on what that might entail for me. Now reading what life will be like, I'm up for the challenge & my new life. Thanks!

lilybit said...

first time reading your blog- fun read. thanks!

Anonymous said...

So well put, and so refreshing to hear. I grew up a city girl, have an 11 month old, and have been learning this farm wife thing for the past two years. I am quickly learning farm life is a lot different than people realize. I'm loving it, but it presents many challenges and I have very few people that can relate. Nice to know there are others out there :)
Loved reading this!

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