Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

The Mummy Managers


I’ve just read an article in The Times about a woman who’s putting the skills she acquired as an Arthur Andersen management consultant to good use managing the lives of her four children. She uses negotiation, time management, financial planning, delegation, outsourcing and performance appraisal. And now that she’s got her home life all nicely wrapped up, she’s written a book about it too (called Time Management for Manic Mums), thus cleverly capitalising on her resources. Bully for her.

Allison Mitchell decided that applying her management techniques to her family would make her home run more smoothly and give her more control as a mother. I can see her point. As a journalist on one of Johannesburg’s dailies, I was forced to meet deadlines with mere seconds to spare – often with a news editor tapping his pencil and staring at me urgently over his spectacles. To this day, I am religious about my deadlines. I am also pretty anal about getting to ballet/swimming/speech therapy/play dates/school pick-up on time, often arriving ten minutes early. There’s a skill, especially given that I am usually marshalling three people and all their necessary equipment. I am applying my time management skills fairly successfully in making things run smoothly.

However, when time management and people management start to clash, then things can go awry for me. For example, when I worked as an inhouse journalist one of my roles was to ensure that our inhouse magazine came out on deadline, despite the attentions of a perfectionist editor. He wanted blisteringly perfect prose; I wanted on deadline and it was my job to juggle the two. It’s a bit like trying to leave our house for the school/kindergarten drop-off on time when someone needs a particularly complex hairstyle or a certain pair of shoes that cannot be found. I’m thinking shoes without holes in will do, and small child is thinking she wants the pink ones, with the flowers on, that haven’t been seen since last Tuesday. The skill of biting my tongue while an editor rethinks headlines at the 11th hour has been lost in the mists of time: in the name of getting to kindergarten before the doors are locked (good time management), I may resort to yelling (bad people management). I wonder what Allison would recommend?

Painful work experiences are also good practise for parenting. For a short time I worked as an assistant to a fundraiser. To her, “assistant” was a wide-ranging term, covering everything from representing her at meetings and writing fundraising appeals, to doing her grocery shopping and taking her dog to the vet. With my three South African degrees, I was having The Devil Wears Prada experience about fifteen years earlier than Lauren Weisberger (just not quite as glamourously, although I did once shake the hand of the Duke of Edinburgh and trespass the Houses of Parliament on the same day, but that’s for another post). What the experience did teach me was to cope with randomness. The ability to handle unexpected random orders is brilliant skills training for having children. In the course of any given five minutes, I may be required to build a tower, rustle up a delicious snack from three pieces of dried pasta and a raisin, draw a mermaid, bathe a wound and have a philosophical discussion about the nature of friendship. Unlike Allison, I am really, really good at being delegated to.

Allison’s book is for the Manic Mums amongst us. While I do have the odd frenzied moment, my daily life is lived at the pace of a six, four and one-year-old. Things can be somewhat slow. Tolerating the lack of eventfulness and enjoying the company of the same group of people are skills I learnt while working as a writer at a not-to-be-named German software company. Cutting-edge software companies can be very s-l-o-w places to work: systems crash, software must be tested and tested again, developers change their minds and redo things. As a documentation writer, I must have spent 30% of my time actually working and the rest of the time waiting to work. But I always managed to keep entertained: typing away on my keyboard (e-mails to my friends), going to meetings (with my friends), having coffee (same friends) and lunch too (ditto friends). That kind of slow beingness amongst a limited group was great training for parenting.

While I really admire the likes of Allison and her ability to manage her family, what my working life taught me was how to cope with being managed by my family. They do it so well too: my performance is frequently appraised (“you don’t sing very well, Mummy”), they outsource (“let Daddy do Ollie’s nappy so that you can carry on drawing princesses with us”) and they negotiate (“if I finish my vegetables, can I watch the Dinosaurs DVD?”). But best of all, they are very good at rewarding performance – I am the happy recipient of a lot of kisses and large hugs. It’s not a bad pay package.


Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

7 thoughts on “The Mummy Managers

  1. Actually I have found my toddler management skills quite useful in the workplace. I have one particularly neurotic, indecisive, difficult colleague who is quite senior to me but who I have to manage in the context of course co-ordination. This year I decided to abandon all deference in my dealings with him and to strictly set the parameters of any choices he had to make. For eg. Me: “We will be having a terms test on your material on such and such a date. It will last for an hour. Do you want to set two questions or one?” Him: “Dither, dither, one or two? What to do? What to do?…but eventually the resolution…TWO”. Really infinitely better than when I went in with something vague and general like “I think we should have a terms test. What do you think would be best?” That way madness lies…

  2. I am wondering if my teaching skills will come in handy now that Kiko is on the threshold of toddlerdom. I suppose they will but I’ve been scaring myself. Recently, I’ve found myself giving him my grumpy teacher look: “I can see someone misbehaving, I am not commenting on it now but I have noticed, if the nonsense does not stop in one second flat I will start kicking backsides, so be warned.” This expression used to come out on a daily basis when I was teaching the high school kids. I couldn’t believe I was using it on him!

  3. So work is really good training for either managing or being managed by your kids, and having kids is really good training for managing monsters at work. One day I too will wreak my toddler taming skills on unsuspecting colleagues – do you think after three warnings, colleagues who won’t play nicely would be prepared to sit on the stairs?

  4. Charl, I am certain the taming of toddlers equips you magnificently for the comparatively rational world of work. I think the honesty and clarity of children’s bahaviour must give you an eyeball to eyeball experience of human behaviour, and thence how to cope with it .. 😉 or?

  5. Work and parenting isn’t really so seperate after all. My work as a Tour Manager for a walking holiday company in Italy, involved keeping a disparate group of often demanding clients happy, fed and entertained, confrontation management, occasional first aid and not losing anyone around the countryside. As a mother ditto except the clients these days are more demanding and the standard of cooking has descended to the basic level rather than gourmet.

  6. charl – nice.

    emma – the Germans have trained you well, oder?

  7. Good to read this your post about ballet! Your points are exciting!
    Looking forward to reading more here about ballet!

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