by Sally Ekus
Yes, we fight. No, not a lot. In fact, I can count on one hand how many times we have ever had a fight in the entire time we have worked together.
Six years ago I moved home to regroup from life. You know the story, early twenties + degree in hand +bad boyfriend +debt = move home.
Well, in my case, moving home meant helping my mom out at the office. If you asked me six years ago what my mom did for a living, I honestly wouldn’t know what to tell you. Something in food? Publishing? Working with chefs?
Turns out my mom, the person who somehow made it to all my dance performances, hosted elaborate birthdays well before the days of Pinterest, cooked dinner (almost) every night, and wiped my tears, also founded a one-of-kind boutique culinary agency that is celebrating 33 years in business this April!
Let me be clear, I had no intention of one day working for and with my mom/boss, as I so lovingly refer to her now. I was on a different path, on my way to grad school in fact, when I detoured to move home and get my feet back on the ground. Kudos to her for welcoming me with open arms, not just back home but at work too!
Fast forward almost six years; I am now the Agency Manager and a Literary Agent here at The Lisa Ekus Group. I have sold dozens of cookbooks to many of the top US publishers. I represent some of the leading culinary experts, authors, and chefs in this country. I like to say I am a far less glorified Jerry Maguire of the food industry.
Turns out I have been training for this my whole life without ever knowing it. I can recall late nights asleep on my mom’s lap. One ear resting on her legs and the other pressed up against the underside of the dinner table, drifting off to sleep to the sounds of chefs talking, and mom spouting off brilliant marketing ideas for their latest book tour.
Working together has had its ups and its downs, but to be honest, most of it has been a joy. For anyone who works with a parent, I don’t know if you can relate, but here are a few of the things I attribute our success to:
- Set boundaries. Early on my mom/boss and I quickly realized that we were working ALL the time. This was ineffective for the team approach we take with our staff, as well as our mother/daughter time which became virtually non-existent. Setting boundaries about when to work and when to “unplug” really helped us shift back to differentiating between work time and family time.
- Communication. At the first signs of any sort of disagreement we always make a point to talk to one another. I realized that when I got mad at my “boss” it stirred up childish feelings that often had more to do with my mom than what was going on at work. The sooner you can nip that in the bud, the better! I also make sure to call my boss out when she takes a “mom tone” with me.
- Step out of the middle! This one is the hardest for me. I often feel stuck between co-workers and my mom/boss. Co-workers don’t want to vent in front of me, and I try to bear the brunt of any disappointments or issues with the boss. Why? Maybe I think she will go easier on me and I can take it. In the end I’m just wedging myself in the middle which doesn’t help communication between mom/boss and the other team members. I am learning to moderate but not placate.
- One-on-one time. As important as it is to not work all the time, it is just as important for us to sit and talk quietly, in uninterrupted space at least once a week. We use the opportunity to strategize about our business, our team, changes in the industry, and update one another. We each have an opportunity to vent as well as celebrate accomplishments. The one-on-one time together allows us to dive back into the work with focus.
- Parents/Bosses are not perfect (neither are kids!). I have the fortunate advantage of being more than just a little familiar with what I would classify as my mom’s “personality challenges.” I try to identify the times when she reverts to one of her more “combative” states and help her through them. Working with your family means you can help one another out of the funks and hard times faster. I know she does the same for me!
I absolutely love my job and love working with my mom/boss. Working with family is hard. It is personal and professional. I feel challenged, motivated, and dedicated. Believe me, I know that after that first year I could have bowed out. I could have gone to grad school and come back home only to visit on vacations. The thing is, I was raised with a working mom model. My parents, for better or for worse, showed me that you can have a family and have a career.
I don’t have kiddos of my own yet, but when I do, I will encourage them to go in their own direction. Who knows, maybe it will lead them right back home.