is it okay to leave my parents’ dysfunctional business and never look back?

A reader writes:

Is it okay to run away from my mother’s web design business and never look back? It’s a cesspool of debt, mismanagement, and abuse.

I have an art degree and no experience or training in running a small business, yet somehow managed to double their gross profits in a year and a half. I uncovered $10,000 in unbilled work and $5,000/year in pointless credit card charges. I installed a task management and time tracking system, a billing system, and a wiki to centralize company documentation. I put up with disorganized, cheap, and nasty clients. I worked evenings and weekends as a web developer, graphic designer, production assistant, project manager, and bookkeeper.

In return for all this, I received zero benefits, zero overtime pay, and a salary that is less than half the average for my field My mother set me up as a contractor instead of an employee so I’d have to pay all my own business expenses and payroll taxes. When I got so fed up with this that I told her I wanted to quit soon, she told me I was a terrible person who didn’t love my family and was abandoning them to starve. My father takes no responsibility for his finances, has declared he is “retired,” and won’t work to support himself despite the fact that they have zero savings, while he travels 3-4 times a year and racks up $250-300/month in online shopping bills.

It was about at that point I finally realized I was being emotionally and financially abused. I took stock of my future, and have enough savings to live on for a year if I’m very careful, plus three standing invitations from non-abusive extended family, a wonderful girlfriend, and another good friend to live rent-free for a few months if I become truly broke. I gave my mother a firm quit date of September 15th, a month out from this letter writing, after hiring four people to replace me. She then told me I am not allowed to quit until at least December. I thought my notice was extremely generous, especially considering I have to take breaks during the work day to stave off anxiety attacks and/or cry, but my sense of what is and is not acceptable in the business world has become so completely warped I feel like a compass needle spinning without a pole.

I’ve tried so hard to keep this dysfunctional business running. Is it okay to just give up and let my parents clean up their own mess?

Yes, yes, yes.

And not only is okay, but it really sounds like you must because you’re miserable and it sounds like you’re being taken advantage of.

It’s great that you helped your parents out for a bit. But that in no way obligates you to do it indefinitely, until they’re “willing” to let you stop. And no, your mother doesn’t get to tell you that you’re not allowed to quit until December. You’re an independent adult, not an indentured servant, and it’s absolutely reasonable to quit on your own timeline, particularly with generous notice like you’ve given.

Your mom’s response that you don’t love your family tells you all you need to know here, unfortunately — she’s willing to try to make you feel horrible in order to manipulate you into doing what she wants.

The proper response from a parent in this situation is “Thank you for all the help you’ve given us,” not “You suck.”

Stick to your plan and leave knowing that you did nothing wrong here.

{ 130 comments… read them below }

  1. Joey

    Ah, a parent throwing guilt as a way to keep taking advantage of her child. Nice.

    I don’t think you should look at is as giving up. Its more showing your parents that they need to be able to run their own business so you can get on with your career.

    1. The IT Manager

      Making the LW an independent contractor really does speak to a taking advantage when the jack of all trades position described is clearly not a contract type position. (Although its not the kind of job that would earn OT either.)

  2. The IT Manager

    This is not business advice, but personal. Your family’s actions are making you physically ill, impacting your mental health, and risking your career progression and own retirement savings. A functional, loving family would not ask this of you. I’m sorry what that says about your own family.

    Obviously your parents will need financial support in the future. You can choose to give it or not then. But if you want the possibility to be able to help, you need to get started in your career and be able to putsave for your own needs. Quit, mentally regroup, and start job hunting for a position that pays you market value and doesn’t make you crazy,

  3. Ruffingit

    Threaten to turn her into the IRS for treating an employee like a contractor. I’m willing to bet that you’re actually an employee under the IRS standards.

    Really though, the best plan is just to get out. You have managed to put yourself in a great position to leave by saving enough to live for a year and mobilizing your friends/family to help you through the transition. I would also recommend some counseling. What is going on in your family is beyond garden variety dysfunction, it’s abusive and it may help to have a few sessions with a therapist to work it out. Or even join a free support group in your area if possible. Co-dependents anonymous (CODA) might be a good start. Google them for groups in your town.

    It’s interesting to me that your family told you “I was a terrible person who didn’t love my family and was abandoning them to starve” when they offered you half the normal salary and no benefits. Good thing you didn’t need surgery or to be hospitalized, that would have wiped you out financially and probably caused bankruptcy since you had no benefits and yet, YOU’RE the one who is leaving your family to starve? OK then.

    Keep to the Sept. 15th date of leaving and no matter what, DO NOT backslide into assisting them on a smaller scale than you have been or pitching in or whatever. You’ve done what you can. You need to leave this behind ASAP.

    1. fposte

      “Threaten to turn her into the IRS for treating an employee like a contractor.” Oh, I like your style, Ruffingit.

      (And I’m sure I’m not the only one who said “Yes, absolutely,” based only on the post title.)

      1. Ruffingit

        You’re definitely not the only one who answered immediately just based on the title. And thanks for the compliment, I’m a fight fire with fire type (when it’s appropriate). People who are being asshat employers should really make sure their hands are clean if they’re going to calling the OP a dirt digger. Anyone who is abusive like this deserves to have their legs cut out from under them and really should not be jerks to the OP since the OP is holding the chainsaw that can sever those legs.

    2. WIncredible

      Actually, OP may have a case with state or federal Dept. of Labor for unpaid work as an employee. Good call.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Realistically, though, that’s throwing a major bomb into a family relationship. I think the OP’s best bet is to just get out, not bring legal action against family members, which is something the relationships might not ever recover from.

        1. Rayner

          Judging from the horrible mother and father, I don’t know that I’d be so willing to hold back.

          But then again, I am not OP :P

        2. Mike C.

          Are there any situations where you will actually encourage and employee to report someone for unpaid wages or misclassification of employment? I may have missed some, but it feels like whenever the topic comes up, you always strongly caution someone against going after wages they are legally due without any discussion of the process or the upside.

          Why is this? it’s not the the OP needs to hire a lawyer and take someone to court, it’s a simple matter of reporting the issue to the state labor board and providing documentation.

          Given that the simple act of leaving is going to cause all sorts of issues, I’m going to guess that the OP is going to be needed that money as soon as possible, and the added issue of having to actually pay wages isn’t going to alter things all that much. It’s clearly an abusive relationship, and the OP is going to need all the help they can get.

          1. Mike C.

            There was one OP a long while back that wanted to reclassify all hourly workers as exempt to save money, so there was an example of you shutting it down on the managerial end.

          2. Ask a Manager Post author

            I’ve certainly encouraged it before. But bringing legal action against family members is a whole different ballgame — one that the OP’s relationships might never recover from (including relationships with extended family who hear about it). I don’t think most people would be interested in doing that.

            1. Jessa

              Plus honestly, I don’t think the money is THERE. All that would accomplish is putting what’s left of the business on the block and killing even the slightest chance of any future where the OP may decide later to talk to the family again.

              I just don’t see the upside here. Unless the OP wants to cut the family off at the knees in which case go for it.

              1. mel

                I personally feel like there are many situations in which a person shouldn’t feel obligated to know someone just because they are family! There’s a lot of pressure to “make things work” and to respect our elders and “why cant we all just get alloooonnnggg??” But at some point, family becomes overrated and very cuttable.

        3. Ruffingit

          Yes, that is a concern, which is why I mentioned that really, the OP should just get out. However, if the parents are going to make a huge stink about the OP ruining their lives or what have you, there’s always the fallback of “You know what Mom and Dad? I’m actually doing you a huge favor in not reporting you to the IRS or labor board AND I can’t continue being complicit in allowing you to defraud the IRS by treating me as a contractor. So it’s your choice to let me leave quietly or we can make this into the mess you actually deserve.”

          1. fposte

            It’s a nuclear option, certainly. But I think the OP may not even realize she *has* a nuclear option like this, and it can be bolstering to realize that these possibilities exist, even if you don’t want the fallout from using them.

            1. Ruffingit

              Oh agreed. Knowing the options, even if you don’t use them, is always a plus because so many people are uninformed about what their employment options are.

              Personally, I’d have no problem turning family members like this into the IRS or labor board. But then, I cut off two of my close family members due to their Chernobyl-like toxicity. That said though, I am not judging those who choose not to go this route. It’s a very personal thing and one must decide what they need to do to feel good about their relationships, etc.

              1. John

                I’d say that ending or strictly controlling contact is better than retaliating when it comes to family, which it sounds like you understand. Retaliating just makes it take longer to get your new life going.

                Narcissists want the conflict, and work to create it. The only winning move is not to play, even though not balancing the scales initially violates our sense of fairness. But it’s better to cut your losses, introduce some boundaries, and not give in when the tantrums start.

                If they have any decency, they’ll respect the new boundaries, even if they don’t understand why they’re necessary. And everyone can be happy, or at least decent toward each other — but the process requires standing firm. Too many people are afraid to do that, and then resent others for making it so they have to.

          2. Bean

            Ruffingit – I would not go the route of threatening them. This has the possibility of causing just as much of an issue as actually reporting them, as OP’s parents are clearly unreasonable and will go to other family members and say how OP threatened them in addition to leaving their company. At least with OP leaving the company the way they are planning to (gracefully and with a decent amount of notice), family members will understand where OP is coming from.

            1. Ruffingit

              I suspect the sane family members will understand where the OP is coming from regardless of any threats she makes to her parents. That said though, as I mentioned above, what one does in terms of family relationships is a personal thing and dependent on many factors. I wish the OP a lot of luck in dealing with this. No matter what she does in terms of labor issues, leaving them is an absolute MUST because the environment is toxic financially and emotionally.

            2. Original Poster

              Getting my parents into legal trouble is a poor option in my situation, and one, on reflection, I am not going to pursue. My completely blameless younger brother is still finishing up school and semi-dependent on their meager financial resources, so I’m extremely leery of anything that will put him in the line of fire.

              Plus, my mother is charming as all hell when she wants to be, and gets the gold medal in the Feigned Victimhood Olympics. I am legit scared she could succeed in turning a lot of the extended family against me unless my own behavior during this breakaway is absolutely impeccable.

              1. Ruffingit

                Fair enough and I respect your position. Whatever you do though, definitely leave the business and don’t look back. Don’t help, don’t consult, don’t answer any questions. Just get out. And, huge kudos to you for recognizing the abusiveness of the situation and taking steps not to internalize it as your problem. This is decidedly NOT your problem, you’ve got two parents with major abusive patterns and you are entitled to free yourself from that toxicity.

              2. Anonymous

                I would be surprised if your extended family didn’t already know how manipulative your parents are. I had an emotionally abusive father (I never worked for him, though). After a lot of soul-searching I realised that, I do not want nor need these type of people in my life. It was not my fault or my problem. My family knew what he was like and understood my decision and were very sympathetic.
                Take a stand and your family will stand by you!

                1. dck

                  it really depends – some people recognize the abusive people, and some abusive people are so sweet to anyone they are not abusing that noone else will take your side if you split away. I will take the OP’s word that his mother is in the second category and treading lightly is the way to go. Good Luck OP – leaving a toxic family is pretty hard, adding in leaving their business must be even harder. Hope you find someplace that suits you quickly.

                2. mel

                  This is very true! If one member of the family acts like a beast to her immediate family, the rest of the family will know. They might not act like they know and be passive bystanders and nod and smile, but when you leave home and spend time alone with them, the polite facade is replaced with truth.

        4. Elizabeth West

          Reasonably, I think these people are totally toxic and unless the OP has siblings with whom he must maintain a relationship with ties to the parents, I think he’s perfectly justified in turning his back on them forever.

          These relationships are already so toxic I’m not sure they’re worth saving. But I’m not sure the OP would get anything from them in the event of a court order, either. So it might not be worth it monetarily.

        5. Sara M

          I agree–I’m sure OP has a case, but realistically, I think just getting out is the better idea.

          There are some people who need to cut their parents out of their lives completely. I don’t know if you’re one of those or not. A good therapist would be really helpful for assessing that.

        6. foxforcefive

          On top of that, it’s continuing to enmesh herself in the relationship in the hopes of ‘winning’ or getting revenge. There’s no getting revenge in an abusive situation – there’s only getting out, for your own sanity.

      2. Ed

        I was in this situation in my first IT job, called the DOL after I realized I was actually an employee and got a ton of back pay. I gave them the opportunity to fix things but they didn’t care. I know they were out back pay into six figures because then they were audited for the other “contractors” as well. However, if that was a family job I would have sucked it up and just left.

        As far as getting another job, the fact that your mom is freaking out tells you what a solid skill set you have to offer another company. Many of these mom and pop IT companies are in reality built around a single employee. That’s why non-compete clauses are so important. You probably don’t want to screw your parents but under different circumstances, I would suggest approaching your biggest clients about a job.

    3. Original Poster

      I did some research into employment law several months ago and mentioned that this employment misclassification was A Serious Problem. And probably ILLEGAL. They promised to fix it and never did. I’m not ready to sic the IRS or a lawyer on them until I’m safely out and ensconced in a real job, if ever.

      The cherry on this whole crap cake is that my dad’s worked as a union activist and the company bills itself as ‘progressive’ and an ‘ally of the labor movement’. Half a dozen of our clients are unions or nonprofit worker justice organizations! The hypocrisy almost turned my eyeballs inside out.

      1. Ruffingit

        Ah, hypocrisy hello there! Yeah, it’s got to be galling to have to deal with this given your father’s previous affiliations. That said, I am glad you recognize that this is abusive and insane and I hope you free yourself forever from the ties that bind because this is really, really unhealthy. Get some therapy too because with this kind of abusive behavior, you’ll need some help in coming to terms with your right to set boundaries. This kind of crazy is not easily contained, but there’s a lot you can do to assist yourself in keeping a safe distance from it.

    4. Jen M.

      It might also be a good idea to change your home/cell phone number, and if you move, not leave a forwarding address. It sounds like she will harass you after you leave.

      I am so sorry you are going through this, and I hope you find a great job in the near future!

  4. KarenT

    Walking away from any family business takes strength, but your situation is even more extreme.
    OP, you only get one life to live. Please don’t spend it trying to sort out your mother’s mess. You deserve an enriching, rewarding, and enjoyable career.
    I find it heartbreaking that your mother isn’t grateful for the help you’ve given thus far. I also can promise you this won’t change. Please move on, for the sake of your health, your sanity, and your financial success.

  5. Colette

    I’m with everybody else – get out. Your parents are taking advantage of you and of your relationship with them.

    And I also agree with those who are telling you to move out. It will be better for you personally and for your relationship with your parents to have some space, since it’s clear that you all are struggling to set appropriate boundaries.

  6. B

    Be strong and realize you need to leave not only for your mental health but also physical. Let your friends and extended family help you. It sounds like they realize what a bad situation this is, which is also quite telling.

  7. Natalie

    This isn’t professional advice, per se, but given your own assessment of your parents as abusive and the fact that you are having anxiety attacks and crying jags, please consider getting some professional counseling.

    Seeing a therapist regarding my own relationship with my mother was literally the best decision I ever made in my entire life. It’s paid dividends I would never have expected – I am actually leaning on those years of counseling to get through a really difficult situation right now. A++, would buy again, as the kids say on the internet.*

    *The kids probably stopped saying that years ago.

    1. Calla

      I agree. My mom is emotionally abusive among other things. A few months ago I finally started seeing a counselor. That coincided with some other changes regarding the family relationship (my father, who is also manipulated by her despite them being divorced for 20 years, also broke away from her), and I am probably the happiest I’ve ever been! Having someone to help me work it out and recognize the patterns, etc. has been great. It’s a huge relief.

      1. TheSnarkyB

        I agree with all of this. Also, if severing ties (even partially) with family seems like an overwhelming possibility, there are multiple places to go for support. I’m especially in love with the Mental Illness Podcast w/ Paul Gilmartin (Mentalpod.com). Check it out! :)

      2. Ruffingit

        I just want to say KUDOS to you for getting therapy and bettering your emotional life! I am so glad you are feeling better after so many years of abuse. No one should have to suffer that way and it’s great to hear of people who realize that and stand up for themselves against the decades of pain. It’s not easy, especially when it’s parents who are abusive. Way to go!

  8. Jesse

    If you wanted to work with your parents (which I’m not advocating) then as a contractor you have the right to set your own price. I’m fairly certain that your Mother’s head would spin when you presented her the bill.

    Since that’s the case, walking away is just fine. Contractors are allowed to walk away from jobs that don’t suit their needs.

    1. Ed

      I had never considered this as an option but that’s a good idea. OP could say if he stays, he wants a contract at a higher rate. Then he would submit a bill listing every hour worked. I was in the same situation as OP (minus the family aspect) but at least I was paid a decent rate ($25/hr for entry-level tech about 12 years ago).

      1. Sara M

        I think the parents wouldn’t pay this money at all, and the OP would then be in an even worse position. Getting out is the only viable option I see.

  9. My 2 Cents

    I worked for several years in my parent’s business and it did nothing but strain our relationship. Taking care of all of the finances for the business, I had to continually hide from my father that my mother was using the business as a slush fund so she could keep up a gambling addiction. To top it all off, one day I accidentally left some damning evidence sit out where my dad saw it and he finally realized that my mother was gambling all the time. He died of a heart attack a few days later and of course I can’t help but think that it is because of the deep betrayal of what he had discovered.

    On the bright side, my mom and I actually have a good relationship today, so even the worst circumstances don’t mean that it is doomed for eternity, I am willing to bet that in a few years you’ll actually have a much healthier relationship with your parents once you step away from this poisonous atmosphere.

  10. JC

    Sending you good vibes here!

    You have so much to offerj, OP! You’ve done so much even at a dysfunctional workplace, I’m excited to see what you’ll achieve at a place that values what you bring to the organization.

    With this experience, you can start your own business or help others streamline theirs. Leave this mess behind. You’ll do great things for others who deserve it.

    1. JZ

      Exactly!
      While no one should have to go through this with family/at all, I think the bright side of your situation might be in all of the fantastic working experience you gained as a result of this – “Web developer, graphic designer, production assistant, project manager, and bookkeeper”. It sounds like with all of this experience, you’ll end up on top.

  11. Jim

    Don’t even think twice leave the company as soon as possible. Don’t look back, it will be the best thing for you in the long run.

  12. WIncredible

    Leave. NOW. Go, just go. This is about your mental and physical health. Take a little time to readjust, then hit the job market with all the skills you’ve learned. Best wishes.

  13. Nodumbunny

    Chiming in to add my voice to the others saying you are doing nothing wrong and in fact are being very strong in getting yourself out of an abusive situation. Your parents are emotionally abusing you. Take care of yourself and get out of there. Best of luck to you and let us know how it goes!

  14. Tiff

    RUUUNNNN FOREST!

    And not just from the job. From that family too. If I were you I would limit interaction with the (very) rare phone conversation. They sound emotionally abusive. They will continue to spin you around until you cut off their access to you.

    Lord, reading this made me want to slap somebody.

    1. rlm

      Yes – this is what I was coming to say. People who are emotionally abusive like this will continue to pour on the guilt and make you feel like you’ve made the wrong decision. I’d recommend very limited contact for a while (several months at least) until you have some distance to gain clarity of the situation.

    2. Chinook

      I agree that you need to leave the business and put some space between you and your parents. when they call after your Sept. 15th deadline, if you feel the need to talk to them, remember that you no longer work for them and DO NOT answer any work related questions (on pain of being whipped with a wet noodle by the AAM commenting crew). This is hard enough to do whenever you leave a job but will be doubly hard because you still care about your family.

      Be prepared for that conversation and write a script for how you will respond to any work-related questions. Do not waffle. Do not give them room to negotiate. Tell them no and change the topic.

    3. Elizabeth West

      Me too. I was all ready to hit my monitor, but obviously that doesn’t do anthing. Might make me feel better though.

      I have not known anyone in similar situations whose abusive and toxic family member ever changed. They just had to change the way they dealt with them, or limit / cut off their interactions with that person.

    4. Rana

      Yes, yes, yes. Yes to all of that.

      OP, if you’re not familiar with it, you might go to the Captain Awkward site and look up her posts (and the comments that go with them) regarding toxic families and the importance of setting boundaries with them, for your own health and safety. And I agree with the people upthread suggesting counseling.

      This is an evil, bad, no good situation, and you’re too close to it right now. Get out, find a safe space, and deal with the fall out later.

      Good luck!

      1. Rana

        Also, as that deadline approaches, and it dawns on them that you actually mean it this time, expect their guilt trips and pressure and whatnot to ramp up. Given that, be prepared to bail early – that deadline is a favor to them, and if they’re going to abuse you in return, you owe them nothing.

      2. Original Poster

        Captain Awkward is my hero! It was her blog that allowed me to begin recognizing the abuse for what it was and then starting the process of getting out in the first place.

  15. FD

    Agreeing with everyone here. In addition,

    If you can do it, it would probably be wise to give yourself a little bit of a break between the time you leave your family and the time you hit the job market. You can know in your head that you’re doing the right thing–and you are!–but you will probably still feel guilty about it in your heart. Additionally, the fact that your mother is willing to not only guilt-trip you but also go so far as to say you don’t love them speaks (as you’ve hinted) that there’s probably been a long-term pattern of manipulation and abuse. So, be prepared for the fact that once you get out of the situation, it may hit you really hard. Sometimes, when you’re in a situation, you’re in ’emergency’ mode all the time, so you get some effects, but your mind and body are sort of shut down to the essentials. In many cases, it actually hits you harder after you get out of the situation, because your mind and body are starting to re-engage.

    That’s not to say don’t do it! But if you can, it’d be really really helpful if you could give yourself some time to decompress after you move out. Seeing a therapist might not be a bad idea, if it’s affordable and if you feel it would help. (That’s not to insult therapists, only that the people who tend to get the most out of it tend to be people who feel it can help, as versed to people who are there because they think they ‘should be’ there.)

    If you can’t afford to give yourself some down time, I would suggest maybe starting off a little easier on yourself, such as taking a temporary or part time job to build up funds, but something that won’t require a deep degree of emotional engagement.

    Best of luck, OP! I truly believe that you have a lot to offer, considering what you were able to do in just about the worst possible conditions!

  16. AdAgencyChick

    OP, totally agree with everyone else who’s said to get out of this miserable situation. Do not wait until December (she’s only going to tell you then that she can’t spare you until April).

    What I’m afraid of for you is that your mother will try to get you to do side work for her even after you’ve quit. Practice “No, Ma, I’m afraid I don’t have time for that with my new job” or “Okay, Ma, but I’m going to have to charge you $200 an hour, and I’ll need it in advance” (IF you are even willing to do that — I wouldn’t be) until it rolls off your tongue.

  17. PJ

    I love the “never look back” part of the title of this message. Very healthy!

    LW, I have been in this situation, although not with a family member — but with someone with whom I had a similar complex, sticky, complicated relationship who should have treated me well but didn’t.

    I would like to suggest that if abuse or guilt-dumping escalates between now and September 15 you should leave early, with no notice and without feeling bad about it, if you can manage it. There is no relationship in the world that requires you to be abused. If you get push-back about this, ignore it. Your mother is in the wrong here, not you. It’s clear that she will not look out for you, so you must do that for yourself.

    If you are currently living with your parents move out NOW if you can. If not, that’s better. You need to give yourself as firm a foundation as possible in order to get through this.

    And based on my own experience, what FD said is very true. It takes quite a while to work through the abuse you’ve been living under. Give yourself some elbow room.

    A mother should NOT be doing this to her child!

    1. PJ

      “especially considering I have to take breaks during the work day to stave off anxiety attacks and/or cry…”

      Just re-read this part. Mom’s escalation is not the only thing that should be a motivator to leave early. If the strain gets too much for you, get outa there NOW. Don’t wait till Sept. 15. It appears as though you are the only one looking out for you — TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF!

    2. Original Poster

      I am not living under the same roof with my folks, thank god, although I am still in the same city. When I was at ‘home’ during college, it plunged me into depression so deep I spent every single day for months on end wishing I had the nerve to just jump off a bridge. The abuse and manipulation were never anything but verbal, and done so skillfully and subtly it took me years to recognize it for what it was.

      I do now plan to take two weeks off before plunging full-speed into a job search. Thank you!

      1. Doy

        Re-read FD.

        It’s going to take a lot longer than 2 weeks. You need down time. You really need down time. With people who like you. You need down time.

        Take care. All of us are looking forward to hearing from you in a year- you are very talented and have a great future in front of you.

        1. PJ

          Two weeks is a good start. Although it will take a great deal longer to work through this, it’s quite possible that two weeks will give the LW enough of a breather to be functional in a job search. S/he is not catatonic (having read his/her contributions to the comments, I’m encouraged by the spunk I see, as well as the clarity as to his/her situation.

          LW, wo weeks is good, then re-assess. But, be mindful of the danger of making this your excuse to hide out.

        2. LMW

          I get what you and FD are saying, but I think that a new job can offer a new sense of purpose and potential that might be good for the OP, too. I don’t know the OP well enough to say for sure. But I can say that I know plenty of people who don’t do well without work or specific goals or routine, so extended time off is always the best option for everyone.
          When I left a bad employment situation, I didn’t have the financial means to take time off, and I was really worried I’d be burnt out (I was so emotionally drained at that point, and my situation was no where near as bad as the OP’s). Instead I was invigorated by the healthy atmosphere and opportunities at my new job.
          OP, whether you jump back in sooner or later, I really hope you feel that way at your new job!

          1. FD

            That’s a very good point! People can be very different and some people find they do best with jumping right into something else to keep their mind off it. Just be careful if you take that path that you don’t use it to avoid dealing with what needs to be dealt with.

      2. Anonymous

        May I suggest you get out of town for those two weeks? Buy a ticket to somewhere you’ve been wanting to visit, throw on a backpack, leave the cellphone behind (or buy a cheap burner phone), and get out of reach.

  18. Ed

    Agree with what everyone has said but also, if you work directly with some of your customers (i.e. they clearly know it’s you, not the company doing the work), you might want to line up some references. I can’t imagine your parents will give you a very convincing reference, if they give one at all.

    1. Diane

      Your family is not going to change. I’m sorry.

      In fact, they will probably escalate the nastiness and guilt. This is NOT YOUR FAULT. It’s okay to say no, simply and clearly and repeatedly. It’s okay to shut down the discussion with, “I already told you no. We will not discuss this further.” Walk away if you have to. You do not owe them an explanation, and in fact if you try to use reason, your mother will see it as an open door to prolong the discussion. Do not engage.

      I’ll echo what others are saying here. Move out now. Make sure your portfolio is up to date and far, far away from this business. Ditto with any other documentation you may need or want in the future, and especially contacts and references from vendors and clients. Spend your time between now and September 15 creating simple how-do documents for yourself in future work. Do not work one second past your end date.

      In fact, if your mother’s behavior worsens, you can move up your end date (once you are moved out, your documents are backed up, and your contacts are up to date).

      Good luck.

      1. Colette

        It’s okay to say no, simply and clearly and repeatedly. It’s okay to shut down the discussion with, “I already told you no. We will not discuss this further.” Walk away if you have to. You do not owe them an explanation, and in fact if you try to use reason, your mother will see it as an open door to prolong the discussion.

        Yes. This is so true, applies to so many situations, and so many of us have a hard time getting there. It’s OK to look out for yourself, and to decline when people ask you to do things that aren’t right for you.

    2. Original Poster

      This is a great suggestion. I’m going to draft emails to my three favorite clients about providing professional references. Two of them are among the highest-profile in our client pool and I have a hunch one might even follow of his own volition to continue working with me on a freelance basis.

      1. Anonymous

        Also, change passwords to your email and social networking accounts if you’ve ever used them at work or on a machine your parents have access to. Protect your bank accounts, credit cards and identity in general. Consider moving banks if you bank at the same institution as your parents, particularly since your mother can be persuasive.

        Also, insist that the new employees change every single password you have used, and arrange yourself to have your name officially removed from and your access revoked to every single account, credit card, etc, related to the business. You don’t want to take the blame for any irregularities that occur after you leave.

        1. voluptuousfire

          +1. I was going to say the same thing but thought it sounded a bit paranoid. Glad I’m not the only one who thinks this way. :)

          I was also going to suggest getting a PO Box if the OP was living with the family so no mail could be intercepted, but that’s not a problem.

          Overall it’s a crappy situation but the OP is handing it as best as they can. Be glad you have your wits about you. A lot of people would crumble in that situation and you didn’t. Good luck!

        2. Pat

          +1. I’d go further and say you should take into account that these “irregularities” that may begin to occur *before* you leave. Your parents do not sound above being vindictive. If they think you’re really really going to go on the 15th Sept they may try and do something prior to that date to make it harder for you to leave. Or just to mess with you.

          Protect yourself as outlined in the post above now. Don’t assume you’ll have the option later. You may turn up to work tomorrow and find all the locks on the doors have been changed, and you are a persona non grata.

          Also don’t let your mother get wind of the idea you’re going to ask clients for references.

  19. Elle D

    Agreed with everyone else that you need to get out now! This sounds like a crazy stressful situation to be in, and you will be so relieved once you’ve finally moved on and put some distance between yourself and this work/life

    That said, while you probably thought of this already, before you leave take some time to gather up any files, emails, etc. that will be useful to you in your job search. Make sure you have copies of the work you produced to include in your portfolio, contact information for any functional clients you may have had to serve as references, and paystubs etc. to prove you worked there. If there are any emails that positively describe contributions you made to a project or to the company, print those and forward them to a personal email address. Good luck!

  20. Mishsmom

    OP, it’s going to be uncomfortable and painful, but less so than staying. a family who would take advantage of their own is not a “normal” family. you’re playing by rules with people who don’t have rules. just get out. i would not even give them the september 15th date, i would just get out – for your mental health. and again, it’ll be painful and confusing but life-saving. i would not take them to court *only* because then you’d have to have further contact with them that you are not in control of (how long, for what reason, etc.) please leave and let your head and heart get clear on who you are, what you are worth, and that just because you’re related does not make them smart or knowledgeable or anything but relatives (who do not have your best interest at heart). remember, OP, these are not people who live by what’s decent to do or the right thing to do – no rules here for them – so don’t expect them to be fair and caring. i’m so sorry for your situation :(

  21. coconutwater

    Time to take care of YOU! Find a Therapist who deals with Family of Origin who can help you heal from the abuse. Yes, what you are describing is abuse. And get out ASAP! Take care of yourself in the process and get your own mailing address, like a Post Office Box and start forwarding your mail now. Leaving is a very healthy sign, so give yourself permission to feel good about walking away.

  22. Amanda H

    As everyone has said, absolutely, get out now. Because it’s unlikely that Mom would give you a decent reference (which, honestly may not be a bad thing, because I think many employers would have been suspicious of a glowing reference from a parent), you may want to see about taking as much documentation as you can of the the improvements you made to the business.
    However, you’re the best judge of what would be safe in that area; it seems to me that your mom could get very proprietary over things. And she doesn’t sound like the sort who would want to avoid getting lawyers involved when it comes to family.

    Best of luck, OP!

  23. Denise

    My nephew could have wrote this. I absolutely hate what my sister-in-law and her husband are doing to their kids. It sounds like you are at least getting paid. My nephew is currently owed several thousand in back pay!! Please do what my own 24-year-old nephew can’t seem to do and get out of there. If your situation is anything similar to his (and it sure sounds like it), your presence is simply stalling the day of reckoning that the business needs, where your parents will finally grow up and learn how to turn it around, or close it. Good luck to you!!

    1. Anne 3

      Aw I feel bad for your nephew. Maybe you could email him the link to this post and he might see a way out?

  24. Original Poster

    Alison & the askamanager.org regulars, thank you for so much the support and concrete, helpful suggestion… all in less than two hours! It is incredibly helpful in the process of recalibrating my bullshit-o-meter.

    The environment I grew up in framed performing self-care as the gravest sin I could ever commit. I have realized in the last few months that this is not a concept decent parents would ever impart to their children. I can only thank my lucky stars I figured this out before I ended up getting romantically involved with a PHYSICALLY abusive individual, which I understand happens to a horrifying number of women coming out of my situation.

    I do plan to look into counseling, although I may have to put that off until I have something resembling an income again. Independently housing and feeding myself > everything else.

    1. Elizabeth West

      Check around with the county mental health system; sometimes you can find decent counselors that work on a sliding fee scale.

      Good luck! *HUG*

      1. Sara M

        I had terrific luck with the Jewish Family and Children’s Services for sliding-scale therapy. You don’t have to be Jewish! I’m not. They never once mentioned religion and the only “odd” thing I noticed was they were closed on some holidays I didn’t celebrate. :)

        http://www.jfcs.org/

        They are in many cities and they often provide sliding-scale services and medications if needed. I believe I paid $20/visit (once a week) instead of a more typical $70-100, and free meds (would have been $300/month at the pharmacy). It depends on that particular group’s funding and your situation and income; in my case, they covered me for the 6 months until my employer’s benefits started.

        And now that I’m more stable, I donate money to them when I can. (So if you feel odd about sliding-scale, just consider it something to repay if/when you can.)

        I think a therapist might really, really help here. A good therapist feels like a cross between a wise aunt/uncle, and a really good friend (at least they feel that way to me). A bit older and more experienced in life, but still easy to talk to.

        Good luck. You are so awesome for recognizing that you need to leave this situation.

        1. Original Poster

          The few sliding-scale mental health resource I’ve contacted in my city either had waitlists a mile long, or didn’t slide down far enough. :(

          I hadn’t tried this one yet though, and there is a chapter
          nearby-ish.

          1. Pussyfooter

            It’s my understanding that mental health will be included in the ACA (“Obamacare”) as of January 2014….however disorganized it may be at the start….:’/

          2. dck

            Even if you have to wait until you get a job do think about going to therapy. There is something freeing about talking to someone who has no dog in the fight and can give you a truly objective opinion – and who you can tell everything to and not worry about anything coming to bite you later.

    2. Calla

      OP, re: counseling, look at social/community service centers in your area, which may provide free counseling for this situation. I am actually getting my counseling about my mom through the local SA crisis center, which provides 12 sessions free of charge.

    3. Natalie

      You may be able to find counseling or other types of support that are free or low cost. There are some places online that offer “supportive listening” counseling for free – 7 Cups of Tea and the Samaritans are two that come to mind. I haven’t personally used either of them but they both seem decent. NAMI is also a great resource – they have a phone-based helpline and discussion forums.

        1. graciesonnet

          Good luck, OP. It’s a bad situation but it sounds like you’re taking great steps to extricate yourself from it.
          If we’re going to be talking Captain Awkward too (her and Allison feel like my internet best friends or something), she has an awesome thread on how to locate free or low-cost counseling. It’s mostly geared towards the US and Canada but the comments have some information about other countries too:
          http://tinyurl.com/cljt5cd
          Good luck with everything!

    4. FD

      I’m glad you’re able to see that there is some recalibration to do! A lot of times, that’s the hardest first step–realizing that what you’re used to putting up with really isn’t normal at all.

      Just one more bit of advice, too, for you or anyone else in a similar situation.

      When your bullshit-o-meter has been screwed up your whole life, it takes a long time to reset it. And sometimes, you might start recognizing cognitively that something is bullshit before you feel in your gut that it’s bullshit. The pernicious thing is, that can make you feel guilty. Like, “I know this is bullshit, but why do I feel bad about it?” And you can start blaming yourself for having trouble re-adjusting.

      Maybe you won’t go through this, and I hope you don’t, but if you do YOU ARE NOT BROKEN OR STUPID FOR HAVING TROUBLE GETTING YOUR HEAD AND GUT IN LINE. You are not permanently screwed up because weird, irrational behavior makes more intuitive ‘sense’ to you than rational human behavior. You are not weak or foolish for putting up with it as long as you did.

      You already made the best out of a sucky situation, OP, and I wish you the very best of luck.

  25. OR

    If you can’t do counseling for whatever reason ($, time, no access to an EAP, Etc.), I would suggest the book Feel Good. The book is the foundation of cognative behavioral counseling and really teaches you how to recognize negative patterns of thinking (in yourself or others) and how to respond to those critics. While I think the book is mainly used to treat depression… I have used several of the techniques when responding (even if it is just in my head) to negative people and it has completely changed my life and made me a happier person and set better boundaries. Also, I just found the blog “Baggage Reclaim.” and it is a great resources for learning how to set boundaries… while most of the blog subject matter is focused on boundaries with significant others, there are several posts on how to set boundaries with families and I constantly extrapolate the subject matter to other areas in my life. Here is my favorite post that I reread from time to time:http://www.baggagereclaim.co.uk/boundaries-in-relationships-understanding-your-personal-electric-fence/

  26. Dan

    OP,

    It sounds so trite for everybody to just say “run.” But as somebody who has “BTDT” with messed up family relationships, running is what I had to do.

    My therapist (and further reading on various subjects) was good at helping me figure out what I can do differently to produce a different outcome (not much) and when to accept the situation for what it is and head for the hills (in this case, divorce.)

    These days, when I read stories about manipulative, demanding people who have no concern for you, my first thought is “narcissistic personality disorder” (married to that, it was a mess in the end). The thing with PD’s is that there are no magic pills, and people will only change when they want to, which is probably because they have to. And they have to only when they torch a bunch of relationships that they actually value.

    You’ll just end up killing yourself (perhaps literally) if you stick around. Narcissists are soul suckers who will drain every ounce of you and not care. They’ll just move on to the next one.

    You’d don’t owe your parents anything just because they gave birth to you. That’s just guilt tripping on other people’s parts, people who are worried about having to clean up the mess if you leave.

    You have an obligation to yourself first. You’re no good to anybody else if you can’t take care of yourself.

    1. Ruffingit

      God bless you (or whatever deity you believe in. General blessings if you’re atheist) for putting up with a NPD spouse. That is a special kind of hell. I worked for a couple where it was clear to me that the wife was NPD and the husband suffered abuse that was just mind-boggling. I can’t even imagine. Glad you got free of that.

  27. A Bug!

    This went really fast with a lot of great advice. I wanted to throw in my support for whatever you choose to do, it sounds like you’ve got your head on straight.

    Your mom says you don’t love your family, but you’ve given her business a huge boost with little in return; based on the actions of the people involved, your mom is projecting, big time. If your mom loved you, she wouldn’t be asking you to sacrifice your career this way. Your parents raised you, I’m assuming, but that doesn’t mean you are their indentured slave; don’t let guilt keep you from doing what’s best for you.

    Best of luck!

    1. Not So NewReader

      My thoughts exactly. Giving you life by birthing, does not equal indentured servant status for the rest of your life!
      If they loved you they would not ask you to work yourself into an early grave.
      Uh. Just curious, I see your list of what you have done. Do your parents do ANY work at all?
      You definitely got a baptism by fire but you probably could run your own biz. I mean if you can single-handedly keep a biz going that others were sabotaging, imagine what you could do if you worked with people who wanted to succeed????

      Stand next to people who can say “Thanks!” You deserve people who appreciate your skills.

  28. JustMe

    Your mom is engaging in emotional manipulation. If this were not your mother, would you have stuck around this long? Absolutely NOT!!!

    Let your “yes” be your “yes” and your “no” be your “no”. Stick to September 15th and DO NOT BUDGE and do not allow yourself to be manipulated anymore.

    Do yourself a HUGE favor and get out of there. Your physical, mental and emotional health depends on it.

    And by the way…your mom sucks. Who does that?!

  29. Mohamed

    Woow, unbelievable! I have two young daughters and I would die for them and shocked your own parents did this to you. I am not judging them but I am genuinely shocked. You must be really a nice person to put up with this.

  30. A teacher

    Just wanted to say good luck to the OP. when you come from a crazy family it is often hard to see the dynamic for what it is until a lot has happened. Get out and give yourself time to gain perspective about how toxic it is and how you are a survivor and not a victim. Kudos to you for seeing the situation for what it is. From one person from a toxic family to another, all the best!

  31. Jessa

    Echoing Alison in 100pt headline caps. GET OUT NOW. Go. Feel no guilt. Let them give you no guilt. You have done your beholden duty to family and more than that. Go. Give yourself the permission to love yourself first and put your own health (mental AND physical) ahead of this. GO.

  32. Pussyfooter

    Hi OP,
    I apologize for not reading the other posts today–no time.

    My first thought at the post’s title was “heck ya!” Then I read it through and found that not only are you NOT being thoughtless or casting your family off with without real compassion, this is actually a situation of emotional abuse. It starts in your family dynamic and just happens to poison your work life too.

    These people were adults (physically anyway) when they got to choose to have you and the responsibilities of supporting you. You didn’t get to choose to be indebted to them. And you are not.
    I’m certain that THEY believe you owe them something, but their behaviors are so far from reality that you need to ignore their opinions on this topic.

    To be blunt, my Mom’s a hoarder. I can’t stop her from adopting another cat or charging money she doesn’t have for cat food. And as huffy as she gets about it, I am NOT obligated to come to her house and clean up after her “rescue cats.” **Once you can afford it, I strongly recommend a good counselor. You will likely be amazed by what they can tell you about these relationships and how much better/clearer you feel about yourself :)

    1. Jessa

      I hope this does not come over as slightly insensitive, but this is print and not in person. I understand your mother has problems and they’re serious and need far more help than a column could ever go through, but since there are other living things involved, if she’s hoarding involving animals, you may need to get animal control involved even if you love her and don’t want problems. It’s NOT fair to the animals if the situation is not good for them. Now it may be. It may be that she treats them well and takes good care of them. In which case. Ignore me.

  33. T (formerly in Construction)

    Hi OP,

    There’s a lot of great advice from other Askamanger commenters above, and they’ve said it better and more eloquently than I could.

    Instead, I just want to say how impressive and strong you are to realize this is not a good situation for you, and to see that you’re worth more than how your parents are treating you. It takes a LOT of courage to get out of a emotionally abusive/toxic relationship, especially considering how young you are. Good luck with everything!! *HUG*

  34. Not So NewReader

    I agree with the others who say do not report your parents to the IRS. They will unravel on their own, anyway.

    I see it as a two part deal- the first part is to extract yourself and get your own life going on. The second part is regarding family relationships. You may decide to try to salvage the relationships or NOT. You can decide that later.

    There are many, many good books about relationships with family available now. I am sure you will be able to find a half dozen that resonate for you. Read them slowly and think about what the author is saying.
    Put yourself around positive people. Watch the give and take – in healthy relationships there is a back and forth. Positive people will lead you to more positive people.

    Stick with your Sept 15 deadline. Let us know that you made it- you got out. You know what will happen if you wait to December: “Oh you can’t leave until March!” It will just keep going that way- don’t engage in this game. A well run business has a plan that includes how to replace ANY employee.

    I see where you fear the family may ostracize you. Make a plan. Find a mechanism to bring new people into your life. I dunno, join Toastmasters, join a church (if that is your inclination) or take up bowling if you prefer. Keep adding new people to your life and build yourself an adopted family. No, it does not make it hurt less but it is a way of respecting yourself. Don’t allow yourself to be isolated. Your family cannot cut you off from the world.

    You have some serious skills/abilities, OP. Time to go show the world.

  35. AF

    Just wanted to chime in with support for the OP. It is awesome that you’re getting out of this situation and you are very brave to do so. Very best of luck to you and please keep us posted!

  36. Bryce

    This is the 456, 789th reason why one sh0uld be circumspect about working for “a small family business” aka SFB for short. It’s been said here dozens of times before, but it bears repeating: SFBs are often the worst run kinds of businesses.

    There are a lot of reasons, but I think it comes down to this: First, many SFBs don’t really care about having a well-run business. For example, they often hire people based on nepotism, rather than actual ability, and because they don’t fire said people even when they are clearly a bad fit. They also often do many favors to family and friends that are not in the best interest of the business, such as giving away freebies. Furthermore, their owners, as Kenny Rogers would put it, don’t know whether “to hold ’em or fold ’em” when things are going poorly.

    Second, with many SFBs, no one can ultimately overrule the owner(s), even when it’s blatantly obvious that they’re making destructive decisions. For example, you hear the owner say “We just can’t afford to hire people” and then the owner’s second cousin twice removed gets hired for some non-essential position and isn’t held accountable. Or you hear the owner say “We don’t have the money to give more than a 2% raise this year” and “we need to work more efficiently and do more with less” and then same owner goes on a 3-week Caribbean vacation and comes back driving a $75K car.

    Finally, SFBs often just plain suck when it comes to “people development.” Part of that is a function of not having people on board who specialize in developing people or who have experience developing people. It’s also a function of the owners and other employees being good at what they do, not at managing and leading. It’s a function of not having the time or money to spend on people development. Finally, it’s a function of the last two issues of not caring about a well-run business and owner negligence.

    You are right on the money for leaving!

  37. Mena

    You have been put in a very unfair position. Stick to your plan and try very hard to not get sucked in on nights and weekends when your mom calls in hysterics. When (and I don’t say ‘if’) she starts the manipulation, list off the nice summary of accomplishments from your letter to AAM and close with ‘I’ve worked hard for you.’ Then change the topic of conversation. Good luck!!

  38. Bea W

    YES YES YES! Ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuun! I only had to read the title.

    You are not obligated to stick around just because its family! Your parents are grown adults, and can clean up their own mess…if they choose. What’s this malarkey about not being “allowed” to quit until December. You are a grown adult and totally “allowed” to quit whenever the darned heck you please.

    It will be hard at first , with the guilt trips in full gear, but once you can detox from that environment and learn more about setting boundaries around their kind of behavior, I think you will be thankful and life will be a lot better.

  39. Cheryl

    Make sure you give your brother a way to contact you as he will still be living in the cesspool and may need your help to survive as well.

    I am the oldest and when I left home, I felt like I was giving up the responsibility of my siblings that I’d had all my life to take care of me. I know it was something that I needed to do for “me”, but I regret it to this day…40 years later.

    I took the brunt of the verbal manipulative abuse, so my sister’s didn’t know how to cope when I left and had to find their own way. One got married immediately and left, the other dipped her body into the drug scene and thankfully, managed to get clean after 2 years…

    But still after all these years, I feel guilty for leaving them…. Sometimes, picking your sanity over the individuals that make up your family are incredibly difficult.

  40. Mel R

    Your deadline is about up… how’s it going?

    (Really, REALLY hoping to hear of your triumphant exit, because MAN you deserve a happy escape from this [beep]!)

  41. Justin

    Should I stay or should I go? Family business…consisting of: Dad, Step Mom, Brother, Step Brother, ME + 10 other employees. I make $250k year but cant stand the toxic atmosphere. My Dad and Step Mom rarely work and when they do a lot of mistakes are made. My brother is the typical “bosses kid” and takes advantage of the situation. The rest of the staff is just there for a job. Mistakes that are made have no consequences. There’s no meetings, no accountability and no direction. Making $250k should I just deal with it or go out on my own?

  42. MaeDawn

    I can relate to this. I have a Comminication Degree, but I worked at my dad’s company until I found something in my field. Unfortunately, my dad died unexpectedly a year ago. I’ve been helping my mom run the company, but I don’t want to forever. She knows nothing about the company and I’m so emotionally, physically, and psychologically stressed out. I talk to her about it and give advice on how to make things better and how to make it possible for me to leave, but she just shuts down. It’s been a year and I don’t know how much more I can take. I want to go back to school, so that’s in the works, but I feel stuck for another 2 1/2 years. :(

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