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It stops with meIt stops with me

Cowtowns and Skyscrapers: Breaking generational behaviors in farm families, one butter tub, one bad habit at a time.

Jennifer M. Latzke

October 27, 2023

3 Min Read
plastic container on table
LET IT GO: We don’t have to keep every habit we inherit from our elders. Whether it’s throwing away an empty butter tub, or choosing to resolve conflict in a different way than we were shown, we can all break destructive cycles in our farm families. nipastock/Getty Images

I threw away a perfectly good empty butter tub the other day.

I could hear my grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s voices crying out in my soul.

“That could be washed and used for leftovers!”

“Waste not, want not!”

“Well, look who’s too good for the good china, hmmm?”

And still, I threw it away. I’m not gonna lie, I stood over that trash can and hesitated, but this is one generational behavior that’s stopping with me.

We can chuckle, because we all have those habits we’ve picked up from our elders, right? The way we farm certain acres, or decide when to pull equipment out for harvest, or even how we saddle a horse or maintain trucks.

And yet, there are some very destructive, and not very humorous, generational habits on the farm. And friends, they need to stop with us.

Follow the leader

We grow up following the examples of our elders, whether good or bad. We watch how our parents handle stress at harvest or when they’re gathering and working cattle. We learn to manage money with their guidance. We learn what makes us laugh, what makes us angry, and when it’s OK to cry by watching them.

We don’t even realize we’re carrying on traditions like addictive behaviors, or conflict avoidance, or inappropriate anger management, until we see it in our own children’s behaviors.

That’s a generational behavior.

Look around on the farm, and in your farm family and you’ll see them. Who makes the decisions and how are they carried out, and by whom? What are the consequences for failure? Are successes celebrated? When does the next generation have an opportunity to take on more responsibility and sit in the combine seat? How do you approach financial and estate planning? How do we treat our loved ones when we’re stressed and struggling with time-sensitive farm chores like harvest?

When I look at my own family — and those of my friends and loved ones — with objective eyes, I can see patterns that need to be broken.

Small actions, like throwing away empty butter tubs instead of hoarding them and cluttering my kitchen like my grandmother showed me. And larger actions, like making that doctor’s appointment I’ve avoided out of fear of a scary diagnosis, or meeting with a financial planner to start estate planning. Learning to speak up when something’s bothering me, and how to manage conflict.

Break the cycle!

In a July 3, 2021, article in Psychology Today, “Breaking the Chains of Generational Trauma,” Elizabeth Dixon talks about how we can break cycles in our family. Her tips include:

  • Talking with parents and other older family members about their lived experiences, and how they coped. Look for patterns of unhealthy behavior you want to unlearn.

  • Taking stock of any embedded patterns, attitudes or narratives from your family that you continue to portray. And whether you wish to continue those.

  • Talk through these areas with a trusted friend, family member or therapist, and consider alternative ways to cope or communicate.

  • Cultivate a sense of empathy and compassion for your family and the struggles they endured. Farm families especially have stories of hard times and sacrifice that led to our generation having a better life than they did. Dixon advises to celebrate and embrace those stories.

  • Finally, make a conscious choice to change, and give your children a new narrative for their future. Maybe define your new priorities and set boundaries.

Look, I’m no psychologist, so please, don’t take this as health advice. You should certainly talk to someone if this topic has struck a nerve with you, whether a trained mental health provider in your community, or even by reaching out to the Kansas Ag Stress Resources website, kansasagstress.org.

Just remember: We don’t have to accept every habit we inherit, and we certainly don’t have to pass them on to the next generation. It is really OK to let the butter tub go.

About the Author(s)

Jennifer M. Latzke

Editor, Kansas Farmer

Through all her travels, Jennifer M. Latzke knows that there is no place like Kansas.

Jennifer grew up on her family’s multigenerational registered Angus seedstock ranch and diversified farm just north of Woodbine, Kan., about 30 minutes south of Junction City on the edge of the Kansas Flint Hills. Rock Springs Ranch State 4-H Center was in her family’s backyard.

While at Kansas State University, Jennifer was a member of the Sigma Kappa Sorority and a national officer for the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. She graduated in May 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and a minor in animal science. In August 2000 Jennifer started her 20-year agricultural writing career in Dodge City, Kan., on the far southwest corner of the state.

She’s traveled across the U.S. writing on wheat, sorghum, corn, cotton, dairy and beef stories as well as breaking news and policy at the local, state and national levels. Latzke has traveled across Mexico and South America with the U.S. Wheat Associates and toured Vietnam as a member of KARL Class X. She’s traveled to Argentina as one of 10 IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism. And she was part of a delegation of AAEA: The Ag Communicators Network members invited to Cuba.

Jennifer’s an award-winning writer, columnist, and podcaster, recognized by the Kansas Professional Communicators, Kansas Press Association, the National Federation of Presswomen, Livestock Publications Council, and AAEA. In 2019, Jennifer reached the pinnacle of achievements, earning the title of “Writer of Merit” from AAEA.

Trips and accolades are lovely, but Jennifer says she is happiest on the road talking to farmers and ranchers and gathering stories and photos to share with readers.

“It’s an honor and a great responsibility to be able to tell someone’s story and bring them recognition for their work on the land,” Jennifer says. “But my role is also evolving to help our more urban neighbors understand the issues our Kansas farmers face in bringing the food and fiber to their store shelves.”

She spends her time gardening, crafting, watching K-State football, and cheering on her nephews and niece in their 4-H projects. She can be found on Twitter at @Latzke.

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