Work life balance on farm and a good dose of mother guilt

The slow burn of mother guilt catches me unawares sometimes but on other occasions, it’s as sharp as a knife. Or more accurately, as shrill as a tired toddler’s screech.

Just In Time (JIT) fencing

Just In Time (JIT) fencing

When a knock on the door from a concerned motorist signals a heifer and bull trotting down the road, which in turn reveals that a mob of skittish kangaroos have rendered your fence as floppy as a spoonful of fettuccine, a farmer has little choice but to report to the scene, sirens wailing. If the farmer is also the mother of a toddler, the ramifications can be far more serious: Nap Time Deferral (NTD).

Strapped to the Bobcat seat, my Little Man finds it hard to understand why Mama is singing lullabies as she fumbles with the fence strainer when she should be singing them at the bedside.

"Home, peese"

“Home, peese”

“Sorry, Little Man, I promise I’ll be as quick as I can, I just have to get this done…”

I know Mother Guilt is not limited to farming or, indeed, mothers. On Twitter’s AgChatOz forum the other day, fellow dairy farmers told of their dismay.


And, then, Shelby posted a link to this:

Cat’s in the Cradle always “gets me”, too. It’s times like these that I wonder if I am doing the right thing. My children see more of me going about daily life than they would if I was an office worker but, with farm returns so low, it seems we spend most of our time working and less of their time playing.

With the heifer paddock hastily patched up, Zoe, Alex and I returned last weekend to do the major works. As I wrestled with wire and strainers, they gambolled about the picturesque hidden paddock. Flanked by forest, they were out of the chilly wind, away from roads and so carelessly happy. I smiled as their little heads bobbed across the pastures and my spirits soared as their laughter echoed around the trees.

A gambol cures a dose of mother guilt

A gambol cures a dose of mother guilt

I was cured. Well, almost. What mother would stand back and film this?

Why it’s great to work with kids and animals

I’m so grateful for the support of people around Australia and as far afield as Canada in response to my post about how to save Australian dairy. It’s been so heartening.

But then, a rather nasty person appeared out of the blue on Twitter today and cast a cloud over my morning – for 10 minutes anyhow. Because, after that, I got to do some work in the paddock and enjoyed the company of my two little farmers and some other members of our team. Kids and animals are the perfect antidote for trolls.

Meshing farm and family

Farm kids get to spend lots of time with their Dads

Farm kids get to spend lots of time with their Dads

When I was a little girl, my brother and I had to feed the calves before we went to school and had plenty of jobs on the farm waiting for us once we got home. Naturally! It was the same for everyone else at our primary school.

It was an entirely different picture at our private secondary school in Sale, the home base for the oil and gas industry. Most of my classmates only had to take the bin out or do the dishes and some of them had never even been to their parents’ workplaces. To a teen who had to spend a couple of hours a day on the bus, it didn’t seem fair.

After a while and a few sleep-overs, though, I began to see some merit in living on a farm. We were certainly never bored and we did get to know Dad very well, even if it was while we worked.

It was all brought home to me the other day when Zoe’s kindergarten class put on a little performance for us. One of the songs, “I’m a little teapot”, made tears well up. My Dad had taught me the same song 35 years earlier as I skipped alongside him to round up the cows. Dad would have been so proud of my little girl and even though we round up with the Bobcat these days, Zoe prefers to walk along behind the cows while we sing silly songs together.

Dairy farming a glamorous job?

At a social get-together today, someone said dairy farming was glamorous. Rewarding, challenging, interesting, in touch with nature, a great way to raise a family, yes. Glamorous? I’d never thought of it that way. My friend (not a farmer) pointed out that many urban professionals might envy the freedom and sense of purpose enjoyed by dairy farmers.

It’s all about perspective, I guess. My husband saw me engrossed in reading a farmer’s newsletter last night and said: “You really love your farming, don’t you?”. “Yes,” I said, “Look at this! Turns out the nitrogen in the first effluent pond is much less volatile and…”. Well, there’s nothing sexy about a primary effluent pond. Realising how ridiculous I sounded, all I could do was laugh at myself. I do love it – especially learning how all the natural systems that come together in a farm work – even though there are days when it’s a really hard, dirty and uncomfortable grind that’s anything but glamorous.

But how do other Australians see us? According to one 2010 poll, as trustworthy. I wonder how the milk wars have affected public perceptions.