It’s pretty clear from the most recent interviews given by Meghan Markle and Prince Harry that they’re struggling with being members of the royal family. Being part of ‘the firm’ might come with benefits like tiaras and castles, but it is, at the end of the day, a family business just like any other. And when you marry into a family business you create a complicated fusion of work and family life.
Your boss and your in-laws are the two people in the world who you’re most likely to try and present yourself as an idealised version, hiding your flaws (and possibly your actual personality. But if your in-laws are your bosses, and you have to see them every single day, how are you supposed to balance that?
Just days after they got married, Harry and Meghan were at his dad’s birthday party and then opening a bridge in Runcorn. Meghan had only been in the family for a few weeks when she took a one-on-one train trip to Scotland with her husband’s granny. And while the whole ‘having your own train’ is a long way from most people’s reality, the experience of having to squeeze yourself into someone else’s family the moment you say ‘I do’ is surprisingly common.
Chloe, 31•, married into a family business when she tied the knot with her soon to be ex husband. She was the business development manager for the company, but cracks very quickly started to appear. She tells Grazia Daily, ‘Quite soon into working there, I started to see warning signs. It was like there was a system that we had to abide by. In the beginning there were perks, but it was soon apparent I was going through some initiation process.
‘Working in the family business meant that I lost my privacy. At work, my telephone bills were scrutinized, I was spied on on social media to see what I was doing in my own time, it was hell . It was like being in the Soprano family, and it was awful.
‘Anything that I did either inside or outside of work was criticized. If they didn’t like my behaviour at social events first of all the boss’s wife (my mother-in-law)would take me to one side to speak about family rules and what’s allowed and not. After that if it happened again I’d be taken into the board room and told off by my father-in-law. It put a huge strain on our relationship.’
My in-laws knew every holiday I booked, every hospital appointment I went to. They knew I was pregnant almost as soon as I did.
Chloe’s experience sounds extreme, but it’s not unusual. ‘I thought that working for the family business was a brilliant idea,’ says Abi•, 27, ‘because it would be flexible, mean being with our family all the time, and would fit well with having a family. However, that was not the case. The way that I raised our children became a topic of conversation constantly. If I took a day off sick my mother-in-law, who ran the company, would come round in the evening pretending to drop off soup but actually seeing if I was ill enough to justify a day off. Similarly, my in-laws knew every holiday I booked, every hospital appointment I went to. They knew I was pregnant almost as soon as I did because I felt I needed to do a risk assessment due to the nature of our work. We had no boundaries.
‘The real low point was when on Christmas Eve the rest of the family decided that instead of getting cheerfully drunk and watching Love Actually we really needed to have a meeting, as the whole family were “here anyway”, so I had to put my kids in front of a film and sit through a two hour discussion about next year’s goals.
‘Eventually I left the business. It went down really badly at the time, but eventually they got used to the idea and our relationship is certainly stronger.’
Not everyone finds that joining the family business is a total disaster. Ivy•, 35, joined her husband’s family business nearly a decade ago. ‘My mother-in-law is an interior designer, as am I. We have similar aesthetics and taste and get on really well, so it seemed sensible that we’d join forces. It works perfectly because my husband does the social media, PR and publicity and my father-in-law does the accounts.
‘We can keep the office close to where we live, all four of us share childcare between us and everyone can work flexibly. Because we're a family, we bend over backwards to help each other.
‘The only downside is that my family sometimes feel a bit left out. I try to make sure we have extra fun time with my parents, to make up for the fact I spend more normal day-to-day time with my in-laws.’
Joining the family firm clearly isn’t for everyone, but perhaps for every woman who finds it stifling and oppressive there's the one who loves the closeness and the structure.
So, should you ever consider doing what Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton did and signing up for the family firm? According to Chloe, who is now divorcing the husband whose family business she worked in, if you’re going to do it you need to at least tread carefully. She says: ‘I can only advise to give your relationship time before you get involved with the family business. You need a strong bond for it to work, and if you don’t have that kind of bond, you might find that working for the family business is too much for your relationship to stand.'
•Names have been changed.