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Managing the family-work mix at holiday time

Getty/iStockphoto Tractor unloading feed to cattle in feed bunk.
Who is managing livestock chores while everyone else eats turkey?

As we approach the holiday season, I encourage you to examine how well you provide space for both family and business in your gatherings. Here’s a scenario I hear a lot. The holiday meal starts with a moving prayer, some laughter, some catching up, some funny stories or memories. Somewhere around dessert, Dad innocently asks Daughter who is covering the pig barns today. Daughter answers quietly and tries to change the subject. Dad asks a few follow up questions and then shares a new idea. And in a few minutes, they are left at the table alone because everyone else has wandered away.  

It’s tricky to find the right balance of time focused solely on family in the midst of a business you run together. And the “right” balance differs for each situation. Some family members who work in the business may desire personal time talking about topics other than work. Family members not involved in the daily business may feel excluded or resent the emphasis on work—or they may actually crave the opportunity to catch up on the business. There could be a lot of viewpoints on this topic.

Farm families also often use holiday gatherings to hold an official ownership meeting or get paperwork signed while those that live far away are present. That makes sense. Just make sure it is scheduled at a specific time that all are aware of—not a surprise when a car is leaving for the movies. And clarify ahead of time the purpose, who will be invited, who will not, and why. It can lead to some awkward moments if the in-laws are suddenly asked to leave (which I would not advocate anyway…a story for another day).

How do you know the answer to what’s the “right” balance? Hmmm…maybe you should ask your family. Collectively set some ground rules together. Read body language cues. Be aware that everyone may not be as passionate as you about the farm all the time. Amidst all the things you’re offering thanks for, include the time to treasure your family in all its aspects.

Davon Cook is a family business consultant at K Coe Isom. Reach Davon at

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress. 

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