by Vicki Larson
I always thought I had a pretty nice relationship with my mom. Oh, sure, she can drive me crazy with her advice, her worrying, the newspaper clippings she mails me almost weekly with sentences or paragraphs underlined in red and decorated with exclamation points.
Still, I call her every week — actually, I call my parents weekly, but if my dad happens to pick up, he immediately says, “I’ll get your mother,” even if I’m in the middle of saying. “Hi, Dad, how are you?” I’m 53 years old, and I still don’t really know how my dad is doing; I’m guessing I never will.
While my mom and I have a relatively nice adult child-parent relationship, it’s nowhere near the one, say Beyonce Knowles has with her mom, Tina; they’ve actually gone into business together with their House of Deréon clothing line, as have fashion icon Betsey Johnson and daughter Lulu and thousands of other mompreneurs across the country.
Forget about father-son businesses; although that’s the model still ingrained in the American psyche. Mother-daughter businesses are the new black. I have no idea how they do it; honestly, most women I know have such complicated relationships with their mothers without having to worry about ordering, restocking and bookkeeping, it’s a miracle they still talk at all.
But it seems sort of romantic to go into business with someone you love and know so well; who better than a mother, father, sibling or husband to work with? Whenever a big-box chain store threatens to move in to our neighborhood, we tend to rally around the tiny mom-and-pop store that we’ve been shopping at for years. We love mom-and-pop- run businesses — they make up more than 80 percent of the nation’s companies. And although we often see them through rose-colored glasses as the cozy diner on Main Street or the quaint B&B somewhere in Maine, many are Fortune 500 corporations.
That’s all well and good, but I wonder — how the heck can an intimate relationship handle all that stress? Because, it is stressful.
I know, because I did it.
Years ago, when I was still under the tie-dyed influence of the 1970s, I dropped out of college, followed my boyfriend out to Colorado and then took on a bunch of grunt jobs to keep us afloat — barely — while he was in college. I don’t recall what he declared as a major, but he sure took a lot of PE classes.
Eventually, I landed a job at a small pizza and ice cream restaurant owned by two 30-something guys. I adored them and their families, they adored me, and before long, they made me manager. I loved being in charge, loved creating new items for the menu, loved our customers. By that time, by boyfriend-turned-new husband — we married on a trail in the Rockies, me in my cowboy boots and feather and beaded dress, he in the overalls I’d embroidered daisies on — had dropped out of college, too, and needed a job.
“Come work with me,” I said. “It will be fun.”
So he did.
It was not fun.
It wasn’t so much the 24/7 thing — I actually didn’t mind being around him all the time (probably because I was young, barely 21, and stupid, plus I still hadn’t made too many friends). No, it was because he was a bad employee. His scoops of ice cream were too big, he gave the wrong change, he didn’t clean up properly.
“Someone has to go, him or me,” I told my bosses after a few months.
“You know what you have to do,” they responded.
And so, I fired my husband. Talk about awkward!
In a way, I think he was relieved; he didn’t really want to work with me. I’m not sure he wanted to work, period. Perhaps that’s why he’s my ex-husband.
But, I’ve now discovered, ours wasn’t necessarily an unusual situation. "When it's good, it's very, very good, and when it's bad, it's horrific," according to Ruth Hayden , a family business counselor and author of “For Richer, Not Poorer: The Money Book for Couples .” “There's very little middle ground.”
If a husband-wife business doesn’t work, not only can it destroy the business; it can also destroy the marriage and the extended family, she says.
So, how are mother-daughter businesses doing? Given the often difficult mother-daughter relationship, pretty good, especially if you look at the numbers — although there aren’t any statistics on how many mom-daughter business there are, there are five times as many women in charge of a family business than there were a decade ago, according to the Family Firm Institute. And, with the high unemployment rate and biases against older workers, many more women and men are expected to start their own late-in-life businesses in the future.
But numbers don’t tell the story. The real story is the day-to-day goings-on. Aren’t the mothers driving their daughters crazy, or vice versa?
Not really, says Florida psychologist Florence Kaslow, who has studied women–owned family businesses more than 15 years. Mother-daughter businesses have a high level of trust and loyalty from the get-go, she says.
Right — once they get past the “You’re not going out wearing that, young lady!” stage.
And working together actually can help the mom-daughter relationship, says California family business consultant Kurt Glassman . "The business environment can help mothers and daughters see themselves more objectively. It helps daughters to understand their mothers more as a whole person, and it helps mothers to understand the unique needs and desires of her daughter,” he told Inc. magazine.
Since I have sons, there’s no hope of a mother-daughter business. And since I don’t share my mother’s big passion — beading — there’s no hope there, either. Guess I’m hopelessly less than trendy. Still, I’ve been trying to encourage her to create a Web site to sell her gorgeous beaded flowers. First, she needs to buy a computer, and she and my dad have been “looking into it” for about a decade now.
But when she does, my 15-year-old, who makes YouTube videos, is ready to film her in action so she can offer step-by step instructions, too.
Hey, who needs mother-daughter? We’re talking grandmother-grandson businesses. Now, that’s trendy!