Saturday, October 24, 2009

What do you owe your children?

This is question every parent has faced - especially parents who own their own business.

Do you owe them a job in the business? Do you owe them guaranteed income?

When our kids were growing up Janie, my wife and their Mom, had a phrase that became our guide: "Every pot has to set on its own bottom." In other words, our goal was teach them to be self-suffcient - to discover what their life passion was and to support them in their quest to achieve it.

In other words, the goal was to help them identify what really mattered to them and not expect them to live out some dream we may have had for them. Although I was an engineer, there was no need for them to become engineers - unless that was what they wanted to be. They didn't have to move back to Lockport, where we live - unless they wanted to. They didn't have to come back to the business - unless they wanted to. (None became engineers, none moved back home and none joined the business. That was OK for us.)

We are pleased for their personal successes - each in their own way.

Every parent needs to ask themselves what they owe their kids. This seems to be a key question for business owners when they think about their children and their business. Somehow there seems to be an unspoked assumption that the best thing for at least one of the kids is to come into the business. The business owner may see that as the step to leaving their legacy. The child may see this as a easy step to take without any deep thought about what really matters to them, what they want to accomplish with their lives. It may or may not be the best move - for the owner, for the child (who is now an adult) or the business.

Which brings me to the question "What do you owe your children?"

First, let me offer some ideas about what you don't owe them. You don't owe them a job. You don't own them a steady income. Your don't need to decide their life purpose.

You do owe them love and support while they are educating themselves - only partial if that's all you can afford. You owe them nuturing while they are growing up. You owe them a lasting set of values that will enable them to live a successful, caring life that enhances our culture.

Then you owe them the opportunity to develop self discipline and self suffciency. You owe them respect for who they are - even though it may not be what you had hoped of them.

Last, but not least, you owe them the freedom to follow their own path and to grow into supportive, caring individuals who offer the same to those around them.

After they have sorted this all out and developed clarity about their self identity, if they decide they want to join your business, the odds are that you'll have a great staff member with potential to be a future leader!

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