“No more wire hangers, ever!” was the fantastic line used by the ultra-scary Faye Dunaway as she portrayed the screen legend, Joan Crawford in one of my all time movie favorites, Mommie Dearest. Whatever expectations I had about becoming a mother, there is no way I could do as poor a job as that nutty Joan Crawford! She set the bar really low for us, thankfully, as we clueless folk embark on this baffling journey we call parenthood.
My first job out of college was working for one of the Big Six consulting firms (or was it the big ten or big three—I can’t remember, and they have all either merged or been acquired by now so who is really counting in the first place?) This meant that, with my Communications and Business degree, I had no skills whatsoever, but this great corporation took it on faith that I could be indoctrinated into the culture and they could mold me into a coding machine to maximize my billable hours for the next five to ten years until I either made partner or became too disgruntled with the travel and zero balance lifestyle that I quit. One thing this company took seriously and got right, in my opinion, was the performance evaluations. We, as green beans, relied totally on formal supervisor feedback four times a year so that we would not embarrass ourselves and our consulting firm in front of the client and we would actually demonstrate that we were 900 percent more productive and efficient than the clients working side by side with us on our projects.
Now that I have been in the parenting game for almost ten years, I think that I am really due for a performance evaluation. Overdue, actually. While the part remains fuzzy on who would administer such a review, I contend that most parents would relish the chance for someone to give them honest feedback on their strengths, areas of development, and actionable steps to get to “the next level.” I think this might be especially helpful for single parents or parents with pre-teens and teens who, I am warned, morph into selfish, arrogant, angry strangers for a few years. I also think it is helpful for two parents that “agree to disagree” on a few parenting areas—what better way to break the tie than to have an objective person give a few points of feedback to provide more context and perspective on a child rearing matter?
In my past corporate experience of “Career Mapping,” every new assignment would begin with a sit-down with a supervisor to define and understand the roles and expectations of the job. I wish someone had done that with me before I became a mother, that infamous July 4, 1998 when Danielle Elizabeth LeBleu burst onto the scene like a bottle rocket from heaven. My problem: I had no expectations and no experience with babies or children. None of my friends or siblings had them yet—it would have been instructive to have a primer on parenting before my husband and I got the ball hiked to us.
What few expectations I may have had were vague concepts like “Your life will never be the same,” or “You won’t be able to go out to dinner anymore,” or “Better get caught up on your sleep before the baby comes.” I do know this now because I have a friend who is going to become a first time parent soon—you simply cannot describe to someone how fundamentally different your life will be when you get a baby entrusted to your care. It’s similar to giving a newly married couple that sage old advice, “Marriage is hard.” You bet your bootie it is hard—and so is parenting, but it is hard in different ways for different people. That is why feedback can be so valuable: it is targeted to your precise situation.
Here are some categories that might be covered in the performance evaluation for parents:
Nutrition – While one might think this area can be left to common sense, as the adage goes, common sense is not common. When I was growing up, we had the food pyramid and that was our guiding principle. Now it is—something else. Really just the food pyramid turned upside down, I think. What’s all so confusing to me is the number of servings per day per fruit, vegetable, grain, or protein. I don’t know if it is George Bush math, but there seems to be a great deal of servings that have to be administered daily in order to be “balanced.” And, it should all be in the constraints of less than (fill in the blank number) calories per day. Then there is the challenge of trying to meet these nutritional needs while in the car on the way to swim or baseball practice or work. One needs a knowledge-based algorithm to figure out all the combinations of how to go wrong here. In addition to that is the “short-order cook” phenomenon. Very few families today sit down to the dinner table together during the week. This breeds a whole world of issues about catering menus to children’s tastes, rather than a balanced portfolio of different kinds of offerings. It would be instrumental to have some feedback in this area.
Hygiene – Regular hand washing and bathing are assessed in this category. How many baths a week is necessary? What is the real deal on antibiotic soap versus the plain Ivory bar (it floats—good bath incentive for the water wary!) I guess the five-second rule isn’t such a good guideline after all.
Safety – This one seems to be pretty clear, thankfully, based on numerous safety studies performed by insurance and governmental agencies—helmets, seatbelts, no small objects, and no balloons as toys. But now we have to worry about lead paint in toys? There is a tremendous opportunity to be zealous in this area. Is common sense enough?
Education – Whether you home school versus sending your child to public or private school is not the area of evaluation here—it is how you administer the homework duties to ensure your child is getting the most out of the silliest assignments sent home. Some children respond well to homework, others need a big, fat stick (or carrot, whichever you prefer) as motivation to get their work done. This is a great area for guidance, since it spans so many years of a child’s education and gets increasingly more difficult, time consuming, and competitive over the years.
Manners – What happened to manners in my generation of producing children? I get a kick out of hearing Sir and Ma’am, and an even bigger smile when it is my child that says it. Respect for authority and others is under consideration in this area—and certainly one that does not get much attention these days.
Parent Time – “Without the kids around, there’s nothing to fight about” is my favorite quote of my brother-in-law, and the truth in this statement rings true for my husband and me. Parents need time to nurture and care for the relationship that spawned all this trouble (bliss!). I would be happy to know how I match up and compare with others in this area. How much is too little? How much is too much?
Family Time and Siblings – Not every family can be as fun and carefree as the Claire and Cliff Huxtable and their offspring on that sitcom of the late 80s The Cosby Show. How much of the angst and clash of personalities translates to dysfunction? Are any families “normal”? And, how much bickering between siblings is healthy before it turns into Cain and Abel?
Extracurricular Activities and Free Time – Over-scheduling to ensure that your child keeps up his or her resume and skill set with his or her peers is so tempting these days. EVERYONE is doing it. Also included in this assessment are the quality and quantity of television and video game consumption.
Friends – Friends are so very important to children and adults alike. How full should one’s calendar be in catering to play dates, sleepovers, and birthday parties before it goes overboard? Third party advice is definitely warranted in this area.
What would my rating be based on a critical assessment of my parenting in these areas? Somewhere between Mommie Dearest and Mother Teresa, I hope. Leaning more toward the latter, I pray. In absence of a performance evaluation, what I do now is try to identify a family that I admire and esteem in the results they have and are producing in their children. I am so fortunate to be surrounded in my neighborhood by many. It must be said that I know no family (real family, that is—there are several in TV-land like the Cleavers, the aforementioned Cosbys and Robert Youngs of Father Knows Best) that excel in all areas. No parent is perfect! I look at those who have a parenting style or result that I value and try to model my performance after them.
“Nobody ever said life was fair!” No, Joan Crawford, you got that one right but with a humble spirit, teachable heart, and desire to seek out positive parenting examples, maybe one has a more than fair chance at getting this thing called parenting right. Just maybe, we can then meet and even exceed expectations in a majority of our performance areas.