The results didn’t surprise me. By age four I was bossing around (er. . . rather, managing) everyone willing to comply. My management skills developed through school and a piece of paper with the words Master of Arts and Management in the same line. By age twenty-seven my title read, “Vice President.”
Management, that was something I was good at.
“Do you have any questions about your results?” The counselor asked.
Tears welled in my throat. I cleared them the best I could and covered the emotion with a forced laugh, “Well, how am I supposed to use this. I’m JUST a mom now? I’ll never be a manager again.”
Motherhood, that was something I wasn’t as good at.
I didn’t regret stepping out of full-time work, not for a second. But many days I craved the feeling of success my management career gave. Motherhood felt more difficult than leading a staff, hiring or firing ever did. I possessed decades of experience in dealing with employees, but in the world of motherhood, I was a new hire begging for someone to train me!
The counselor interrupted my thoughts with her reply. “I think you’ll find there are a lot of ways to use your management skills in motherhood. In fact, the more children you have, the better you’ll likely do.”
I laughed at the suggestion, but we went on to increase the size of my staff, er. . .uh. . . I mean our family, anyway. Now, with four children, ages four through eight, I see what she meant.
Many of the skills I learned during my years in management do apply to my mothering. Here are just a few of them:
1- Follow Through: In management, it’s important to do what you say you will do for your people. I wrote myself notes if I thought I’d forget, but I did my best to keep my commitments.
The same holds true with my children. I don’t assume that they’ll “forget if I don’t say anything.” (And, my oldest has an elephant’s memory so that wouldn’t work anyway.) If I can’t deliver, then like a good manager, I sit them down and explain why we’ve changed course. “The zoo can’t happen today guys because it’s raining. But, we will reschedule to next Thursday and go then.”
2 – Use a Schedule: My staff always appreciated knowing what we were doing and when. My family’s the same way.
I’m type A and, simultaneously, a creative spirit who hates to be pinned down. But, I’ll admit, our family does the same things every single day. We are terribly predictable. Keeping them on schedule actually gives them a sense of security. They like knowing that lunch is at 11:30am and dinner’s at 5. Having clarity and routine for our days helps us all stay sane.
3 – Give Deadlines and Offer Motivation: All those employees who struggled to get their work done. . .just so happens these encounters were training for children who can’t clean up toys or finish homework. Just like I did in management, I give clear deadlines. Instead of “clean this up today” I’ll say, “Clean this up by 11am.” I also offer motivation. Sometimes this motivation is privilege and sometimes it’s reward. “A clean playroom by lunchtime means we can go to the park today.”
4 – Whiners Must Be Heard: She came into my office every single day to complain. The room was too hot. The room was too cold. 8:30am was too early for her to get there. 5pm was too late for her to leave. There was always something to complain about. At first I was frustrated. I tried to solve her problem, adjust her schedule, find her a new work station. But, soon I learned she didn’t want anything to change. She just needed someone to listen, and complaining was her best route to an audience.
Sometimes our kids are the same. When I encounter excessive whining from my gang, I try to pull the biggest offender aside and find out the root of the problem. They can’t always tell me, but often I can deduce tiredness or the other issues at play. Hearing them out minimizes the whine.
5 – Always Make Time for a Pep Talk: A good manager can read faces and tell when the team needs some encouragement. I’ve found that’s just as important for a good mom to do too.
Sure, there are times when I want to leave it at “Come on, you can do it. Just keep trying.” But, as with my former employees, I’ve found it much more effective to pull the child into a room, close the door and have a bigger talk about why their motivation has waned and what’s at the heart of their struggle.
6 – Know Your Team: As a manager I spent time studying my team member’s personality types and work styles so I could work with them in ways they would respond to best. For example: If an employee preferred independent work and ownership, I’d know not to assign them to a group project where everyone shared responsibility.
I’ve found the same to hold true for my children. Understanding that my introverted oldest needs clear direction and can’t handle ambiguous “create whatever you want” type assignments has helped me in my parenting and homeschooling. Remembering that my middle son is an extreme extrovert keeps me from getting frustrated when he insists on us doing his work together because he’d rather be with people than alone.
7- Affirm Then Critique: If an employee needed correction, I knew the best way not to demoralize them was to first offer affirmation of what they were doing well before outlining what they were messing up.
I think this method is useful in my mothering as well. When a child only hears about their mistakes, they feel defeated. Instead, sandwich appropriate criticism inside of sincere affirmation. (You wrote that very well, Johnny. Your handwriting is really improving. Now, we need to work on turning these numbers around, they are backwards, but wow, you wrote them all so nicely.) This a great way to prevent crushing your child’s spirit.
What about you? Are there lessons from a previous (or current) profession that you’ve been able to apply to motherhood?