Last week I took my daughter out to dinner at a small local pizza joint. We were both surprised to see what looked like a brother and sister, both teens, running the front of the restaurant. The girl, who was about 16, sat us down and took our order. The boy, who was probably 14, sat behind the counter, took the takeout orders and ran the cash register.
My daughter wondered out loud when the teens have time to do homework and if they worked in the evenings. I said that I figured they were probably pretty used to the arrangement, since I assumed their parents ran the place.
The whole experience got me thinking: Watching the kids working behind the counter, they seemed pretty happy. I remarked to my daughter that they were really receiving an amazing gift – they were being given real experience on what it takes to run a business.
On the other hand, I had no idea whether either teen was the least bit interested in running a restaurant. It reminded me that it’s challenging for parents and children to talk about expectations.
- When did those kids first start spending time in the business?
- Did mom or dad pull a stool up to the counter and let their small child roll out pizza dough?
- What hopes and dreams do the parents have for their children?
- Do the parents want or expect their kids to take the business on as they grow older?
- What kinds of conversations have already taken place?
- What about the hopes and dreams of those teens?
- Do they dream of going to college? Pursuing a career outside of their town?
It’s not uncommon for the hopes and expectations of parents to bump up against the personality and dreams of their children. How often have you heard, “My child is going to be a doctor some day!” when the child is not even old enough to vote? So how do families resolve the disparity between the hopes and dreams of the older generation and the hopes and dreams of younger generation? When should those conversations start? How do families navigate through the conflict and find a solution?
Conflict can be defined as the circumstance where our needs and desires diverge from the needs and desires of important people in our lives. It is a natural part of the human experience.
Yet conflict itself isn’t really the problem; it’s HOW we respond to conflict that is the real issue. Do we enter into “fight or flight” mode, or can we use these strong emotions as information to help us identify our needs and navigate the situation?
I expect that the parents who run the pizza parlor have invested their time & money into their venture, and it has become an important part of who they are. They have a need to feel that their time and effort is appreciated. Having one or more of their children express a desire to carry on the family business is the ultimate validation of their choices. It would be easy for those parents to feel hurt and offended if their children “rejects” the opportunity. However, their children have a need to find their own path and identity. Choosing to pursue a career outside of the family business may be less about “rejecting” their parents and more about figuring out who they are as separate individuals.
When you add in the imbalance of power that normally exists between parents and children, it can get more complicated. It can be more than a little challenging for a parent to view their adult children as fully capable of taking on the complexity of running a business. Plus, parents may be reluctant to expose their children to the emotional and financial challenges of being a business owner. Parents naturally shield their children from financial realities. Suddenly, they have to perform a 180 and share the business financials “warts and all!” It can become an emotional minefield, full of strange power shifts and contradictions!
It’s no wonder having a coach or counselor help navigate the process can be the first step in untangling the issues!
About Jennifer Kennett
Business Owner, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, International Association of Collaborative Professionals, Canadian Certified Counselor, MBA in Human Resource Management specializing in family counseling, concurrent disorders, addictions counseling, and emotional Intelligence.