Billi J. Miller has never been a traditional ‘farmwife’ — whatever that means anyway.
And that’s just fine by her.
“The term ‘farmwife’ has changed so much,” said the Lloydminster-area author. “I don’t fit into that box. And there’s comfort in knowing that there are other women like you.”
In 2016, Miller published her first book — Farmwives in Profile, which chronicled the lives of 17 ‘traditional’ farmwives from the Lloydminster area. Through in-depth questions, candid photos, and Prairies recipes, Miller celebrated the unsung heroes of the family farm — the women working behind the scenes to keep the family and home running smoothly.
But times have changed. Families and farms look very different now than they did when these women were forging their way in the world. And the role of farmwife has changed along with it.
“When I came into this, I was surrounded by very traditional women,” said Miller, a city girl who married a fourth-generation farm boy a decade ago.
“But I had a feeling in my gut that if I was going to do this and be the happiest wife and mom that I could be, I would have to make my life my own.”
So in her second book, Farmwives 2, Miller opened up the conversation to the new generation of farmwives — 25 women from across the country who are doing things a little differently than earlier generations.
Some women in the book embraced the term ‘farmwife’ and still fill ‘traditional’ roles on the farm, taking on the majority of the housework, cooking, and child rearing. Others balked at the term, preferring instead to emphasize their work in the field or with livestock or away from the farm altogether.
But for each of these women, that choice has been their own.
“One of the farmwives from my first book told me, ‘Fifty years ago, you just did what the person who came before you did. You didn’t think anything more about it,’” said Miller.
“Because of all the hard work women of past generations have done, we do now have more choices.”
Even so, “women are women,” and that hasn’t changed much from one generation to the next.
“Everything that those women (in the past) did for their families, these women do for their own families — but in their own way,” she said. “Every one of these women puts their families first and their farms first. It’s just the way they go about it that’s different.”
And those differences are celebrated in Miller’s latest book.
“Families are going to do things differently, and I wanted to share those different stories so we could all draw from that wisdom,” she said.
“There’s camaraderie in knowing there’s lots of different ways to skin a cat.”
Miller hopes her new book will help farm women feel less alone in their roles, whatever those roles may be.
Farm life can be overwhelming, exhausting, and isolating for women, she said, and there aren’t a lot of resources out there for those trying to navigate life on the farm. In addition to sharing funny anecdotes and recipes, Miller’s interview subjects included their advice on self-care, their worries about farm transitions, and their thoughts on how to keep a marriage strong.
“I don’t want farms to fail because of traditional pressures on modern families,” said Miller. “I want women to feel inspired to make their lives better, to make their families better, to make their marriage stronger.”
The trick to that is simple, she added: Do what makes you happy.
“If you love making the meals and taking care of the kids full time, do that. If you love putting a crop in or working on the farm, do that. Whatever makes you happy, do that,” said Miller.
Ultimately, there isn’t one way to be a farmwife, she said. And each woman should be honoured for what they bring to the table — no matter what that looks like, she said.
“I don’t want any other woman to feel like they’re not good enough. No matter how you’re doing it; no matter what kind of woman you are on a Canadian family farm, I want you to know you’re doing it right.”
Farmwives 2 goes on sale in March.