The Parent Trap

Guidelines For Success

Before embarking on a campaign to put Mom or Dad on the payroll, ask yourself some questions.

  • Why do you want to hire your parent? The best reason to hire anyone, parents included, is because the business needs that person's services. "The worst reason is because you want to bail them out of a financial jam," says O'Malley. If that's the case, O'Malley suggests helping a parent find a job with another company or providing personal financial support outside the domain of the business.
  • What is the history of your relationship with your parent? It should be one of mutual respect and easy communication. The best situation is one in which the parent has relinquished the role of mentor/teacher/critic and thinks of you as a peer.
  • What do you need to discuss beforehand? You must be able to discuss the scope of the job the parent will be doing, his or her responsibilities, the salary, reporting arrangements, how you will handle a situation when you have to tell a parent what to do, and what to do if a parent starts acting more like the boss than an employee.
  • Can you structure the job so it works best for your parent and for you? "Hiring a parent as a consultant who has the experience and expertise you need has the greatest possibility for success," says Brown. That's because with their limited duties, like writing a sales manual or trouble-shooting, and limited time frames, consultants don't turn the power relationship between parent and child completely on its head the way employment does.

The consulting option also takes into consideration that a parent may not want to work full time. Part-time and off-site work are other creative options when hiring parents. One writer, for example, employs her homebound father, a former research scientist, to scour publications for her; he mails her clippings weekly.

  • Will you be able to evaluate your parent as an employee and, if necessary, end the business relationship without damaging the personal relationship? Before employment begins, agree to evaluate the arrangement within a reasonable time in the near future to see what is working, what isn't, how the business relationship can be improved and whether it should be terminated. If the trial period works out, then you can move to a long-term commitment.

If you can't answer these questions positively, proceed no further. As great an idea as hiring your parents may seem, it is difficult to overcome the psychological hurdles of this topsy-turvy relationship. And if it's going to jeopardize your personal relationship, it's not worth doing.

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This article was originally published in the January 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Parent Trap.

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