There are ways that parents do have special skills and qualities that are useful to an employer, but they’re not necessarily things that parents or employers want to admit. When I think about what it would be like to be a stay-at-home parent rejoining the workforce after 10-20 years, here is the list of things I think I would be able to offer an employer.
I would do just about anything to keep the job, if it meant not going back to my life of mind-numbing drudgery. Do you need me to stay late to work on projects? You got it. You’re doing me a favor by giving me something interesting to do with my time. I enjoy having grown-up conversations with adult people. Please don’t send me back there. Please. Here is where childfree people may take their jobs for granted – you think THIS job is boring and soul-crushing? You’re lucky you’re not home with my kids....
Does your CEO act like an impulsive, spoiled brat? Make me his assistant, because I know how to deal with that kind of person. Perhaps I can give him a cookie or make him take a time out. Maybe take away his TV privileges. If you’re a company that treats its employees like children, then my management skills are just what you need. If your firm is in any way like a group of self-centered, immature, needy people, then I have exactly the tools you want.
As a stay-at-home parent, my individual identity has for years been conveniently subsumed under the needs of the collective. No need to waste time squashing my individuality, because it is already pre-squashed for your convenience. If you could train me to obsess about profits as much as I obsess over my kids, then I can guarantee you Fortune 500 status. If you could convince me that the company is my family and you could guilt me into sacrificing everything for it, then you have got one loyal worker.
Do you have outside pressures from creditors and auditors? Do you need to deflect outside criticism? As a dedicated pronatalist I have a big toolbox of techniques for doing that very thing. I’ve got the Sob Story, the "How Dare You Judge Me" Deflection, and my all-time favorite, the "You Don’t Know What Love Really Is" Speech. (I've even made a Power Point of that one.) If you are looking to offset this whole new “social accountability” fad by presenting yourself as the victim instead of the perpetrator, then I have some tactics you are going to love. As a divorced parent with stay-at-home experience, I know all about using legal action to pre-empt hostile action or to destroy the competition. I know how to launch a money-seeking lawyer at someone. That just may come in handy in your line of work.
I'll do what I'm told by the peer pressure that's around me. I will drink the Kool-Aid if you appeal to my need to fit in with everyone else. You could give me the worst job in the world but tell me it’s "The Best Job in the World," and I will probably believe you. I fell for that trick once, so there’s a good chance I will again.
The Yeah, But....
All sarcasm aside, I do agree as a very general rule that parenthood could be good preparation for other jobs. At least, I would agree that being a good parent could help develop attributes that would make you a good worker or good business person. If you handle parenting responsibilities well, then that could be good sign that you handle responsibilities well in general.
However, there are at least two big problems with that argument, or at least two big questions that have to be answered:
1. Does being a parent mean that you are a GOOD parent?
I said that being a good parent could be good job training, but not all parents are good at being parents. In fact, it is extremely hard to have a parent fired. You have to break the law in some very specific ways to be fired from motherhood, for example. It is much easier to be fired from a job than to be fired from parenthood, so the level of accountability for parents is actually much lower. If your irresponsible financial habits bankrupt your household, you still get to keep your job as parent. In most businesses that would get you fired. If an employer really is supposed to use parenting experience as a guide, then the employer would need to be able to evaluate how successful you have been as a parent.
I have no doubt that many people thrive as parents and learn a lot of valuable things that would be useful to a boss someday. But, compared to other ways of getting these skills, becoming a parent may be a really poor route to take. Perhaps there are better alternatives for acquiring these abilities. I’m guessing a few accounting classes could be as useful as running a household budget for a few years. In many fields, it could be that a decade of parenting could teach as much as just a couple years of formal education. Furthermore, there is the question of the depth of the knowledge you gain as a parent. If you’re a school district, you would do better a) to hire someone trained as a kindergarten teacher than b) to hire someone to teach kindergarten just because her one child was five years old once. Being a parent is obviously not the ONLY way of getting these skills. Spend 10-20 years doing just about anything and you’re bound to learn something useful, but that doesn’t mean every way you spend your time is equally valuable.
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