walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_If You've Raised Kids, You Can Manage Anything_, Ann Crittenden

Subtitled: Leadership Begins at Home

I really enjoyed Crittenden's _The Price of Motherhood_. I am not enjoying this book. I am a little perplexed at about 2/3rds of the way through.

I've been picking my way through parenting books bought around the time T. was born that I never got around to (which is a little odd, actually, since this would have been easy to read while nursing and I bought it in November so I'm unclear on why I haven't read it yet). This is an odd book. It's not precisely a business book (but it is). It's not precisely a parenting book (but it is). It's not precisely a self-help book (but it is). It is not easy to know how to fairly judge either the audience or the success of this endeavor.

Her thesis is simple enough: if you (odds on, a woman) have been a "conscientious parent" (i.e. didn't farm it entirely out to someone else), you have developed a variety of people, time-management, etc. skills that can be loosely called "life skills" that are essentially the same skills needed to be a manager.

I suppose the first lesson is that she really _meant_ that title. She doesn't mean being a parent prepares you to _do_ anything in a good-enough sort of way (an alternative, idiomatic use of the term manage). She means you have the general skills needed by a manager in an organizational context (business, government, non-profit, blah, blah, blah).

Different people -- in different families -- learn different ways to accomplish their (different) goals as parents. So it is probably reasonable that, as a result, Crittenden can draw wildly incompatible general conclusions about how someone learned to do X as a parent and figured out how to do same as a manager and it worked equally well (or poorly) and then a paragraph or so later not-X comes up similarly. That's why this isn't a how-to book of any of the above-mentioned varieties. Crittenden is saying, the same basic ideas and techniques can be used in both a family setting and an organizational setting. _Any_ idea proposed for use in a family or organizational setting can be flipped. Unfortunately, because of the rah-rah self-help aspect to the book, it's a little grating. No, she's not advocating for any of these techniques, despite what it at times sounds like.

The second lesson is that this is not a historically aware book. She read a bunch of parenting books (likes the Faber/Mazlish and Ginott thread that I enjoy), saw similarities to Ury's negotiation work and got a chance to ask him about it -- and he admitted to the shared sources which he/she/they call humanistic philosophers including Ginott and Maslow (yay for the basic needs theory). In that sense, she's alert to what has been going on for the last few decades. And she can name drop Catherine Beecher. But it is not at all clear that she has any awareness of the idea of Scientific Motherhood and its explicit emphasis on a businesslike approach to the household. It's possible she knows All About It, and decided to hope most of her readers wouldn't notice her failure to mention it. That has the twin desirable effects of making her a clever detective (instead of someone who has read a little history and remembers a bit here or there) and distancing her for the truly offensive ideas embedded in Scientific Motherhood.

I'm actually sort of hoping that she's pulling that particular fast one. Because if she's not, it really detracts from the impression of cleverness and intelligence. Because, after all, if there's a unifying trend in advice to mothers in the 20th century (and it shows up in Dr. Sears and company as well, altho it's slowly starting to be eroded by some of the Attachment Parenting folk who are Really Willing to Go For It), it's Scientific Motherhood and Running the Household As If It Were a Business. Noticing, then, that the same advice applies in both contexts just doesn't seem all that...revolutionary.

'Course it still is. Ginott's ideas took hold in the family context before they took hold in an organizational context. That's actually a kind of nice, subversive little observation. The home is like a business. This works in the home. Maybe it would work in a business, too.

In the details, there are some very troubling things. Ginott especially, and Faber/Mazlish to a slightly lesser degree, retained a very strong sense of the Proper Hierarchy in the Home. If you take their ideas, with that attitude, and you transfer them to the workplace with a woman as the transferor, you definitely wind up with a lot of extremely condescending talk -- they're just like toddlers and the like. I have _some_ sympathy for that, particularly because T. right now is in classic toddler mode: "Do you want grape juice?" "NO!" "Okay, no grape." Pause for 15-45 seconds. "Wanny grape?" "Okay, here's some grape juice." Yup. We've seen that particular undesirable trait in adult men who want everything to be their idea.

But to be fair, my aunt M. had something going on that my mother claimed was a hearing problem but I don't think it could have been the sort of thing a hearing aid would fix. I'm not sure what it was, but if you said _anything_ to M., she'd immediately say, "What?" If you repeated yourself, she'd interrupt you with an answer or response. If you just waited 15-45 seconds, she'd answer or respond. Which makes me wonder about that "NO!"

To return to the book, Crittenden has some awareness that direct application of Mom-technique in the workplace can have some problems. She even has some nuanced responses from women who are high level managers on the subject (you're going to be stereotyped anyway; better to be mom than the work-wife or girlfriend-type).

Crittenden triggers a lot of my concerns with stereotypically "female" leadership strategies, which often have to work extra hard to avoid setting off the insufferably entitled. I don't like to see these strategies slammed (listening _is_ good; finding win-win solutions _is_ good). OTOH, there are aspects that just set my teeth on edge (having to work 10x as hard to prove yourself, a la the woman negotiator talking to the other team an hour after having a baby). I am increasingly aware of a cohort of mothers-who-blog who are around my age or just a bit younger who are really going after the Supermom ideal. In a lot of ways, I've been at a bit of a loss to make sense of just what they are so cranky about. Reading this book, I sort of want to say, sorry, I didn't realize it was quite that bad out there. I _should_ have; when I was working, I knew it wouldn't combine with having a kid because the demands were just unreasonable. It's not like the world has gotten to be an easier place in the last ten years. For anyone.

Even if by some miracle Crittenden had avoided setting off my dismissing-involved-dads-does-not-advance-the-cause nerve (knowing a lot of very involved dads, this is sort of a hair trigger response at this point; just because she's got impressive numbers to back the generalization about women does not stop me from reacting. Repeatedly.), and even if by some further trick she had not set off the You Too Can and Should Be SuperMom So Why Aren't You reflex, this book would inevitably have run up against my issues with hierarchies and leadership. Yes, Virginia, if someone in the room has more power than other people, I definitely want to be that person. But I would far rather not have that be the case -- I rabidly Believe in equality. While there are increasingly parenting books that approximate this stance, it would be a bit much to expect that out of a book for managers.

I don't think I'm the only person who was disappointed by this book. Your reasons for having trouble with it might very well be different from mine. But I'd be willing to bet this book will irritate the heck out of a wide swathe of people -- and very, very few people will like it unreservedly.

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