I was astounded at the flap over the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s decision to “step back” as senior members of the Royal Family last month. Questions about how exactly their move to Canada seem pertinent to me, but blaming them for growing republicanism within the U.K. seemed a bit much (that was one of TV host Piers Morgan’s comment on the issue).
On the surface, Britain’s Royal Family has very little in common with the rest of us. But if you’re thinking about filing this story under “I don’t care,” consider this: the Royal Family is almost inseparable from the monarchy as an institution, just as families are closely tied to their farms and ranches. And Harry and Meghan’s story is all about succession planning and the roles in-laws play.
Whether you’re a royal or a rancher, your family probably has certain expectations and roles, which may or may not be discussed openly. In Farming’s In-Law Factor, Elaine Froese and Dr. Megan McKenzie write about how each farming family has its own culture. They might have different ideas about work, money, handling conflict, who makes decisions, how to raise children… you get the idea.
Many readers are likely familiar with Froese, a farm family coach who’s spoken and written extensively on topics around succession planning. Froese also has a column in Grainews, one of our sister publications. McKenzie, who grew up in and returned to rural Manitoba, has worked in conflict resolution everywhere from Winnipeg to Ireland to the Middle East.
I don’t pretend to know everything that happened between Meghan Markle and the royals when she joined the fold, but I think it’s fair to say it must have been a culture shock. I think it would be for anyone who wasn’t brought up as a royal. Urban people who join a family farm can also be a bit discombobulated at first. McKenzie suggests extending some grace to new people in these situations. After all, if you moved to a new place with different social norms, you’d want people to give you a chance, too.
You may have noticed that just because a person grows up in a family, that doesn’t mean he or she agrees with how the parents are running the outfit. Different generations may have different expectations and rural culture is changing. Bringing a new daughter- or son-in-law into the family can help the successor be more assertive or perhaps exacerbate tension, depending on the situation and one’s perspective.
Of course, sometimes it all goes quite smoothly. Froese shares her own experience with her husband’s family in the book. They had different cultural backgrounds — Froese’s birth family had an English heritage, while her husband’s family was Mennonite. But Froese’s relationship with her mother-in-law was one of respect, caring and love. She gives a lot of credit to her mother-in-law for that successful transition.
At least those of you bringing in a new in-law or joining your spouse’s family farm don’t have media scrutiny to add to the complexity, because it seems like a tricky process at the best of times.
Before the fracas began over Meghan and Harry, I didn’t know about the royal rota system, which is how the royals have controlled media access for decades. Basically, seven publications have exclusive access to royal events, with the understanding that they share information with other outlets.
The royal rota includes The Daily Express, The Daily Mail, The Daily Mirror, The Evening Standard, The Telegraph, The Times and The Sun. More than half of those publications are tabloids, and the duke and duchess have taken issue with much of the coverage. In January they announced that they’ll no longer work with the royal rota.
It’s hard to imagine a farm family having to deal with tabloid media. But we’ve all had to deal with the town gossips, at least to some extent. McKenzie discusses how small talk or gossip can show concern and interest or be downright destructive.
McKenzie suggests taking note of how much gossip within the family and community is constructive news-sharing and how much is hurtful. I’d add that it’s worth thinking about whether the rumour mill tends to scapegoat the same person over and over. Consider whether you’re talking to the small-town version of the royal rota, which will distribute all your secrets (and perhaps embellish them).
It’s also worth thinking about whether you’re creating a triangle, intentionally or otherwise. When, for example, a son speaks to his mother about his father, with the expectation that she’ll relay the message to her husband, you’ve got a triangle, Froese explains. She suggests flattening that triangle by speaking directly to the person you’re having issues with rather than gossiping or recruiting others. I would add that social media and texting doesn’t help situations with the potential for high emotion or conflict. Texts tend to come across as flat and harsh, whatever the intent behind the words, because there’s no body language or vocal cues to give them context. Talk in person or at least pick up the phone.
Mothers and mother-in-laws often play the referee, Froese points out, and in her experience, many farm women are tired of that role. It’s also important to remember that no one is responsible for another person’s behaviour.
“We can merely change our own actions and see how those changes play out. Sometimes even the smallest of changes can make a huge difference to a family system,” McKenzie writes. But other times changing our own behaviour doesn’t create the outcome we want, she adds.
Again, it’s not all doom and gloom. Even conflict, which many view as inherently negative, can be a good thing, McKenzie writes. It’s a lot like rain; in some situations it’s destructive, but other times it can “breathe much-needed life into a dried-out situation.”
And adding a new daughter- or son-in-law can bring a fresh perspective that benefits the family and the business.
I can’t really do this book justice in one editorial. It contains not only good information, but interesting information, with plenty of relevant anecdotes. You can order a copy through Froese’s website (elainefroese.com).
If you’re wondering why I’m writing about this kind of stuff in my editorial, I have a simple explanation. If the family is resilient, working well together and taking care of each other, that bodes well for the business.
In other words, you and your family are the secret sauce in your ranch’s success.