Ask Amy: “My mom is extremely competitive and controlling…”

Dear Amy,

I am the daughter of a farmer who has been deceased for many years. My mother is in charge of the farm, which has been in our family for several generations.  She is very domineering and won’t allow my younger sister, who is perfectly capable, to take over the farm.  She’s a great farmer, though not great at business.

Here’s the hitch: my mom trusts my brother and I to run the business side of the farm, not my sister, which is a valid concern. I’m considering presenting the possibility of taking over and running the farm in partnership with my younger sister.

My issue is this:  My mom is extremely competitive and controlling.  I’m not sure she will ever let loose, so I don’t want to lose my sanity if I do end up involved.  The other part is that I have no intention of doing this for free.

Any suggestions?


Amy KatzDear FG,

I don’t want you to lose your sanity, either!

I know that there are many family farms with long histories, and I can certainly understand your wanting to continue having yours evolve comfortably for everyone-you, your siblings, and your mom.

I don’t doubt that your mom is “competitive and controlling”.  But I also suspect that she knows she is on the brink of an important transition in her life, and that she is facing a number of choices.  She may feel quite alone. It is not easy to consider retiring or even “letting loose” a bit from your daily routine.  Many family business owners take a long time to retire.  But as you know so well, it’s vital that she think about the future, for her sake and for yours.

Your situation does sound like it calls for a meaningful set of conversations, sooner rather than later. Your mom trusts your business sense, so I would build upon that trust.  Tell her you want to “have a serious conversation”. Take her out to a nice place, away from the farm.

Let your mom know that you appreciate all her hard work, and the responsibility she took on after your father died.  Then, gently but firmly, ask her for her ideas about the future of the farm.  Does she want it to remain in the family?  If so, what are her thoughts about who will take over when she is ready to retire?

Again, building on her trust in you, let her know that you think you and your siblings would be a great team, able to cover the “working side” and the “business side” of managing the farm.  Paint a picture for her of how it would work…and what her role might be going forward.  Ask her what role she would like to play.

Of course, we don’t know how your mom will react.  But your ability to “lead her through” some difficult choices with tact and sensitivity, will hopefully help her think things through.

As for getting paid…make sure that any partnership you develop includes a clear delineation of roles, responsibilities, and compensation-for you and your siblings, and for your mom.


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