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5 ways to deal with the invisible workload on the farm

Reference: FCC

Remembering the grocery list, coordinating the babysitter, and booking the doctor’s appointment aren’t typical farm chores, but every farm family needs somebody to take on these and many more day-to-day duties.

These tasks are examples of invisible work, a term created by sociologist Arlene Kaplan Daniels to define unpaid and often unacknowledged labour in home management. These responsibilities include cooking, cleaning, caregiving, and the mental load of planning and organizing daily life.

Women historically handle the bulk of this work, and it often falls on their shoulders, sometimes due to gender-based expectations. Mothers, including those on the farm, spend significant time and energy thinking about their family's needs and doing the physical labour involved in childcare. Add on- and off-farm jobs to invisible work, and the general inequality can lead to feeling overwhelmed and burnt out.

“Invisible work can add to the physical and mental stress of individuals,” says Bethany Parkinson, manager of psychological support and education for Agriculture Wellness Ontario at the Canadian Mental Health Association. “And in agriculture, every farm family already has more stressful times, like planting and harvesting, and stressors that come up, such as an issue with animal health.”

To address invisible work and create a balance between wellness, family demands and farm business needs, consider these five tips:

1. Establish healthy routines

Basic self-care, such as eating well, getting enough sleep, and maintaining personal hygiene, improves mental health and well-being. No matter what type of workload you experience, Parkinson explains that consciously making wellness a priority and sticking to a routine is key to staying healthy.

“As humans, we rely on a daily schedule or routine to keep us well,” she says. “Children thrive off of routine, so when they see their parents modelling this behaviour, it can help their mental wellbeing too.”

2. Communicate openly

For Lesley Kelly, who farms with her brother and husband in Saskatchewan, regular communication is vital to addressing visible and invisible work and sharing the workload.

As a result of good communication, Kelly and her husband, Matt, have developed a year-round routine that aims to balance farm work, off-farm work and their family.

Kelly is responsible for managing the farm’s financial records, marketing and human resources, which she can do remotely using her phone and laptop. This flexibility allows her to travel across North America for speaking engagements in the winter months. At the same time, Matt carries most of the invisible workload associated with their home and raising their two sons.

“And then, during busy times on the farm, we switch,” she explains. “I turn off my speaking calendar to be there and take the lead at home, with his support.”

The farm partners find it beneficial to use the social media messaging platform WhatsApp to communicate throughout the day and book a weekly meeting to review priority jobs and make plans.

3. Use organizational tools

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