Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Business Objective

Head of House
Head of House
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
I've had some truly amazing bosses over the years. Amazingly good, amazingly bad. The goods ones were teachers, mentors and friends. The good ones still show up on my transom occasionally asking me to set up the docs departments for their latest startup. This is not why they are good, mind you, though it helps my maintain my positive opinion when you supply a steady source of ready cash. Those bosses are good, because they recognize quality and grow it. They were never threatened by competence or surprised by ignorance. They adapted.

Over the years, I distilled what they taught me into a few short, useful phrases which I would chant to myself any time I felt like losing my patience, my temper, or my sanity. It took me nearly eight years with my children before I began to recognize the applicability of these “Best Practices” as a playbook for parenting. With very little imagination, you can treat your children as challenging employees and your spouse as a difficult but basically well-meaning boss. And don't go all feminist manifesto on me. I've always managed my managers at least as diligently as my staff, sometimes to greater result.

I offer these as a free, snap course in management (or parenting) technique:

Always We, Never I
– Whenever possible, kids need to feel that the entire family is suffering the slings and arrows of outraged choredom. We need to clean the laundry. We need to get our work done before we play. We must visit the grandparents, go to the homeschool resource center, scrub bird crap off the forward deck. While our family is in no way a democracy, building a sense of shared suffering, effort and camaraderie works better than the top-down, “get your chores and checks done or else!” approach.

Take the Blame, Share the Credit – I try to take the blame. I try to apologize when I lose my temper, fitch a pit and jump in it, break something. I do far better in the work environment, because at home I'm pretty much convinced it's always their fault. It's easier to apply the share the credit portion. Kids love praise. So do husbands. Generosity in recognizing their accomplishments, lauding the daily bits of progress on projects, school work, or cabin organization, yields powerful downstream results.

Only Yell When You're Alone – This could also be known as the “United Front” clause. Basically, support in public and reprimands in private. Oh man, I truly wish I had this sort of self-restraint with my children. It's something I need to work on. Everyone – every single member of the family – deserves your support and respect in public. All those conflicts and frustrations should be kept private. I'd even like to keep them from one another... take them up quietly in a rational, calm one-on-one fashion. Good luck with that. With three kids, I'm far more likely to be frustrated with the entire lot of them and blow up, spattering motherly vile in every direction. Just because I like these guidelines, does not mean I'm universally successful following them.

Manage Your Staff to Take Over Your Job
– Finally! A rule I apply to my children with complete success. My kids are quite bright bulbs on the Christmas tree of life. I have no doubt that they will be considerably more successful than their parents, particularly if you measure success in terms of happiness rather than goods. They are learning very early in life how to make the hard choices that Dr C and I did not grapple with until we had our now moderately infamous mid-life crisis.

A Job is Not Worth Your Sanity – My children are not the most important relationship in my life. My husband has that dubious responsibility. I figure I'll live with them for maybe 18 years, while I've already lived with Dr C for over 20. And he'll be around for at least another 50! On balance, they have to take a back seat to the needs of our marriage. Turns out, they're good with that.

Do Not Pad Your Budget – Let your boss deal with the fact that your resources never meet the needs or expectations of Sales and Marketing. I translate this in parenting terms as not pretending that your children are something that they are not. Work with what you have, not what you want to have. Got a pubescent monster? Put her on chocolate and Ibuprofin and confine her to her cabin. Got a 10–year-old who keeps forgetting her schoolwork? Set her up with daily backpack lists and pray she becomes an absent-minded professor. My children are not perfect. They are not the best, the most, the greatest, the -est-est anything. And the only way that becomes a problem is if I'm not satisfied with who and what they are. Even then, it's my problem, not theirs.

Butter Won't Melt
Butter Won't Melt
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Define the Business Objective – Part of homeschooling for us has been a very thorough reinvestigation of the basic business objective for education. It seems we spend a great deal of effort in 1) scoring high on standardized tests, 2)getting admitted to the best university, and 3)socializing children to work well with others. But what do children really need to succeed in this world? More importantly, what will our children need to succeed in the world 15 years from now when the economy and society have shifted due to changes in climate, technology, and social norms? I am increasingly certain that traditional school does not provide our children with any of the tools they are going to need in that dimly glimpsed future. Mind you, I am not sure that homeschooling does either. Boatschooling, on the other hand, will at least provide the girls with many of the skills necessary to survive in some post-apocalyptic, dystopian hell world. God help them.

* * *

Children manage their parents as much as we manage them. Someone, however, must get paid the big bucks to make the hard decisions and to call the staff meetings. In our family, I'm the project manager and Dr C is the CTO. It remains to be seen which of my girls will grow into our jobs and take over. At least we'll know that they are capable of doing so.

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