boss is not your mother

Summary: Do you know that many bosses can be seen as work- mothers? It’s universal and essential to realize this is a complex role that gets in the way of long-term success. Here are some ideas to ponder.

Dear Dr. Sylvia,

I have a mother; of course, we all do! I am also a mother by choice. 

Here is my dilemma. I am the owner of a chain of hair salons and work non-stop. My staff often see me as their mother, which is both impressive and awful at the same time. 

We bring invisible patterns from the past to our work setting.

I keep telling them, “Your boss is NOT your mother.” However, while some laugh at the idea, others can’t seem to grasp the truth in this.

I know I will even get some gifts of chocolates, cards, flowers, or food to thank me for being so understanding and available.

The trap at work is taking too much care of your employees.

The trap is that when I disappoint for whatever reason, some of my staff react as if I am their birth mother and behave like pouty toddlers or petulant teens. 

I want out of this dual role that makes me angry and exhausted. I only want to be a good mom to my four mostly grown children and have fun with future grandchildren.

How do I get it across to those who want more of me than I can give to channel their energy with their moms?

Thanks for responding,


The Boss 

Dear Boss,

What you are experiencing is sadly more common than you think. People often transfer their emotions to others from the source of the mother (and may I add father) to those in positions of authority.

It can be a deadly trap.

We bring our behavior patterns to work with us whether we want to or not.

Think of it this way: Work is not that dissimilar to the family structure.

  • We have bosses like parents
  • Some colleagues are like siblings
  • Salaries are like getting an allowance
  • There are even “timeouts” called performance improvement plans.

Those who have not resolved their deeper childhood issues are the ones who often pick a boss and put all the energy, positive or negative, into the current relationship.

What can you do?

Short and open discussions can clear the air.

Have a short and honest conversation. Begin with a question. It will go something like this, “What do you want and need from me as your Boss to make our relationships the best possible? How can I support you in your growth as a professional? 

Now a big question that may or may not is answered. 

Ask it anyway.

Who was there to support your dreams for your future as you were growing up? 

The response will give you a clue how much you are needed to be a “mom” at work.

If you are talking to a female employee, please suggest they read “GUTSY: How Women Leaders Make Change.”

Do not attempt to replace an absent or over-indulgent parent.

This book will give them ideas of why they need more from you than may be fair. It starts with looking at the joys or disappointments of being born a little girl.

If you demand to be a caring mom is from a male, you may suggest reading “Don’t Bring It to Work.”

This book gives a detailed report about how we bring the behaviors we learned in our original organization, the family, into our present organization at work.

Now for you.

Clear boundaries are critical to workplace productivity.

Please be kind and considerate. And more importantly, please keep clear boundaries in terms of over listening or over-giving.

This unconscious behavior is finally getting some sunshine. Please read about the generational ghosts we bring to work without realizing it in this Harvard Business Review article.

Here’s to your success,


P.S. Here’s to a Happy Mothers Day to all who fit in this category.

Creative Energy Options

Sylvia Lafair

Creative Energy Options