About Dear Abel and Sofi: This Alignable column gives our small business owners an outlet to anonymously share the kinds of frustrations, fears and private struggles few people express openly. Father-daughter duo Abel and Sofi co-author the column, bringing diverse perspectives to both professional and personal problems. A serial entrepreneur and counselor, Abel, 65, is known for his empathy and his uncanny understanding of many issues. Co-owner of a salon, Sofi, 28, has a younger, more candid approach to life’s challenges. Beyond appearing on Alignable’s Q&A Forum, now this column in syndicated in outlets including the Focus Newspaper in NC and The Yankee Xpress in MA. To submit your anonymous questions to Abel and Sofi, please click here.

Dear Abel & Sofi: 
Bummed Out Over Dictatorial Parents Doubling As Bosses

Hi Abel & Sofi,

My parents own a company that I work for and have worked at most of my life.

I am expected to treat them as my bosses and not as my parents, but I’m not treated like any regular employee in return.

I am talked to like a parent talks to a child (especially when they’re angry), and I am held to a higher standard than any other employee.

If I have a concern about an employee (or an issue), it’s dismissed. But if other employees have a concern about the same employee or any issue, they’re not dismissed. I feel as if I am the odd man out, because my parents are harsher towards any mistake I make and dismiss my ideas. I am more under a microscope than any other employee, and even get yelled at when I make a mistake. But that doesn’t happen to other employees. Apparently, they yell at me openly, because they don’t want others to think I get special treatment.

How do I get the same respect that I give them – and that they give to every other employee? I guess that’s my big question.

Sincerely, Blue Over My Bosses

Abel: Dear Blue,

Quite a quandary! I wish I could talk to your parents, because I would tell them to take the high road. They sound very authoritarian, which stems from an inner fear of losing control. And though I’m sure they don’t mean to be as harsh as you say they are, they do believe that running the show their way is the best thing they can do for the business and their own sense of self-worth. There are many egos at play here – and yours ends up being bruised more often than not. (As an aside, some entrepreneurs don’t always make the best managers, and those two rascals you call your Boss Parents could use a lot of coaching on how to get the best out of their employees).

And I bet they hate change, yet change is just what they must embrace for that business to progress. And you represent change as the next generation that (someday) might be running the show. As much as I’m sure they love you, they subconsciously fear what you might do with the business (which, by the way, is yet another baby for them). That’s why they’re so critical of what you’re doing and they put more weight behind the consequences of your actions. You’re not just their kid or another employee, you actually symbolize their business future and that puts a lot of pressure on you!

In terms of tackling the main problem you’ve noted, I would say you should approach the parent closest to you and take him or her out for coffee or tea. That makes this a one-on-one conversation outside of the office and not Mom and Pop ganging up on their kid at your place of work.

Then tell that parent that you feel you’ve done enough for the company over the years for them to treat you with more respect and openly value your contributions, regardless of what others think. Then they should openly support their other employees, too. Praise costs nothing, but makes a world of difference.

Finally, remind them that you want to do everything you can for the business and the family, but they make that hard for you without realizing it. You want a win-win situation here and will work hard with them to figure out how to do that more constructively as a team – not as parents/bosses vs. a kid/employee. Making it a group effort is definitely a step in the right direction.

Let us know how that goes, as the more you can show you all care about the same things, the more they should allow you to run with things and give you the support you need.

All my best to you, Abel

Sofi: Dear Blue,

I’ve had similar days with my Dad, Abel, but we nip it right in the bud fast. Parents being protective can also make we young people feel stifled – there’s a balance and you need to find it with them. That’s really a process.

I’m lucky that Abel raised me not to put up with a lot of crap, especially from him! He has always emphasized the need to communicate openly to handle any misunderstandings. Humans say things in moments of anger and frustration that their normal selves would never say or even feel.  It sounds like there are many moments of anger and frustration at your family business, which makes this issue even more intense.

I agree that you should try to work this out as an adult with your closest parent first (and then the other one).

But I also think you should secretly hire a resume writer to give you an out if you, as the baby bird, really need to fly out of the nest – at least temporarily.  It’s hard to tell from your letter if it’s time to jump or if it’s time to confront them constructively.

Looking forward to seeing what others in the Alignable network have to say about this letter, as I’m sure there will be a range of emotions that surface.

Take care of yourself, Blue – Big Hugs, Sofi

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