Art of Accounting: Parents Fighting with Children

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IMGCAP(1)]I have and had many clients where children work in their parents’ business and have seen a lot of private interactions that shouldn’t have ever occurred, but did.

You might think the time I saw a father and son punching and wrestling with each other would be the worst, but it wasn’t. The worst are the psychological games parents and children play with each other, many times without the arguing or evident disagreements.

In some instances the parents try to relive their lives through their sons or daughters and become jealous of the opportunities their children have that they did not. Then they get extremely upset when those opportunities are not maximized. This manifests itself in a constant nagging and harping, with a lot of nitpicking about how they would have done it better. The child never has a chance to break out and show what they could accomplish.

In other instances the children do not have a clue but are thrust into a situation they would never have gotten into if they had a free choice. These children become nothing more than clock-punching caretakers waiting for their father or mother to pass on so they can sell the business, get a pile of money and then do what they really want—which in my opinion is nothing substantive. They become unhappy people without any ambition or ideas of their own. One reason the children stay is they are making much more than they ever could on their own. In some respects staying is a comfort zone where they do not have to decide what they want to do for themselves. They are relieved of making a decision and can blame their lack of success on Mommy or Daddy.

The wrestling pair also had many yelling matches, but when the fights were over the incidents were forgotten by both. They went forward doing their work, with the son eventually taking the helm and growing the business substantially.

The nitpicking businesses never reach their potential because the bickering never ends, is not forgotten, and is resented by both sides. The bickering spreads throughout the family, causing an even greater resentment by the combatants’ spouses, siblings and sometimes children and grandchildren. Not healthy.

Our job as advisors is to try to steer our clients toward more productive work, but it becomes difficult because there is the lifelong baggage they carry that we could never know about or understand. One thing I learned is to not take sides and to always look for a chance to boost the children, indicating the good things they do. A parent will never get angry when you compliment their son or daughter, but they both will get angry when you admonish their child. Being positive almost always will accomplish more than being negative.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People List. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, published by and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition,” published by the AICPA. Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 964-9329 or

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