Family businesses offer many relationship challenges, one of them being a younger family member from one branch of the family dealing with an older family member from another branch of the family.

We are taught from childhood to respect our elders, and if the older relative is near and dear to our parents the situation becomes even trickier.

A recent Dear Amy column addressed this challenge:

Dear Amy,

My dad and his sister are partners in the family’s successful car dealership. I’m 24, and I really love working with my dad–he’s very caring and understanding and I’ve learned a lot from him. Unfortunately, he’s planning to step down in the next year, and my aunt is very power hungry.

She’s a lot younger than he is and I know she plans to continue working for at least another 10 years. She is feeling very defensive that I’m there–none of her two daughters are interested in joining the business, which I know is a disappointment to her.

Also, she doesn’t like things done in new ways, and I feel like there is no negotiating with her. I’ve had meetings with her to discuss things that need to stay the same or things that need to change, and even though she’s nice, after the meeting she threatens all the employees that if they listen to me they will get fired.

I don’t think this is a nice way to treat employees, but I also don’t know how to get through to her. Please help!


Perhaps this is a good time to explore other options.
Dear Laney,

What an awful position for you! Your aunt does sound very difficult. I’m going to ask you a pretty direct question: Do you have to stay there?

The reason for the question is that you’re still at a very early stage of your career, a time when many young women have the flexibility to make choices and even to try out several jobs before they decide what’s right for them.

The challenge of “should I stay or should I go” can be a very tough one; many daughters wrestle with this question off and on, depending on what’s happening in the business or in their personal lives.

You’re young, and I’m assuming you’re flexible. Perhaps this is a good time to at least explore other options.

Keep in mind that you have had some good business experience, you understand the need for businesses to adapt and change, you are sensitive to employee concerns, and you personally want to have influence on the way things are run.

The experiences you’ve had and the skills you’ve developed will serve you well in any workplace.

Amy J. Katz is president of Daughters in Charge and has consulted to family businesses for fifteen years. She has a true appreciation for the special challenges and opportunities that working in a family business can provide.