Opinion: Meghan saga – parallels with farm daughters-in-law

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have departed with baby Archie to start their new family life in Canada.

While it’s impossible to know exactly why they decided to step back from life as working members of the royal family, the media have pedalled a narrative that casts Meghan as the evil daughter-in-law intent on prising Harry away from the “family firm” into a Hollywood lifestyle completely at odds with the centuries-old traditions of the monarchy.

This narrative got me thinking about the way daughters-in-law in farming families are sometimes treated.

It’s not something I have direct experience of, as my husband’s family don’t own a farm and have always been extremely welcoming.

See also: Eight steps for farm succession planning

However, from friends, family and social media, I have seen cases where the daughter-in-law is treated as a pariah, kept at arm’s length and viewed with great suspicion as someone who is only in the relationship for the money and likely to divorce her husband to get half the farm.

I’ve heard about constant snide comments, wives who are not allowed to know anything about the farm finances, and whose children are treated differently to others in the family.

They are either given no responsibility at all, or at the other extreme are overloaded with work and treated as slaves to the family business, sometimes in return for little pay, poor accommodation and no thanks.

Of course, these are hopefully extreme examples and many farming families work together very happily and successfully. But for the families where it isn’t like this, it must be an incredibly distressing situation.

I have particular sympathy for wives who join farming families from a non-farming background. It must be very difficult to join a family business that is also a way of life – which has to come first all the time, where there may never be time off, and where you could have to live and work closely with family members who you may not get on with.

For women who live in remote areas, far from family and friends, this can lead to social isolation and poor mental health. Who could blame some women (and men) for wanting a return to a more “normal” nine-to-five lifestyle?

This is perhaps where the comparison with Meghan Markle ends. Her new family will still be bankrolled by Prince Charles, at least in the short term, and money wasn’t the obstacle to them having the lifestyle they desired.

On farms, the financial issues can be acute. The business needs to be profitable in order to support the different generations in the family and provide adequate accommodation for them all, which can be challenging.

In the event of a divorce, the financial situation can be extremely complicated. With businesses often owned by multiple family members, paying out the departing party can put pressure on the future profitability of the business.

What can we take from this? Communication is key. Part of the reason Meghan and Harry’s announcement caused such uproar was because of its apparent suddenness, and the fact they had not discussed it fully with the family beforehand.

Farmers aren’t always natural communicators, but there are plenty of specialists who help with succession planning and facilitating family meetings.

The next generation are the future of any family business and their happiness is paramount for its success.

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