Are You a Farmer or a Fisherman?

Are You a Farmer or a Fisherman
A family participates in the annual fishing derby in Groton, Connecticut. (U.S. Navy/Daniel Mongiove)

In the nearly 12 years I've been Must-Have Parenting, I've encountered thousands of other MHPs. I've noticed that people in a Must Have/Must Do lifestyle tend to fall into one of two groups:

  1. People who can't believe this crazy way to live is really their life.
  2. People who think Must-Have Parenting is completely normal.

I like to think of group one as "Farmers" and group two as "Fishermen." And, yes, people can start off in one group and migrate to the other. And, no, you don't have to know anything about farming or fishing to be in either group.

I'm squarely in group one, the Farmers, even though I've never grown more than a few tomatoes. I never expected to be a Must-Have Parent, never wanted to be one, and I don't think it's normal, natural or ideal.

My husband is solidly in group two, the Fishermen. He doesn't think there's anything unusual about our life. At all. He's a Fisherman because this is the lifestyle he grew up seeing in his own family and in the other families around him.

I grew up in a family of Farmers. Now, people in my family weren't actually still farming when my generation came around, but for many generations prior to mine, farming was what put food on their tables. Even my relatives who didn't farm worked jobs that tied them to a physical place, or they were married to people who worked those kinds of jobs.

Farmers don't go away. They can't. If they did, the crops would die.

My husband grew up in a family of career soldiers. Moreover, he grew up in a Navy town, where there were thousands of career sailors as well as professional fishermen and other seafarers. For as many generations as anyone in his family can trace, the men left for long stretches of time and the women raised the children alone. The men left with the military, they left to fish, they left to carry goods from one continent to another.

Fishermen don't stay at home. If they did, they wouldn't catch any fish.

So coming from a background where I learned to take for granted that all the people would be more or less attached to the home, it still seems very strange to me that my own little family doesn't look like that.

But my husband, who comes from a family where the men left frequently and stayed gone for months at a time, gets antsy when he's home for more than a few months. Not because he doesn't want to be with me and the kids -- he absolutely hates being away from us and missing out on so much -- but because staying home feels unnatural to him.

Think about your own family: If you're reading this, you're probably a Must-Have or a Must-Do Parent. What patterns are you duplicating from your or your spouse's background?

Many of you will probably be able to point to a strong Must Have/Must Do dynamic in either your or your spouse's family of origin -- that's the phrase counselors use to refer to families that raised us. That's repeated dynamic is the reason why people who were raised in military families are more likely to join the military themselves or to marry a service member.

And it's the reason people who didn't grow up in military families are not as likely to serve or to marry someone who serves.

And all of that is fine.

I repeat. All of that is fine.

The world needs Farmers and Fishermen. We've got to have both. And that means that the world needs Must-Have Parents, and whatever it is we call the other kind of parents. Must-Have Parenting may feel unnatural to me, but it is perfectly natural. It may feel abnormal to me, but it is perfectly normal.

My husband's family isn't wrong for having a multi-generational Must Have/Must Do dynamic, no more so than my family is wrong for spending generations staying close to home. And neither he, nor I, nor any of our friends or family members, are wrong for feeling most comfortable when we're living the same way we were raised.

Farmers can learn to be Fishermen. And Fishermen can learn to be Farmers. And one of these days, when his Army career is over, I'm planning to teach my husband to farm.

(This is where I'm tempted to force in a "teach a man to fish" cliché, but I won't do that to you, mostly because I'm also tempted to force in a "swords to plowshares" cliché.)

But for now he's teaching me to embrace fishing and, slowly but surely, I'm getting there.

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Family and Spouse Parenting