Are you the favourite uncle?

Within some families, children are “little people” whom are meant to be seen but not heard and in other families, they are the focus of attention.  Regardless of the culture from a business perspective, strong/positive family relationships make a farm work.  This doesn’t start when the kid is 22 but when he/she is 2.  It also starts with you. 

Is your nephew a virtual stranger or are you the #2 man in the kid’s life, next to dear old Dad.   If you have a 5 year old niece/nephew and they aren’t running up to you “thinking that you are the coolest guy ever”, then you’ve got to rethink things. 

I am giving male specific example but obviously these examples are applicable to any gender/ family dynamic.  It applies to Opa & his grand daughters as well. 

I was at a farm recently, whereby the uncle had been pretty passive about the upbringing of his nephews and said “they are not my problem”.   Now that the nephews were full grown men entering the business, they were now his problems and this lack of a relationship was causing huge rifts. Don’t wait until they are 25 to start to build a relationship because by then it’s too late.   Problems will be exponential! 

Even if you have split farming partnerships with your siblings, maintaining a close relationship with your nieces/nephews is still extremely critical.  It definitely affects the long-term prospects of the business partnership or even sharing equipment.  Uncles with strong relationships with Nephews can share equipment and realize other business/personal synergies.  Making sure your kids often (weekly) play with their cousins (best friends) is also important for this reason. 

Especially if your sister in-law hates you…

Each person is good with children at different ages/stages.  To me, a baby is boring but I’ll spend hours playing with a five year old.  However, for every farmer in a business partnership with a sibling you’ve got to be the number one person in that nephew/niece’s life from day 1 and have to continue it thereafter.   There will be a time during the teenage years when you simply don’t get their tastes/interests but that is the stage when you especially have to focus on becoming not just a relative by title, but become a genuine close friend. 

As the kid grows up, it is up to you to teach important life lessons and farming skills to your nieces/nephews as a 2nd Dad.  If the kid loves driving around in a cab tractor with you when he is 8, then he is going to love driving tractor for you when he’s 18. 

Fast forward 20 years when you have a business partnership with your brother/sister and you become the boss of the kids.  There will be a time when you give an order and it’s not liked.  The difference in whether they follow it or not is based on whether the kid actually cares about your approval.   Are you someone they genuinely love/respect?

Putting forth the effort is especially important if your sister in-law sometimes dislikes you and actually might be a good way to mend that relationship itself. 

I often hear discussion of uncles giving big gifts at Christmas and Birthdays.  I think this is foolish.  Those kids fly through the mound of presents without ever caring about who gave what.  What those kids will remember in their lifetime is that summer day when you bought them water guns for no reason, then ran around the farm yard playing with them.  What they’ll remember is you randomly buying them a toy tractor when you were picking up parts and then playing “farmer” with them for 20 minutes on your knees.  If you play with them with their toys on the floor on your knees, then they’ll be keen to “play with you” when it comes to driving real tractors long hours. 

So what happens if you have nieces/nephews today whom you barely know.  It isn’t up to them to get to know you, but up to you to get to know them. 

It fascinates me how what happens in the sandbox as a child affects how problems are solved with a stuck tractor in a muddy field 20 years later.  Moments like playing tractor’s on your knees, not only gets Nephews interested in farming but more importantly interested in farming with you.  I can’t begin to express how critical this is as a business decision and also how it will affect your long term personal life quality.