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Mind your own part of the family business

A reader worries about her sons going into a long-running family enterprise.

QUESTION:

My husband works in the family business, first started by his grandfather many years ago. All his family are either employed in, or have association with the business. It is expected they will do so.

I have resisted attempts to draw me in to it. I have my own job, which I enjoy. I am not popular with the older members of the family.

My worry at present is for my two teenage sons. They are both bright. One favours scientific study, the other is artistic and musical. They do not want to go into the family business. It is already being assumed they will.

My husband understands the situation but doesn’t know what we can do about it. He tends to want to wait and see. What else can we do?

ANSWER:

You may see your husband’s “wait and see” approach as evasive and unhelpful, but it could in fact be good advice. That doesn’t mean, however that you do nothing. Fortunately your sons don’t have to make decisions about their future just yet. You can use the time to gently get the message across to the family that “yes, working in the business is an option, but there may be other options the boys will choose to consider, we will have to wait and see”.

It is important  not to create a “them and us” situation. Avoid arguments, but stick to your point of view. Your sons are the ones that matter, and you want them to have the freedom to choose.

Stress the need to respect their wishes to the family so that they don’t feel you are the one influencing them against the business.

You need your husband’s support. Talk to him frankly and find out what he thinks. He is in a difficult position, wanting to support you and his sons without upsetting his family. Encourage him to also use the above strategy.

If it all sounds too hard, talk to a counsellor, who will help you to choose the words best suited to get your message across.

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