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Corn+Soybean Digest

'Not knowing' is major farm stress; publication offers new perspective

Stress on farm families and couples today can come from many sources..low prices, bad weather, financial problems, crop pests. But the most difficult farming stress to deal with is "not knowing," says a University of Minnesota family social scientist. "It's not knowing what is happening or what might happen, not knowing what you are doing wrong, what you can do to fix the situation, not knowing if you can prevent total loss," says Paulineak Boss. She calls such uncertainties "ambiguous loss."

"The ambiguity, more than the event of loss, can immobilize and depress-and increase marital tension," says Boss.

She notes that most family farmers are not on their own anymore. They're not in charge of their own destinies and not able to succeed even with hard work. They are intertwined with an urban sprawl and a global economy so pervasive that their devotion to the land no longer determines success or failure.

"The stress for family farmers today is complicated by a shadowy and ambiguous threat toward a way of life, a loss of a lifestyle connected to the land," says Boss. "When that lifestyle is threatened or lost, the lack of clarity about the future of the family farm brings worry, confusion, conflict and even shame. These feelings all lead to stress that can reach dangerously high levels and can result in too much drinking, verbal and physical abuse of loved ones, and even suicide." But Boss believes farm families and couples can find hope in the midst of ambiguous loss. She believes that families who look at their situation in a new way can find new opportunities and options and feel more in control again. She is the author of a new University of Minnesota Extension Service publication that offers insight into how to accomplish this. It's a 16-page discussion guide entitled "Losing a Way of Life? Ambiguous Loss in Farm Families."

The publication presents a new way of viewing uncertainty. It's designed to help farm families get a better handle on stress, change, making decisions and family life. It contains exercises and coping tips for family members of all ages. A section written with the help of an agricultural economist gives realistic ideas on business options for family farms.

The publication is designed not only for farm families, but also for lenders, financial advisors, clergy, counselors and educators working with farm families and couples. It's a follow-up of Boss's book, "Ambiguous Loss," published by Harvard University Press, out in paperback in 2000.

The discussion guide "Losing a Way of Life? Ambiguous Loss in Farm Families" is available for purchase from county offices of the University of Minnesota Extension Service. Ask for item BU- 07614. It's also available for purchase by e-mail at

or by credit card at (612) 624-4900 or

(800) 876-8636.

Source: Pauline Boss, (612) 625-0291

Editor: Joseph Kurtz, (612) 625-3168,

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