Parenting Like A Manager
Educators and parents often butt heads. Wrongly or rightly, teachers often think they know how parents should parent, and parents often think they know how teachers should teach. We forget how much we have to offer each other. So this is intended in the spirit of offering not advice, but a new perspective — or more accurately, offering a familiar perspective, building on it and applying it elsewhere — which is, after all, what teaching is all about.
Up until the age of about 11 or 12, parents are the full-time managers of their children. Just like being a manager in an office (though perhaps most like being the manager of a football team) parents have the capacity to control their child’s day. They mandate bedtime, the balance of green food on the dinner plate, weekend schedules, and what is for breakfast on Sunday. Parents set the pace; parents set the tone. As managers, they also arrange transportation, approve (or veto) play dates, decide which birthdays will be celebrated with a party, what time the child will be home from their best friend’s house, and how much homework is to be done before dinner. In short, as managers, there is, if not absolute control, at least a reasonable expectation to know and heavily influence how things play out in your child’s life.
The thing is, being your child’s manager does not last forever. At about age 12 (but sometimes earlier) you find that no longer are you the unquestioned arbiter of the amount of television that can be watched, how much junk food can be eaten, the appropriate time of sleep, or even what makes a good friend. Your directives are reduced to opinions; worse, to opinions with little value compared to what “everyone else’s parents” (who all seem to be less rigid/demanding/heartless) think. Your child is simply not interested in being managed any more as he or she learns agency and independence.
In short, once your child enters adolescence, you are sacked as your child’s manager. Fired. End of contract.
Developmentally, this is a good thing, but it’s not an easy change for parents or kids, and it can be difficult to navigate gracefully. At this point in your parenting career — and this is likely the most important thing you can ever do in your relationship with your child — your task is to be rehired as your child’s consultant.
Once your child enters adolescence, you are sacked as his or her manager.
When I say this to parents, they smile. Some laugh. But it touches a chord. Most know the key to being hired — and kept around — as a consultant is the relationship you build with your client. In this case, the client is your child, and the relationship is built on everything you did as the manager in those preteen years. The more you talked to your child, showed that you love him, answered her questions, gave him your undivided attention, got out her way and allowed her to make mistakes, trusted and cared for him — the stronger your consultancy CV will look to him or her.
It’s counterintuitive, I know. We spend most of our professional lives seeking more control of our work; moving from parent-manager to parent-consultant requires us to cede, bit by bit, direct control and involvement. But if you’re trying to raise a child to become an adult, not help run a company, that’s what it takes.
I can’t claim provenance to the original thought behind this; it’s a paraphrasing of words from Dr. Ken Ginsburg, a leading pediatrician and author based at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. So if you find this interesting, you may want to check out more of his writing on parenting. At the very least, they might give you a new perspective.