How To Mix Business And Family...And Stay Sane

03/28/2008 02:48 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Q: I know that everyone talks about the influence of money in the relationship between a man and a woman, but how about between a mother and a daughter?

I am a 65-year-old retired business executive who enjoys dabbling in freelance writing, hiking, and taking care of my grandchildren. I have a full life -- great friends, lots of traveling and much activity. My husband died ten years ago when our three children were still young adults. We had organized our finances to provide for our children while also giving me a base to ensure that I will always be financially independent. I miss my husband, but I nevertheless now have a joyous sense of freedom that has included several sexual adventures.

With all of this in place, I did not hesitate to help out my only daughter when she wanted to start a home business importing organic skin creams and selling them over the Internet. Since I had been in marketing, who better than me to help her sell the product? Initially, we had fun constructing the website, framing the image of the product for young mothers, and setting up systems for payment and delivery. I was so integrally involved that even when my daughter was off taking care of her own children, I was there to keep the business running. People knew they could always reach me if there was a question or a decision that needed an immediate response. My daughter was very appreciative and aware of the imposition on my time -- at first.

After a year of full time work, I began to voice a need to reduce my involvement. My daughter wasn't taking the hint. She kept saying that she needed me and, moreover, she was involved in legally and financially making me a full partner. This was a surprise to me since I not only had not taken a salary, but had, on occasion, used my own money to cover outstanding checks. My daughter always said I would be paid back but those checks are still somehow in the mail.

To complicate the situation further, I have been offered a really good job with another start-up operation that is being backed by a distributor I dealt with for my daughter's product. This will be a very large launch encompassing several products and a world-wide reach. My daughter doesn't know this yet and she continues to enjoy her easy set-up. She has the best of both worlds--part-time mom, part-time businesswoman and full-time ingrate.

It's obvious that I resent her. She is oblivious to what I've done for her, but I don't know what to do. Our previous relationship is now strained. I hesitate to ask for financial remuneration. I am tempted to take the other offer just to get out. I could tell my daughter that I can't refuse the huge salary I would be paid. Maybe then she'd appreciate my worth. What do you think? Do you have something else I should say to her?

A: You would actually take another job just to avoid confronting your daughter about how you feel? It won't work. In the first place, I highly doubt that she would believe you are taking the job for the salary. I think she would be shocked that you would help someone else start a business. After all, from her point of view, you enjoyed working with her on her project. Her father, your husband, left you plenty of money so she knows it's not financial security you seek. Most importantly, you are her mother. She has you all to herself. Why wouldn't you enjoy that? Why would you need to go anywhere else? That is the question she would ask. We should ask it as well.

So, what is happening with you? You have already acknowledged that you resent your daughter's "blindness." You want to be recognized for your various roles -the traditional ones and the non-traditional ones. You clearly enjoy the role of mother and you are ready and willing to be supportive of your daughter in this regard. If she needs some of your money, you give it. If she needs some of your time, you give that, too.

But you also want the freedom to pursue other interests, including the space to be the sexual woman your daughter thinks died with her father. This is a new stage of life for you and you want to experiment fully with it. As I have stated before, I believe that "life is a series of little lives." You are ready for that new little life of independence and sexual freedom that may lead to a new relationship. But your children are not quite there yet. You are their mother and they are the children. Their dynamic with you hasn't changed. It is up to you to change this interaction to one between parent and child to one between parent and adult child. Neither one of you are who you used to be.

You need to accept changes within yourself and then explain these changes to your children. At this moment in your life, mothering comes down to a balance between full devotion to them (what they have come to expect) and your new areas of interest. You can tell your daughter that since you respect her as an adult, she needs to see you as an adult who is not only her mother, but a well-established businesswoman as well. In the same way that she has always looked to you for acceptance and approval, you now would love to have some of that back -- approval of you as a mother and as a fully-rounded adult.

So, for all the parent-adult child relationships out there... Be aware of how your relationship can evolve and what your (and their) new needs may be. Be honest with you children. Be upfront about who you are. This is not a situation they need to grasp without any help, specifically from you. First, though, you have to understand what is happening so you can clarify things for them. My guess is that your adult children will understand and be happy in the new relationship. First, though, you have to tell them what it is. The problem you're having with your daughter is not about money. It's about redefining your roles.