Fess Up: Are You a Lousy Parent?

'Get your kids ready to fly on their own'

Normally blogging is all about having a defined point of view. You ‘hook’ the reader with a killer opening, make the substantive case and end with a memorable closing. Oh, adding some humour into the mix (depending on the topic) can work too. Right? Well that’s how it usually is. Today I’m feeling a bit less assured.

Tiger Mothers: Reading a recent Sunday Times article I was assaulted by parental inadequacy. An article about raising kids the ‘old fashioned way’, had a subtext that good parents maximize their kid’s potential. The skinny was as follows. Amy Chua, a professor at Yale University – has written a book Battle of the Tiger Mother. To say we are talking high-achieving kids here is like saying that Pope Benedict is somewhat religious. For example, according to Amy Chua, the first hour of daily music practice is no problem for these high-performing kids. Its hours 2 an 3 that are tough! In contrast, ‘western’ children were seen to be hopelessly lacking in discipline. So here I am, with 3 kids, two of them Chinese, and none of them on the A-team (so far anyway). I’m really hoping that they will be late developers – having given up on the early promise. So, is pushing your kids to the limit a good thing?

Who’s Right? Are my free-spirited (and massively underperforming) kids happier? Will the warm and loving embrace of a laissez-faire family win out in the end? And the answer is…I wish I knew. I’d like to believe that the world will be put to rights at some point but just don’t know. If it’s the parental job to get kids prepared for self-sufficiency in a tough world, what’s the best way to deliver this?

Measuring Results: If you throw out the philosophy and measure the actual results, Amy Chua’s kids are winning hands down – at least at the moment. She is not alone. When the OECD produced its annual assessment of global performance – based on independent testing of 15 year olds in reading, writing and math’s – guess who came in first? You’ve guessed it – China was top. But, there is a lingering doubt. If you visit the Chinese State Circus or a Russian Ballet – there is a sense that it’s not just a different culture. It’s also ‘forced feeding’. Young kids with ability are essentially programmed for success. To a western eye, this seems less like parenting – and more like child manufacturing!

But am I reacting to this hothouse parenting because I think it’s awful – or as a defense to my own lack of parental success? Our culture tends to focus on enhancing a child’s self esteem and ensuring that they are happy. Underpinning this is an overall instinct to make life easy for our kids – possibly mistakenly. I understand the philosophy of ‘tough love’ but it is wickedly difficult to implement in practice.

Managing People: So, what’s the deal in relation to managing people at work? Are there any crossover lessons in all of the above? Should you drive the workforce hard like the factory supervisor in the classic Modern Times movie? Or become a more benign, paternalistic employer – befriending the staff in the great traditions of the Quaker employers (e.g. Jacobs Biscuits)?

At work, the managerial instinct is to look for a solid contribution. You don’t have to apologize to people for telling them to do their job. And managers who try to become friends with the staff often find it hard to steer a proper line. Respect comes as a by-product of leading the organization well. Like a shadow, if you chase it directly it moves away.

Funny, I feel ok about this stuff at work but just can’t seem to translate it into the domestic environment. So, it’s now official. I am a lousy parent. All I can hope for is to emulate that bumper sticker I saw in Florida: “Please God, let me live long enough to get my own back on the kids!”

Paul Mooney

PS Breaking News. Amie was 21 last week – so maybe that maturing is coming soon! To prepare for her party, Cillian actually cut the grass (myself and his mother nearly had a heart attack just thinking about it). And Nicole, our youngest, went her first disco in Mount Temple. She looked great, seemed to have fun and is now full of talk about the next event in the summer. Hope springs eternal in the parental heart.


About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
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