When Your Kids Just Aren’t Ready


“We’re both in our sixties. We’ve worked hard for forty years and we’re tired. We’re ready to retire but our adult kids still act like children! They’re unreliable on the job and unable to make important business decisions on their own. How can we even think about retiring?”


While the details may vary, many family business owners face concerns about the lack of responsibility and poor independent decision- making skills exhibited by their adult children. How can these aging proprietors gain the trust in the next generation necessary to hand the business over to them, and free themselves to enjoy the retirement they’ve earned?


Very often, the lack of responsibility witnessed in adult children is the result of low expectations set by their parents and an absence of consequences when expectations aren’t met. Many parents find it easier to make decisions for their children than to guide them towards independent decision-making of their own. Consequently, this limits the children’s independence, self-esteem, and ability to make informed decisions.


How, then, can parents prepare their less-than-mature offspring to take up the reins?


1. Establish consequences. Your adult kids must adhere to the rules that would apply to non-family staff; showing up on time, following through with duties, and being accountable. Anything less is tantamount to telling your other employees, “The family is more important than you are; your time is less valuable than ours.” While any failure to adhere to company policy should be communicated at once, repeated failures should be reflected at performance appraisal time and consequently impact job level and compensation. Ultimately, failure to meet company policy can, and should, result in termination.


2. Get clear on who makes decisions. There needs to be clarity on who the decision-maker is for any particular issue. If all agree that the decision-maker is the adult child, then there are two possible ways of altering the present pattern. First, Mom and Dad could let her make the decision on her own. Alternatively, she could break the pattern by taking on the decision-making role herself. Either way, Mom and Dad will need to tolerate some decisions that will differ from their own and accept that any mistakes made along the way are an essential part of the learning process.


3. Talk frankly about the future. Families must have honest discussions as to whether leadership and ownership transfer within the family is the way to go. If the family concludes that the children will ultimately be capable of running the business, then their new responsibilities must be detailed. An action plan that includes a timeline for assuming their new roles and any training required for maximum effectiveness must be created and implemented.


Turning kids into responsible adults isn’t always easy because patterns of family behavior develop over decades. People can change, however, and parents can lead the effort.


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