Table-Turning: When Adult Children Employ a Parent

Role-reversal can be fun.

Posted Jul 08, 2018

The family business. Historically speaking, it has never been uncommon for children at any age to help out with it. Some are expected to and others may want to learn the ropes so they can take it over someday. In these days of millennial entrepreneurs and eCommerce, however, it’s not as uncommon as you would imagine to see Baby Boomer parents doing jobs for their business-owner kids. It’s just not something we, as their parents, ever pictured ourselves doing. 

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Source: pexels

In her 2014 Huffington Post article, The Advantages of Being Employed By Your Adult Children, Shannon M. Nelson, contributing editor at CEO.com, talks about how a “young” older generation can offer well-honed skills to their business owner children while observing the kinds of customary protocols any employee would to their employer.  She begins, “...70 per cent of family businesses never even make it to the second generation, let alone the third. And I've got a solution for this tragic trend of familial business failure: instead of hiring your kids, hire your mom.”

Nelson goes on to discuss how she had become bored with an early retirement and how her son, who owned a business services website, finally gave in to his mom’s pleas to put her researching, writing, and editing skills to work for him. It turned out to be a win-win for them both and she has never looked back.

Although mentioning it to friends and family always raises an eyebrow or two, I have worked for my daughter’s company(s) from home. She knew I wanted some part time work to supplement my retirement income as well as my income as a freelance writer. 

Okay. She either really needed me or took pity on me when offering me a job I could do from home. I’d love to think it was the former, of course. She knew communication was my thing and that I could work for a reasonable but modest wage with no need for company benefits. So when her eCommerce women’s clothing web site needed someone to answer consumer questions directly on its product pages, she hired me to find and tap out well-researched responses.

One of the most special things about the job was — although I was probably among her lowest-level employees — I had the ear of the heads of her various departments when I saw errors or inconsistencies on these pages that showed off her merchandise. Soon I was in my happy place — useful to my daughter while feeling that my meager input was valued by people 10 times more educated than I was on fashion or eCommerce.

More recently, my daughter launched a media company, employing content writers, marketers, social media professionals, etc., and holding several events per year. This time around she needed someone to manage the company’s various inboxes and sift through the many emails sent by PR firms and product companies. My job involves answering some queries on my own and vetting others before forwarding them on to the appropriate team member, saving them precious time. I chuckled when I received the euphemistic but flattering title of “community manager” and have felt appreciated ever since. I have little to no contact with my offspring regarding the work, instead taking my cues from the various team members who continue to help me fine-tune my position. I am not too proud to ask them for candid answers when I think I may have screwed up, and I delight in the lack of ageism they display, as if the sometimes 40-year age difference means nothing.

If you are considering employing a parent, I echo the sentiments offered by Nelson and add some of my own:

  • There are few people you can trust more than your own mom or dad — someone who holds your hopes and dreams in their hands and would NEVER consider giving away your business secrets.
  • We are loyal to a fault.
  • If you ask it of us, we can offer the kind of feedback none of the people with whom you surround yourself would -- also making us the ideal candidates to tell you something you may need to but not want to hear.
  • Our years of business experience can be exploited by you and only you. We would never work this cheaply (or happily) for anyone else.

This only works, of course, if there is enough mutual respect between parent and adult child. As a parent, you must cease and desist offering opinions neither appreciated nor solicited by your employer child, and you must be careful not to exploit your role as a parent-employee. Personal time together is sacred during which your role is still that of a loving parent. It should not include discussions about work or work gossip. And you should never take this opportunity for granted, thinking you are any more valuable than anyone else who works there, on site or off. 

In the end, however, if all the stars are aligned and this type of arrangement can be struck, it could turn out to be a family match made in heaven. When thinking of myself in this scenario, I think of American Beauty character Lester Burnham's line when speaking about his change in midlife: "It's a great thing when you realize you still have the ability to surprise yourself. Makes you wonder what else you can do that you've forgotten about."

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