49. Should I Take on the Family Business? Work and Life Boundaries with Jenette

family business and boundariesDoes your family have a business? Have you ever worked for a family business of considered taking on responsibility for your family business? What would you do if your family asked you to take over your family’s business? Managing a family business is complicated because it can blur the lines between personal and professional. In this episode, we dive into the importance of setting clear boundaries within a family business.

Join Mary as she has an open conversation with her client, Jenette, who’s contemplating taking the reins of her family’s business. Jenette shares her concerns about this responsibility and how she needed to set boundaries to make the best decision for herself and her career. Tune in to hear how this podcast and coaching with Mary has empowered Jenette to honor her own feelings and needs and move forward with this important career and life decision.

Main Episode Takeaways

  • Boundaries are not about shutting people out
  • Benefits of realizing you are inherently valuable
  • We have a right to express our needs
  • Our needs are just as important as everyone else’s

Want to learn more about boundaries?

– Boundaries quiz HERE
Take my Boundaries 101 Course
– Do you want to overcome your hurdles of people pleasing? Book a free call with Mary!

49. Should I take on the family business? Work and Life Boundaries with Jenette

Mary: Let’s talk boundaries. I’m here with Jenette, and we’re discussing boundaries around acquiring or not a family business. Hey, Jenette. 

Jenette: Hi, Mary. Thank you for having me. 

Mary: Sure. Tell us a little bit about this dilemma and your experience in considering if you wanted to acquire your family business.

Jenette: Yeah, thank you. So I was presented an opportunity with my parents coming into retirement that they, we have a family business and they were looking for a way to transition that business out of themselves and into either myself or somebody else. And my family, obviously knowing kind of that I have life experience with the business and they felt that I had the competency and ability to be able to take this business and run with it, that they wanted me to step in and offered me the opportunity to take it over. And my dilemma was that I was kind of hit with a bunch of emotional like resistance to that. As much as I was grateful for the opportunity, I was probably more overwhelmed with some personal and resistant issues that were coming up for me. 

Mary: Yeah. So what was it about this particular decision around the family business that made it more difficult for you than possibly other decisions?

Jenette: Well, I have known this business all my life. My mom started this business the year I was born, and I can recall both incredible moments that this business had brought for me. And at the same time as I also recognize that there were moments where this business had brought and maybe had been the source of some real emotional anguish and trauma for me in my life. And whether it’s just blame or how we recall things, but for me, these were like emotional scars that, you know, that business for me was the thing that took my mom away from home and kept her out late and kept my dad out late, too, because my dad got involved with the business, too, and it became a real family affair. I mean, every member of our family at different points was involved with a job or an event of some kind and, you know, school projects were done in my mom’s office. And, you know, things just always felt like it revolved around the business. And my parents, eventually their relationship got strained enough to the point that they separated. And so, you know, the business to me felt like the source of their… Divorce, you know, and that was the reason why they separated. And, and then my brother, my only sibling who was older than me he was helping my mom out with the business. Cause we, we all did and, you know, and it’s very hard to like share, but, you know, my brother was overworked like one long day after working an event with my mom and, you know, fell asleep driving behind the wheel and died tragically that day. 

So like it. Like, for me, like, I just have such emotional trauma associated with this business, things I blame the business for that I couldn’t see past the good that the business brought. I was stuck in these moments of feeling angry and resentful towards the business and also towards my mom in a lot of ways, right? And it was really getting in the way of me being able to look at this opportunity objectively, and also take care of my emotional needs. Because at that same time, this came about with the opportunity to take over the business came about, it came about at a time where my mom and I were already emotionally strained. Our relationship had reached a pivot point on a couple of other things that were happening in our lives where I was really frustrated with her and really hurt by her, at least I felt I was. And I didn’t understand the way she was going about making decisions and the way her values were. I was very confused about the way she was going about things that I was taking a lot of it very personally. And so when this opportunity came about, it felt like it was very convenient for her because she was looking for a solution to her problem, yet we were already strained as it was. So, all of these things were the reasons why I was very resistant and hesitant to taking over the business. 

Mary: Yes. And that love hate relationship with the family business. I know that our listeners can relate to that, but it sounds like you also had some, some very difficult experiences that the business played a role in. And so it makes sense why it would be hard for you to make a clear decision around that. And anytime we have a family business, it kind of blurs that line of, the personal relationship and the professional relationship. And when we’re making a decision about our role in the family business, there’s gotta be kind of emotional parts to that. And then also like financial and professional parts to that as well. So I can see how it would be difficult to, to get some clarity around that. Can you talk about a little bit of what things you tried when you were needing to make this decision? 

Jenette: Well, for a while, I was really trying to communicate some of my personal frustrations with my mom and my stepdad about different things that had happened and how I felt and how they affected me. And neither one of them were able to really meet me halfway. It just became almost a worsening effect for me. I felt like I was desperately trying to communicate how I felt to them and needing their validation. And that to me was, it just felt like it was going into a, like a black hole every time. And, and, and I felt worse almost with, I thought my efforts and intentions to communicate were well intentioned and on the right path. But I was also lacking a sense of self autonomy and agency and my own experience and what my needs were, right? And became like every conversation ended up into a huge argument and it was terrible. I mean, it was terrible. I mean, for a couple of years, it was just like, we were all really desperately like on eggshells with each other. Cause we didn’t know at all what we could say before the next person was going to say something to upset somebody else. And, and that was definitely not the right kind of headspace you want to be in while you’re trying to take over or potentially consider taking over their business, their family business. And I mean, and I also want to add like from a business perspective, there were some viable reasons for me taking over this business and there were some general business concerns too, about the industry in general and how it was trajecting like based off of COVID and everything like this. Like I, like I could see some writings on the wall and I was a little apprehensive for a couple of reasons, but you know, it was just the communication in general wasn’t working and I tried, right? So my old way of just being, you know, heart on my sleeve. This is what I’m feeling. This is what I’m looking for. Like but I was coming at it from a position where I needed them to validate me and acknowledge the past and empathize with me about the past because that’s desperately what I wanted. That would have helped me. I felt it would have helped me in my healing process, but it wasn’t working. So we were hitting a roadblock where what I needed was just something that they were not able to bring to the table for me.

Mary: Yes. And is this around the time that we met each other? 

Jenette: It’s exactly the time that we met each other because I was looking for a way to approach this business logically, because I knew there might be a cool opportunity for me here. But at the same time, I also recognized how I was very emotionally sensitive and reacting to certain elements of this with my relationship with both of them. So I looked and started understanding more about boundaries. I don’t know quite how it came about, but I just found you on your podcast and I just became totally immersed. I was obsessed about learning more about this because boundaries to me have always implied like putting a wall up or shutting people out, but your approach was completely different. It actually felt more inclusive and loving then what I had been sort of led to believe in the past. So I knew that obviously if I was going to potentially get involved with a family business, which you said earlier about lines being blurred, I mean, that was my entire life. So I almost didn’t know a relationship with my mom without having something to do with her business. And I always felt closer to her when I was working with her on an event, like emotionally, I felt connected to her when I was helping her with a show, whereas at home dealing with something that I might be going through, like those things didn’t even hit her radar. So I was just groomed all of my life to relate to my mom through her business. And through what was going on in her life, and it wasn’t ever, like, literally, the table was never turned around the other way. And so, I was getting my, my needs met by working with her, but I also realized that I was resentful of this because it wasn’t balanced. Right. So I knew that if I was potentially going to take over a family business, that there was going to be a new chapter of blurred lines. Right? And that I wanted to maybe rewrite this from how it had previously happened. Like, how can I feel connected to my mom and still take over her business? And have it be a little bit different than the way it was in the past. So that is when I reached out to you for boundaries. 

Mary: Awesome. And when you started learning better boundaries, what changed for you that impacted your decision making around this family business?

Jenette: Well, one of your first, like, principles is that we’re all inherently valuable, which like, it still kind of makes me go like, what? And it’s kind of sad that I feel that way. You know, I, I know in some ways I do feel celebrated and seen in my family for sure. But, you know, there are things that I needed. And like different emotional needs that I had at the time growing up at different stages of my life that were overlooked and were not met or there were kind of unfair, over emotional reactions to me expressing a need for something, right? So over time, I just wanted to silence my needs. It was easier to kind of just be quiet, be the good girl, be the A student, you know, excel at everything. So like, I’m at least bringing some kind of joy to the household that was turbulent for a long time. And that was just my easy way of keeping control and peace. But boundaries for me, what started happening was I started realizing that my needs and my preferences were valuable and worthy of expressing. And when I started paying more attention to that, actually, I found my resentment and my anger and frustrations kind of like dissipating a bit, like they just kind of fizzled out and they still come up because it is a habit. It is a way of living. Like I’ve been conditioned to be a certain way, but as I keep repeatedly exposing myself to your podcast, and to your course and, you know, to the coaching that we’ve had, like, and this concept that I have a right to express what my needs are. It doesn’t mean the other person has to maybe agree, right? But this is the power that we have as adults, as children. We didn’t have this, right? We, we look to our caretakers as our sole providers for everything. And so we bend and we accommodate and we quiet down. You know, it depends on your nature a little bit, but that was how I coped with looking at my caretakers who were busy and I just needed to sort of slot in between their lives somewhere, right? So for me, boundaries brought a sense of, like I started caring about how I felt and what I needed. Then I started realizing that I wasn’t saying what I needed and what I wanted for most of my life. And then I go, well, no wonder I’m angry and frustrated at people because everybody else just keeps saying what they want and they are getting what they want because they’re putting it out there. But I think like one layer beneath that, before you’re even able to say what you want, you have to be able to recognize that you’ve been conditioned in some way to not even be in touch with what you want and be in touch with who you are. So a lot of self compassion and realizing that wow, there’s nothing wrong with me, right? That’s another big belief that I would carry around. There’s nothing wrong with me, that I couldn’t identify what I wanted. And still now, right? I’m still like, what do I want? Do I want to have children? Do I want to get married? I don’t know these answers. And these are big life things, right? But all I know is that, okay, you know what? What I do know is that I’m curious about that. Or I feel like that might be something I want. You know, and, and at least honoring myself by at least accepting that there is some curiosity or interest here and not beating myself up for not having the perfect answer or the perfect plan or, you know, it’s been a real lesson for me to realize that my interests and my desires and wants and needs are just as important as anybody else’s. And that I need to do a little bit more personal work with connecting to myself because I wasn’t really conditioned to connect with that. So that’s what I’m doing now at 40 years old, discovering what it is that I want, what I like, what fires me up, what brings me joy, what makes me sad, who am I really the most comfortable around and who am I not right? And so all of these things are things that the more that I become in touch with, the more that I’m able to honor myself by saying what I need, what I want. It becomes easier to say no and to set a boundary or say yes to something when I know what those are. 

Mary: When you started figuring out what you liked and what you wanted and what you needed, how did that change the conversation with your parents around whether or not you wanted to take on the family business? 

Jenette: Yeah. It just meant that some of my concerns that I had, I was able to really just say out loud. You know I also started being able to separate some of the personal stuff. So the history stuff, I kind of decided for myself that when I’m bringing up the business and it’s hard, sometimes it still spills out and I don’t do it perfectly. But my main objective is to keep it separate, keep the really deep, emotional, heavy stuff a little bit off to the side right now, because this conversation might not be the right place for that. Or they might not be able to meet me halfway. Because they haven’t been able to, that doesn’t mean they might not ever be able to, but it means that right now I’m kind of choosing my priorities. That the time is of the essence with this business. They have to decide within the next six months to a year what they’re going to do. So I know for me right now, it’s important for me to be upfront and honest about what my concerns are. And I say it. So the boundaries for me now has enabled me to be able to even just say what my concerns are. Right? Where in the past it was all muddied up with emotional things. Where now I can kind of go, okay, look, there’s a time for that. And it’s just not going to happen right now. But let’s talk about, let’s talk about business. Let’s say, Hey, look, I have this concern. I have that concern. Is there a chance I could get a balance sheet? I need to understand the numbers. My accountant is willing to look at the numbers. Like I had to inform myself. So I did reach out to a couple of people who were entrepreneurs or business owners, and I told them my situation. And I said, look, I need to feel like I’m at least coming at this decision from a logical place, not from just an emotional one. And with that information and those encounters with them, they were like, yeah, you need to look at numbers, bring me some numbers, I’ll be more than happy to tell you in an instant if this is worth you taking over or not. And so I haven’t gotten to that point where I said, mom, I need your balance sheet. You know, I need your income statement, you know because I feel like we needed to kind of line the pipeline a little bit first before we got to that stage. But at least at this point, boundaries have helped me share my concerns. And look at my mom and my stepdad as two business people, right? Like not trying to look at this as this is not my responsibility to take over because that is my nature. I’m a natural empath. And so all of these things, like I would want to help, right? And so I feel like it’s my responsibility now, especially as the only child that I have to help them. Right? And I’ve always carried this major burden now since my brother passed, always felt like I had to take on this extra. But I realized I kind of freed myself from that. And I looked at them as two adults who have gotten themselves this far into their careers and noticed they are able to come to me with what their needs are, so I can come to them with what my needs and concerns are. You know, and, look at it like that, where we’re two equal people trying to see if this is a good match. Not that I have to bear the burden. And the boundaries for me helped me discern that line a little bit, right? Where it’s less personal, let’s make this about business. Let’s make sure that this is good for me. Am I comfortable with this? Am I not? Am I excited about this? Am I not? And actually, in most cases, I’m not. And that’s been, I think, the real core of my apprehension, that this has always been my mother’s business. I’ve always felt in my life I’ve been living in her shadow. And like I said, the business has a lot of history, both incredible happy and also incredibly sad history for me. And I’m not sure I want to carry that into my future. So even just honestly, the boundaries have helped me respect that how I’m feeling right? And respecting that you know what even if I say, I don’t know what the answer is right now but this is how I’m feeling today. This is how I’m feeling about this. This is my concern. The fact I’m even able to articulate that in a calm, effective way and continue having a lovely evening with my parents is literally a borderline miracle.

Mary: Absolutely. I love this. Thank you so much for sharing. So what did you decide to do and how come? 

Jenette: Well I am still on the fence and as much as that might seem like, oof, you know, great, what’s come of all this? The fact that I’m on the fence still to some degree actually speaks volumes to me because I’m not going at this with any misapprehensions about what I think it will do, what I will think it will do for my relationships with my parents, right? And that’s the thing I had to be very careful of, is that I wanted to make sure I was doing this for me, and not for an outcome of some kind with the relationships with my parents. And I’ve always wanted this closeness with them. And I think for a long time, I felt the only way to get that was by getting more involved. So I’m still on the fence. I know that there’s some people who are interested in the business and that excites me. And my mom is able to kind of take a section of the business and still take it into her retirement comfortably as we’re starting to realize that this could maybe change shape a little bit. And if I’m honest with you, I’m watching from the sidelines and I’m feeling pretty comfortable, like I’m shocked that I’m not looking at this going like, I want it. No, I want it. And for a while I did when a couple of other people were expressing interest, I was feeling that like, Oh no, like I’m going to lose something that’s important here. But more recently, I’ve been feeling, you know, I’m okay with letting this go. And I’m really glad that I haven’t rushed into a decision that I’m doing this for me and that I am making this decision from a place that makes sense for my future and not out of legacy or obligation. 

Mary: Yes. I love that. So for now you’re not quite ready or you would be okay with someone else acquiring the business? Give us a little more clarity there. 

Jenette: Yeah, I think I would be okay with somebody else acquiring this particular section of the business, which was, if I’m honest with you, the section of the business that I was the least enthusiastic about. I feel like I want to definitely meet this person. I want to make sure that we’re comfortable, familiar with each other. That who knows, maybe if someday in the future, he needs somebody to come in for a show or an event of some kind, and he needs an extra person, like he always knows that he can reach out to me and if I’m available, cool, like I’m not against working in that industry. It’s just more of, did I want to take on the financial and the potential long term responsibility of what that section of the business would require. And then my mom is starting to realize that her skills that she’s built all of her life are valuable. And she can be sourced as a consultant and I love this for her. She just came back from Texas for a private event that she had to do there. And from Rhode Island, that’s a pretty big deal. You know, you’re being flown out and flown back. And I love that for her. Where she doesn’t have to burden the responsibility of a huge warehouse with inventory anymore. She just gets to fly wherever she wants and her skills and services get used. And if I dare say, I would love to shadow and mentor her because I know she has a lot of skills and knowledge. Maybe that’s what I want to learn that from her. 

Mary: Maybe. What would you say to someone who is considering acquiring a family business?

Jenette: I think you know, just acknowledge the fact immediately that there’s a very personal side to this and there’s a very business side to this. I think coming at this, recognizing the complexity of this situation is very honest and that it is difficult, right? So that’d be step one. Step two, I think you have to come at any business decision, like a business person. And does this financially make sense for you? And for where you see it going? Does that industry have potential growing or is it fading out? Or, you know, figure out like, is this something that not only you’re passionate about? I mean, I use that word lightly, but if you’re coming at something from a business mindset, do the numbers make sense? And does this financially make sense for you? Cause I don’t even think even if you have the most passion for something in the world, if it’s not paying the bills, you’re going to end up resenting it. So you have to look at the numbers, make sure that this makes sense financially. And then also the third step for me is make sure that you’re doing it for the right reasons, like check in for yourself, your reasons for being interested. For me, I had to really take some time and pull apart the layers and it was in that process, I was discovering all the layers of emotional like complexity in this for me. And I was confused, right? And just give yourself a little bit of time to make sure that you’re doing this for the right reasons. That you’re not doing this to try to turn a relationship around or that you’re trying to prove yourself to anybody or you know that you’re, you’re doing this for a reason that feels good for the business, not for like other people. Like you have to make sure that you’re putting your needs first. And sometimes that takes a little bit of time to discern what that is.

Mary: I love this. Thank you so much for sharing with us your experience and your story and to all the listeners out there who have been in a family business or have considered working for a family business or considered taking on a family business. There’s so many valuable lessons in here and I really appreciate you sharing. Thanks so much, Jenette. 

Jenette: Thank you so much, Mary. Thank you.