My Mom is My Boss, My Sister is My Coworker: My Experience in Family Businesses

For longer than I’ve been alive, my mother has owned several businesses. She ran these in addition to her full-time job, and after she had my siblings and I, raising kids. (My mom is an impressive person.)

Even if she’d never involved us at all, the simple fact that she knew a lot about the business world and that she ran three businesses from our home meant that we knew a lot about this from earliest childhood. We knew the value of money, the amount of work involved in running a business, the difference between a small business and a startup. The fact that we were homeschooled for most of our lives also helped: instead of sitting in a classroom and learning through a rigid structure, we had casual conversations, asked questions, and generally just talked about business.

But I didn’t just sit around and learn by proximity: I was actively involved in her businesses as soon as I could do something of value. When I was seven, I had better handwriting than my mom, so I addressed envelopes.  By nine or ten, I was filing and organizing paperwork, too. By thirteen, when I was a good enough artist to be selling commissions at conventions and shows, I was also using Illustrator to create graphics, layouts, and logos. By fifteen, on top of my “real job” at a local restaurant, I had enough coding skill to create a website, so I created  (I came up with the name, too; I was taking Latin at the time, and so I took words meaning “Life, and…” in order to convey a meaning of “your life and whatever you choose to do with it”.)

Overall, my relationship with my mother growing up was more of a mentor-mentee relationship than a standard parent-child dynamic. And honestly, I think this is better: the standard parent-child dynamic is full of condescension, mistrust (especially through the section of young adulthood we’ve decided to call “teen age”), misunderstanding, hostility, and a number of other things. My relationship with my mother meant I was treated throughout my life, not like a child to be talked down to, but like another adult, albeit an incredibly inexperienced one. I’ve noticed that people become what you believe they will be – in essence, humans are self-fulfilling prophecies – so when you expect that a teenager will be rebellious, they will be; and in the same way, when I was expected to be an adult, I was.

I think some people may accuse my mother of “not giving me a childhood”, but they misunderstand the amount of time these things took, and also how much I enjoyed doing all of them. When I was addressing envelopes, it took maybe two hours a week at absolute most, and I loved being able to do something that was genuinely useful to someone. Little kids are often insecure because they don’t really have anything they’re very good at yet and so they don’t have any way to differentiate themselves, but I skipped that bit, because I was doing real, valuable work.

Designing the Speset website was similar. I really wasn’t very experienced as a programmer at that point, though I did have some non-negligible graphic design experience. For the purpose of building an entire website from scratch, I was out of my depth in a lot of ways. But I just dove right in, spent a few weeks on it, and came out the other end with a website. Speset went from nonexistence to existence as it became a home for a set of books that were previously just floating about in the Amazon aether. And it made a real difference in the books’ audience: at the time of this writing, the mailing list which I integrated into the Speset site has over a hundred subscribers, with absolutely no additional marketing.

Don’t usually get that kind of value from a fifteen-year-old, eh?

My siblings took a similar path that I did. Essentially, they were my coworkers. And just like I was specialized based on what I enjoyed and was good at, so were they. My sister Anastasia has always had a penchant for finances and accounting, and so she’s been a kind of junior accountant for most of her life, doing bank reconciliations, analyzing balance sheets, and creating general ledger accounts. As I did, she took on more responsibilities as she developed more skills and experience. And as I did, she had a ton of fun with it all. I can’t speak to the exact kind of work she’s doing at the moment, because I’m not an accountant, but I know she’s creating value as well because she’s being paid.

At the moment, my mother owns three businesses: Ellis Wyatt, which does roofing, remodeling, and repair; John Galt Properties, which owns a number of rental properties; and CodeX, which is sort of an umbrella company for her consulting plus a few other miscellaneous things that you could either call tiny businesses or side gigs (Speset falls under this umbrella, as well as Navision Depot and several others). I’ve helped in various capacities with all of them: I designed and programmed the websites for both Ellis Wyatt and Speset, and I deliver paperwork for John Galt.

Our family dynamic is different because we work together to get business work done. I ask Ana when she’ll have the tenant statements done, because I want to deliver them on my way to class tomorrow. She replies that she’ll have them done after she finishes her economics homework. Between working together and doing schoolwork, all in the same house, I have an incredibly close relationship with my siblings, as well as with my parents. Our family dynamic is different because we work together, but I think that’s a good different.

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