I am not sure where I first encountered it. Maybe in a parenting book or maybe in a conversation with someone. It is the notion of a child having a “job” to do. For example, “It is the child’s job to test limits. It is how they learn about rules and boundaries.” Ladies and Gentlemen, your child has a built-in excuse for any behavior they can muster — it is their job as a child.
I worked for 20 years in an assortment of educational, non-profit, healthcare, and high tech settings. At least half of that time I was responsible for other employees. The leadership positions were the most challenging, because not only was I responsible for my own work, but my job also included making sure that the people I managed had what they needed to be successful. Moreover, I was now under more intense scrutiny, as my behavior would set some kind of standard for what the expectations would be of anyone who wanted to be successful in the company. I felt like I was on stage.
I stopped working last year for one simple reason. I was too darn stressed out. Poor me, for sure… I know I am one of the lucky ones who even has a choice in the matter about whether or not to work. But a workaholic and perfectionist finds its roost in any circumstance, even as an at-home mom. Once it became my JOB to clean the house and do laundry, I believed I would do it to a higher standard. I say this like it was necessary, as my children have grown up in a very clean house and been chased around with paper towels their whole lives lest their kid grime be transferred onto household objects or furniture. In my house, spilled milk results in looks of horror in my direction, waiting for my reaction. Rather than higher standards, being at home resulted in me wondering how I ever did it before, since my house doesn’t look any cleaner, laundry doesn’t seem to get done any faster, and toys stay scattered around on the floor overnight (I never tolerated that when I was working). I can say that I am no longer stressed out. But the pressure is still there.
The expectations of a parent are not that different than those of a manager. Be friendly and polite. Set high standards and clearly communicate when they are not met. Ask questions and seek to understand. Think “out of the box” and seek continuous improvement. Be approachable. Be fair and follow the rules. Listen.
I most definitely did a better job of meeting those expectations as a manager. I think that is why I was so stressed out. I am not sure why (apparently) my kids don’t deserve as great of a performance from me as when I was paid to do it. Sure, the people I managed were grown-ups (although any of you managers out there will agree that it often doesn’t seem that way). But there is something about your children that is so deeply personal when they “fail to meet expectations” that it makes it so much harder to keep yourself from melting down.
So as I contemplate my children and their job, which is apparently to do whatever they do in order to become whatever they will become in life, I am also evaluating my own job performance. What I have decided is this: Ladies and Gentlemen, I have a built-in excuse for any behavior I can muster — it is my job as a parent. By watching my neurotic and sometimes inflexible behavior, maybe my children are going to learn how to be organized and analytical. By hearing me preach about what will happen if you continue to do X, and then seeing it happen, maybe my kids will learn to think things through. By sharing my disappointment in them (maybe too loudly) but then giving them a sincere goodnight kiss and “I love you,” maybe they will learn that true love is not always pretty but it is unconditional.
Parenthood is one of those wonderful-yet-creepy life spaces. Someone is always watching, absorbing, evaluating, and questioning. But I don’t get stressed out, I just try to be me. It is all I can do. It is my job.
Erika is a recovering workaholic turned at-home mom of two boys ages 4 and 6. She is married to a recovering chemical engineer turned firefighter. Erika is slowly discovering what she likes to do now that she has time to do it.