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Bringing mum into the family business: What you need to know

Running a family business can be both rewarding and challenging, especially when it involves working with your mother. In this article, we share some tips and insights on how to navigate this unique dynamic and make it a successful partnership for both the business and your relationship.

Mothers were the only ones you could depend on to tell the whole, unvarnished truth. 

– Margaret Dilloway

When Monkey Business Catering started nine years ago, I (Amy aka the Head Monkey) was the one on the ground. Making day-to-day decisions on how the business ran. 

Without me the business couldn’t run.

My mother, who worked full time elsewhere, was insanely supportive of the move into a business startup. She backed that support with supplying 50 per cent of the startup capital and the tiny commercial kitchen (a converted garage) where the business operated out of. Apart from that she supplied advice and assistance on request. 

Without her the business couldn’t run.

My term for it was business partners with mutually assured destruction. 

And then, the very best thing happened. 

The business grew. 

Growing pains: Moving to a warehouse & drowning in responsibilities

We brought an additional business (iCooked). 

We moved into a warehouse and the shock of having two kitchens, a walk in cold room, boardroom and office (after operating out of 16 square meters) was very real.

And … I was drowning. 

Too much to do, in too little time. Additional pressures included managing COVID lockdown impacts, keeping our team steady and a boss who was digging herself an early mental grave. 

So I reached out for help. And Mum reached back. 

She started to work in the business. 

And then we had a whole other bundle of unique situations to work through. 

And yet, it is one of the best moves we have ever done in the business.

Advice for daughters bringing mum into the family business

If you are the daughter, bringing your mum in to work in your family business here are the things you need to know. (NOTE: Sorry to the sons, you will have other issues as the dynamic is drastically different!).

1. Look before you leap

Mothers are one of the most intricate and important relationships in our lives, for good and for ill. Any issues that you have in your mother-daughter bond will affect your worker-boss relationship. Even if you have amazing compartmentalisation skills. There will be leakages. And undoing a working relationship will impact on your family relationship.

So before you even invite your mother into that space and the change to your relationship ensure that this is a decision you can live with long term. More than that, a decision that will benefit both of you.

2. Clear is kind

Make sure you are incredibly clear about what role you want your mother to fill. Literally write her a job description. This isn’t charity, this is work. And as such she needs a sphere of responsibility, a list of tasks and the space to make it her own. Once you have done that (my mother’s was basic to start with!), revisit it every 6 to 12 months asking for her input in redefining that role. If nothing else it is an opportunity to take her to lunch and do an informal review!

(My thanks to Brené Brown for the clarification of this golden rule! You can read more about it in her book Dare to Lead).

3. Celebrate your differences & lean into your strengths

In a lot of way my mum and I are the same … but there are some very clear differences. She adores talking to people. I adore people from afar. It’s the ultimate extrovert/introvert dynamic. The wonderful part of this is that we balance each other. 

The most toxic thing for me when I was drowning was The Phone. Every time it would ring I had to deal with anxiety, a hit of exhaustion and being distracted from what ever task I was on. And it would happen again … and again … and again. 

Her strength is responding to people, dealing with things in order of importance and building relationship.

As a result she took The Phone. 

And saved me in the process. 

Now (two years on) I have the mental space to creatively lead us into the future.  

Therefore find out where you are different. Celebrate those spaces and allocate to the woman that raised you all the tasks where you are weakest and she is strongest. 

Respect: The fundamental key to success in family business

    My final thought for you is this; you have to be able to both give and receive respect from your mother to walk this journey. 

    Respect is the fundamental that will make everything else work. 

    If you don’t have that …. then run. Don’t even considering doing business with your mother. There are many other things (which are healthier for both of you!) that she can be doing. 

    Oh and laugh a lot! It will get a messy occasionally but it is hard to stay mad when you are giggling over whether you are an eagle boss (ready to swoop on your prey) and she is a yacht worker (gliding through deep waters, calm abd serene). This made sense to us!

    Food and hugs,
    Amy (Head Monkey)

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