Advice for Mothers And Daughters in Business: “You should enjoy working together!”

That was Pat Finson’s answer to my question about the advice she has for mothers and daughters who work together. I love Pat’s simple and straightforward answer.  It’s almost what I would call a “blinding glimpse of the obvious.” OF COURSE mothers and daughters (and all family members in a family business) should enjoy working together!   But as you know, it’s not always easy.

I met Pat after I eavesdropped on her conversation with a customer at her clothing shop, Pat’s at Chautauqua, in Chautauqua, New York.  I was looking at a pretty purple shirt and deciding whether to buy it when I heard Pat tell another customer that she owns the store, that one daughter works with her, and that another daughter owns and operates her own store across the street.  My ears perked up…and when Pat had a quiet moment, I asked her if she would be willing to talk with me.

So we sat down outside Pat’s store and she told me her story.  She added a bit more to her answer about advice for mothers working with their daughters. “It should be a comfortable fit that naturally evolves.  And you and your daughter should have at least some idea about how your work together might develop over time.” I’m not so sure that all mothers and daughters in business together think about how their work with each other and their roles in the business will evolve. But I am sure that it’s a good question to consider.

When I asked Pat about her advice for daughters who want to work with their mothers, her answer was equally clear:  “You’ll always be compared.  Try to set your own style and become the person you are meant to be.”

Pat’s philosophy seems to be working.  Pat’s daughter Ruth shares her mother’s entrepreneurial skills, and her interests were apparent quite early.  As a six year old she drew a picture of a store just like Pat’s with the name “Ruthie’s Boutique” on the sign.  Ruth now manages The Chautauqua Wearhouse, the other clothing store, while also working on her successful real estate business.

Pat’s youngest daughter, Katherine, works directly with her mom, and is not interested in owning a store.  She prefers managing…while she also manages her life at home with young children.  Tall and beautiful like her mother, she, too, has a sense of style.   Pat smiled when she told me, “Sometimes we show up at work in the same outfits!”

Throughout our conversation, Pat’s respect for daughters and their choices shone through.  She has worked hard-and succeeded-in giving them satisfying careers, and is glad that she has “paved the way”.   She believes that if parents encourage a child to follow in the family business, and their children enjoy the work and working with their parents, “it can fast forward their careers by twenty years”.

My meeting with Pat made me think about a few questions you might consider if you are working with your mother or thinking about it:

Have you ever observed your mother at work?   What about her approach appeals to you?

What are your mother’s strengths and limitations in her role at work–and what are yours?  Will you complement each other?

What kind of career path is important to you?  Does your mother know your plans, and can she support your professional development?

Perhaps most important, are you and your mother confident that you will you enjoy working with together? 

I’m glad I stuck my nose in Pat’s business.  And also very glad that I bought that purple shirt.

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