New Zealand society up until the 1960’s had a very well-defined understanding of how males and females acted within a relationship (most likely a marriage).
The male worked and the female looked after the house and children. However, in rural New Zealand, women played a massive role in the development of the rural economy. It was on farms that women were often found in a ‘behind the scenes’ role of farm manager.
Outwardly the male appeared to be making the decisions, and they most likely did on day to day on-farm issues, but in many cases the male was the “frontman” for the business with most decisions being made by the female of the relationship. Especially around financial decisions.
Even in these situations where the woman was effectively running large businesses, they still had to fit into traditional conventions around roles in farming couples.
It is one of my favourite jokes with the baby boomer generation males… “It was easy for you - all you had to do was work - your wife did all the cooking, cleaning, looked after the kids and she worked on the farm with you as well, you had it easy.” It is an even better joke if his wife is standing next to him. You see the male look very sheepish as the wife gives him a hard look daring him to reply.
Roll forward to today, and you would expect this issue would have been resolved, however there are still tensions in today’s couples around roles in the house, children and career. It is now common for both partners to have occupations and aspirations to achieve in their chosen career.
The New Zealand agricultural industry has been slow to change. In many instances, it still has expectations of longer hours and an expectation that wives or females will take on the responsibilities of looking after the children while the males undertakes the role of the farmer.
Which begs the question, who looks after the kids after school or on days when both couples have important meetings, sales, training, cows to calve or any other massively important work related issues.
I have seen couples separate over this issue, both parties adamant that their work comes first. Farming has been slower to change because of our historical roles and because children have traditionally been out on farms during work times. Woman and men could both work with children tagging along. Today laws have changed and this is no longer acceptable behaviour (and often for good reason).
So who looks after this kids?
One couple I’ve met, had a week about solution – for the first week it was the male’s responsibility to look after the children and for the second it was the wife’s. Both people in the relationship can show commitment to their work colleagues and share the role of primary child carer.
On our farm, we have job sharing roles where partners can share one job. One person in the couple will work the morning shift, say 5am to 11am with the second person working from 11am to 6pm. Between them, they both look after the children and both feel good about having a career and interacting with adults. They also have a good income without one of the two people in the relationship working long hours.
It is time for New Zealand Agriculture to capture the skills and ability of the other partner, by getting innovative, thinking outside the square and be flexible to allow for both people in the relationship to get what they need out of life. With a reality that good productive people are hard to find in provincial New Zealand, we must do as much as we can to capture the great people, (especially if they are already living in houses on our farms!).