Dual-edged sword: Navigating life as child of a business owner (1)

Growing up as the child of a business owner, particularly in a multi-generational family business, presents a unique set of experiences.

While it can be rewarding, it often comes with a complex web of responsibilities and emotional intricacies that shape both professional and personal lives.

Consider John, a third-generation heir to a logistics company. His childhood was marked by observing his family build the business from scratch. When he joined the company after college, he swiftly climbed the ranks, benefiting from leadership opportunities and decision-making power.

However, the pressure to uphold his family’s legacy began to weigh heavily on him. Business discussions often dominated family dinners, leading to frosty silences when disagreements arose. Despite his success, John felt isolated, unable to share his unique struggles with friends who couldn’t relate.

His rapid career progression left him feeling stagnant, having quickly reached his learning capacity within the company. He missed the competitive drive and social connections found in typical educational social, or corporate environments, deepening his sense of isolation.

Similarly, Sarah, a fourth-generation family business member, relished the flexibility her family’s retail business offered. From a young age, she watched her parents dedicate themselves to growing the enterprise. Inspired by their dedication, Sarah eagerly joined the business after completing her education. Initially, she thrived, enjoying the autonomy and sense of purpose her role provided.

Now a parent herself, she could balance her work schedule with her children’s needs. However, the expectation to be available 24/7 led to burnout and resentment. Her relationship with her parent, the CEO, became strained as business disputes overshadowed their personal bond.

Navigating pros, cons

Working under a parent who is also your boss profoundly impacts your professional and personal life. One of the most significant benefits is unparalleled access to opportunities.
Children of business owners often receive roles and responsibilities that might take others years to attain.

This accelerated career progression can be fulfilling and educational. Having your suggestions taken seriously allows for quick implementation of ideas, the bypassing of bureaucratic red tape, leading to faster decision-making.

The flexibility in scheduling and the understanding that family commitments might take precedence can offer a better work-life balance. Additionally, working in a family business brings a sense of legacy and pride, fostering a strong work ethic and dedication.


However, these advantages come with challenges. One of the most difficult aspects is the lack of separation between work and home life. Business discussions often seep into family time, making it hard to switch off and relax.

This can lead to an all-consuming work environment where personal space is limited. The pressure to perform and meet expectations can be overwhelming. There is an inherent assumption that you will continue the family legacy, which can lead to significant stress and anxiety. The fear of failure is magnified when your parent is also your employer.

Despite being surrounded by family, the unique position of being both a child and an employee can be isolating. It’s often difficult to share personal struggles, as it might be seen as unprofessional or weak.

This isolation can lead to a sense of loneliness, as few can truly understand the dual pressures faced. Moreover, your role can be uniquely isolating within the company, depriving you of the camaraderie typically found in environments where peers drive each other.

Workers may not see you as their peer, and the lack of competition and social dynamics can make your work experience feel even lonelier. Even in this isolation, you’re expected to smile every day and maintain good behaviour, further deepening the sense of disconnect.

Personal wants and desires often take a backseat. The expectation to prioritise the business can mean sacrificing personal interests, hobbies and social interactions, leading to a feeling of deprivation and a lack of fulfilment. The parent-child relationship can become strained under the weight of business responsibilities.

Disagreements at work can spill over into personal life, making it difficult to maintain a healthy, supportive relationship. The dynamic shifts from nurturing to managerial, which can be emotionally taxing.

Family members, especially the younger, may encounter limited opportunities for career advancement due to entrenched leadership positions, traditional succession planning and a relatively flat organisational structure.

This can lead to stagnation in skill development and frustration, hindering their ability to realise their full potential. Imposter syndrome is also a significant issue. Despite their achievements, they may feel they haven’t truly earned their positions and fear being exposed as frauds.

This leads to chronic self-doubt and anxiety, exacerbated by the constant comparison to previous generations and the pressure to uphold the family legacy.

The writer is with the Pivot Africa.

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