Imagine a new company formed with only two employees who divide all tasks and responsibilities between them without making mutual decisions about how the business should run. They follow no mutually agreed upon managerial principles, they create no structure for regular communication, and their only method of problem solving is to observe what the other is doing and offer periodic criticisms. Sounds like bad management, doesn't it?
Welcome to parenting in the twenty-first century.
Parenting as Management
Management and parenting share far more in common than we typically realize. Managing the needs of children and households require many of the same abilities as managing a small business or several employees. In both cases, there is a multitude of small and medium sized tasks we have to perform and an endless list of details and responsibilities. However, it is much easier for us to grasp the importance of managerial and team meetings in our roles as managers than it is in our roles as parents.
One of the most common questions I ask couples I see in my psychotherapy practice is whether they have regular 'team' meetings. Few do (and by 'few' I mean, practically none). Families are not businesses per se, but they have much in common with them. Both are hierarchical structures with numerous complex tasks that need to be completed both by managers/parents and their underlings (employees/children) who need ongoing direction and supervision.
Simply put, parents are managers, whether they see themselves as such or not. The question is-what kind of management style do they employ?
Parenting as Teamwork
Parents who see themselves as members of the same team (a concept to which many parents pay lip service but few actually put into practice) tend to communicate and cooperate with one another far better than parents who see themselves as each 'managing their own department'.
Ironically, the concept of teamwork is far more important in parenting than it is in management because the demands of parenthood change both regularly and unpredictably, requiring constant adjustments, creative problem solving, brainstorming and communication. However, most parents are busy 'just trying to get through the day' and they neglect to elbow out room for teamwork, for managerial meetings, or for any other opportunities to address the shifting and evolving challenges of parenthood.
Parents as Creative Problem Solvers
When couples in my practice report having an argument about a parenting matter (which as one might imagine is a pretty regular occurrence) I instruct them to revisit the issue in the session by suggesting the following, "I want you to imagine you are both members of the same managerial team sitting in a closed meeting to discuss the following problem." I then restate the issue that caused the fight and say, "Your team has the capacity for great communication and teamwork, and in the past has demonstrated superior creative problem solving skills that generated effective solutions to vexing problems." Then I sit back and let them go at it.
The vast majority of the time, couples come up with a mutually agreed upon solution to the issue in ten minutes or less. If they catch me looking smug (which can happen, I'm not perfect) they tend to get even more chagrined and say, "Fine, we can do it here, but that would never work at home!"
In such cases, I often give the skeptical couple an index card with the above task induction ("I want you to imagine you are both members of the same managerial team...") and tell them to try it for themselves at home. I remind them to make sure they have both time and privacy (if they claim those are hard to come by, I suggest they can meet in their car or even convene in the bathroom if necessary).
As you might expect, most couples quickly discover there's nothing magical about my office. But when it comes to teamwork, there is something magical about having the right mindset. Couples who take time to think like managers, who create space for open communication, who are aware of how much better they brainstorm and problem solve when they do so as teammates, will have 'businesses' that run more smoothly and family lives that are happier and more satisfying for children and parents alike.
For tips on how couples can have productive discussions watch my video on Complaining Psychology and Relationships.
Copyright 2011 Guy Winch
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