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Those Daughters-In-Law

We can't choose in-laws, but we can choose to communicate with them up front.

Time after time, conversations start like this: "Our family members got along just fine till the boys got married." Or, "How do we keep our assets in our fam ily? In-laws aren't family" or, "What do we do if he's going to be with her family on Christmas?"

And so the saga of daughters-in-law begins. What I've learned is that relationships with this group can be the biggest source of pain – or joy.

To gain mutual support, loyalty, respect, and gratitude, it's critical to understand and distinguish behaviors and decisions from a family perspective vs. a business perspective.

Defining these, preferably before rings are exchanged, will require a commitment to honest communication and intentional planning.

Here's the challenge. A daughter-in-law often mar ries into a generations-old family business with literally hundreds of unwritten rules and an unexpressed code of con duct. Her issues range from trying to understand her husband's interac tions within the family and business to finding a role for herself. Maybe she's given up her job and home to live in a more rural setting and now faces expectations, uncertain ties, loneliness, and a wish that she could just fit in.

At a recent young farmer meeting, a daughter-in-law asked, "How long do you have to be married before you get to be family?" The answer should be: "You're family from the minute vows were exchanged." Parents then get to celebrate the ad dition of a new family member, do all they can to support the marriage, and respect the boundaries of a new family unit. The new member now gets to build on the best of family history, respecting tradition and relationships, while negotiating new boundaries. If the parties have mutual reservations, each still gets to be pleasant and polite. Sometimes you get to choose to like someone before you love someone.

Defining a daughter-in-law's relationship to the business requires an expanded mind-set. It takes intentional communi cation and expressed expectations: What, if any, is her role in the business? What are her expectations of the business?

To Each Her Own

Recently, a long-time daughter-in-law shared that she knew from the day she married that she and her sister-in-law would not have a business role.

She said it works out great because she can fully support her husband, provide a bit of balance for him and their life, and celebrate an independent profession. She also was made aware that as a spouse to a family business partner, she would be required to sign personal loan guarantees and agree to terms of a buy/sell agreement.

She said her husband agreed that as he made business deci sions, he would represent her best interests. This meant they continually have conversations where he seeks her input.

At that same meeting, another long-term spouse said she was welcomed into the business as long as she met their employee criteria. She is paid market value for her skills, is a shareholder in the corporation, and is on the family business board of directors, participating in leadership decisions.

The key in both situations? The rules of the game as they relate to the business were known prior to marriage.

By Jolene Brown

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