I have always been of the opinion that working for or with family is a recipe for disaster. Family can be great, but the line that needs to be drawn between employee and relative is an uncomfortable necessity that gets shoved under the rug.

How do you ask for compensation from someone who raised you?

How do you professionally discipline your offspring for being late?

How do you drawn the line between what is appropriate to talk about at home versus work?

Well, I know what doesn’t work, and I know what has been working for my mom and I so far. This past summer when I moved back to Ithaca, I wanted to help my mom out more often with her business. Female entrepreneurs face huge barriers and I believe supporting them can only help women as a whole. Also, she’s my mom and I was her biggest advocate when she started.

I had some reservations when we began, because I know what it looks like when family businesses do not work. I worked at a diner owned by a big Greek family and all they did was yell at each other. I’ve also seen how complicated relationships have gotten in our family farm. If roles are undefined and “I’ll help you out” is kept vague, confusion, mistrust and resentment begin to surface.

Here is what my mom and I have done:

I work on the days she does not.

On days we work together, I work half days.

It’s her business, so I do what she wants unless she asks my opinion.

My compensation is my monthly cell phone bill.

We do not discuss our past problems.

Those are the explicitly stated things. I also have some other practices I personally use which helps me manage anxiety and worthiness.

Her frustrations are about her, not me.

Do not offer advice.

Redirect negative conversations.

Constantly praise how things look (this is fashion).

Ask her opinion even if I don’t want it and say I’ll consider it.

Always say “I’ll try” and “I’ll do my best”.

This is not a perfect system but it has taught me how to handle this shift in family roles. The hardest part is not taking on her frustrations or her problems. Yes, she’s my mother and I love her and I will always listen. I think she likes having me come the most because I will talk and listen to her. However, if she is having a bad week or something like that, I constantly remind myself that these are not my burdens. I will pray for her to get through them, but I will not allow myself to worry about them longer than the time I am with her.

In my time at IIN, I learned how to listen to others, offer constructive comments, and not allow myself to attach my self worth to the outcome. I can only do the best I can and work hard, I cannot tie my soul to every job I do. That ends up crushing me. While working for family, I remember and believe that I will always be loved and cared for regardless if I worked for my mom, finished a task or not.

Have you worked for your family? How did you manage the shift in relationships?

8 thoughts on “Working For Family”

  1. Love this Ellie; it is true that the people closest you are the CLOSEST to you; therefore we know the most about them, and sometimes they are harder to love, but they also are usually some of the most loyal loving people in our lives. My family has been my work partners for about 10 years now, and it definitely takes the right kind of communication, me learning to listen, and pray for others, pray for grace, and know that God can work through our relationships even when things can be a bit tense?

    I loved what you said here, ‘ Yes, she’s my mother and I love her and I will always listen. I think she likes having me come the most because I will talk and listen to her. However, if she is having a bad week or something like that, I constantly remind myself that these are not my burdens. I will pray for her to get through them, but I will not allow myself to worry about them longer than the time I am with her.’

  2. I think this is a great topic to discuss, as many people like you said may shy away from such work, or aren’t even aware of the hardships it may entail. My dad owned a business growing up (which he inherited from his father). I know he loved working with his father, and I enjoyed helping my dad out at work growing up but knew it was something I didn’t want to pursue for a career. Learned many lessons along the way though!

  3. I don’t work for my family’s business (I own my own) – but Jesse does – and we’ve definitely learnt that it’s important to set boundaries – and make work time, work time and not home time work time – especially because we all live together!

  4. You are pretty remarkable, you know that? I’ve never worked – business wise – with my family, but all I know is that with family, often the filters come off and things are said that wouldn’t be said to anyone else. I hate it, but sometimes it just comes out. To have the ability to know someone else’s mood has nothing to do with you, stay silent and strong within yourself, and know that you are worthy no matter what, is huge. Your mom is lucky to have your help!

  5. it’s hard to keep the boundaries between a family and work dynamic. i need to remember to keep my filters if I get frustrated. obviously i would not say something rude to my boss, so I wouldn’t say something rude to a family member during work! still is a challenge though for sure.

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