Parenting Hacks for Working Parents

Someone asked me this week what our "parenting style" was at the Bacon house. 

"Ummmm, I don't know how to answer that," was my super eloquent response in the moment.

So I thought about it some.

It's not strict, but it's definitely not loose. We laugh a ton, but there's also a lot of discipline and consequences when things go south (and they do). The trains run on time at the Bacon house. We think and plan ahead for what could go wrong and try to prevent them from happening. We're proactive in what and who our kids are involved with and we help them manage those activities and relationships. We regularly review our progress as a family and make adjustments.

Basically, our parenting style looks a lot like a business.

This isn't a total surprise if you know me and Brooke. We both work in senior-level roles at global companies (her in HR, me in Marketing). It's not uncommon for her to start her day speaking to coworkers in Ghana or Peru at 6am and for me to finish mine talking to coworkers in Perth or Singapore at 9pm at night. While we have pretty flexible schedules, our lives can sometimes bleed in and out of work and family time.

This isn't all bad and it's becoming increasingly the norm for many families out there. So for this week's post, Brooke and I are going to share 6 ways to bring the business world into your home to help raise successful kiddos. 

Employees of the Bacon Corporation.

Employees of the Bacon Corporation.

1. Annual Performance Plans

Each school year, we focus on 1 behavioral trait we'd like our kids to get better at. This year, we've had one kid working on their perfectionism, another one working on their social skills and one working on, oh how should I put it, their academic rigor :)

(And if you know the Bacons well, you can probably guess the kid for each scenario.)

We then loosely set some KPIs for each child's objective (e.g. 1 play date per quarter, 10 minutes of reading per night). We also share all this with their teachers, which make parent-teacher meetings way more direct and productive. 

Brooke and I aren't too over the top with it and we haven't gotten to the point of PowerPoint decks with pie charts and animated bullet points (which I am really really good at)...but maybe next year :) 

2. "No Surprises" Management

The #1 rule of effective project management and performance management? No surprises. We try and implement this rule with our parenting style when we can, and it makes a huge difference. 

Why? Our kids are not great at adapting to sudden changes or announcements, especially the 4 year old. So we deliver "bad news" early and often.

"We're having chicken and broccoli for dinner tonite."
"You need to wear a dress tomorrow."
"Mom is moving to Hawaii next week because you are all driving her bat-shit crazy." (okay, maybe not that one)

You get the gist. Kids will still go through the five stages of grief for each of these things - denial, anger, bargaining, depression but if given enough time they will eventually come around to acceptance. Better to have them do it over the course of a day than at the start of family dinner when you throw a plate of broccoli in front of them. 

3. Crucial Conversations

There's a popular book in the business world called Crucial Conversations, that offers tools and frameworks for having uncomfortable conversations when the stakes are high. While it was written for the workplace, it has tremendous applications for parenting as well.

A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.
— Tim Ferriss

Just this week, our oldest son was invited over to a friend's house where we didn't know the parents very well. Brooke arranged a phone call with the parents and went through our checklist of questions - Who will be there? Are there guns in the house? Are they locked away? Will the kids have access to the internet?

This is an uncomfortable conversation, but for us the stakes are high. So we have to get past the awkwardness. 

4. Employee Motivation

Great managers know how to motivate their employees to get the most of out them. It's a skill that both Brooke and I lean on to do the same in parenting. For example, our son Owen looooooves math. Loves it. So we try and add it into other things we'd like him to do, which leads to conversations like this:

"Owen, go outside and shoot some hoops." 

"I don't have anyone to shoot with. Can I just play the iPad?"

"Okay, how about this? Go outside and take 50 shots from the right side and then 50 shots from the left side. Track how many you make and then come tell me what percentage you make from each side. I'll bet you a dollar you make more from the right side of the court."

"Awesome! Deal!" 

5. Talent Development

I have no idea what careers my kids will choose when they get older, although it's a fun game to play (and for the record my guesses are Owen - pastor, Sloane - physical therapist, Wynnie - raunchy comedian).

Regardless of what they choose, they'll be entering the global workforce in the 2030s (!), where there's a 99.9% chance they'll be using technology to create goods and/or services. So why not give them a headstart? 

Our kids each have their own iPad and I am an unabashed fan of letting your kids use these types of devices with one enormous caveat - that the majority of their time spent on devices is for creating, not consuming, content.

This means loading it up with interactive apps like Hopscotch, Kodable, Minecraft and Garage Band and limiting the passive apps like Netflix, YouTube Kids and any preloaded movies or TV shows. 

Unsure if an app fits in the creating or consuming category? Watch them play it for a few minutes - if their fingers are pinching and zooming and typing and swiping, you're good. 

6. Problem Identification and Resolution (aka The 5 Whys)

As Brooke and I recap our workdays to each other (often over alcohol), so much of what we do can be boiled down to identifying and solving problems. 

What I've noticed lately is how much we apply these skillz with our kids as well. Take, for instance, a problem that used to be a bane of our existence: going out to dinner at a nice, sit-down restaurant.

If you have multiple small children you know just how horrific this scene can be sometimes, ranking right up there with a plane trip or long car ride on the "parenting frustration" meter.

In MBA school, I learned that a good tactic for identifying solutions to a problem is "The 5 Whys". Basically, ask yourself "Why" 5 times in a row and you'll get to the heart of your solution. Here's how it works:

Problem: Family dinners at nice restaurants are not enjoyable.
Why? Because the kids don't make it fun.
Why don't the kids make it fun? Because they make a total mess and start fighting with each other.
Why do they make a total mess? Because they're young and a lot of the dishes/cups aren't their size.
Why do they fight with each other? Because they get bored when we have to wait for the food to come out.
Why do they get bored? Because they color on the kids menu for about 5 minutes and then they're done.
You get the idea...

So, here's what our final solution looked like:

1. A pair of scissors to cut long straws into short straws. Brooke does this within 30 seconds of us sitting down with our drinks. Which prevents stuff like this:

2. Wet wipes, wet wipes, wet wipes. We order these by the truckload and never leave the house without them now, which makes wiping hands, faces and tables a breeze.

3. Activity packs. We let each kid bring their own "pack" of activities to bring to dinners, which easily fills up the time spent waiting for our table and/or food. Spot-It is a fun, travel-sized game to bring that all the kids can play (and for some reason, always seem to win).

Now? Dinners out aren't so bad, which gives Brooke and I more time to do this while the kids entertain themselves.

Okay, that's it for this week. Brooke and I are off to put together the New Employee Orientation kit for kid #4 who will be joining our company this summer. See you back here in another week or two.

In the meantime, to all the working parents out there. What are some parenting hacks you've come up with over the years? We're all in this together, so please share :)

For further exploration:

Flatirons Parenting Podcast - our church started a new podcast for parents this month and Brooke and I have both been digging it. The topics are relevant, the conversations are about 15-20 min each and what I like is that they have parents of older children sharing how they've handled tough situations that I know we'll face down the road one day. Check out the ones on Balancing Sports and Activities at Home, and Technology and Kids

What I'm listening to:

My man crush on Chance the Rapper has now hit unprecedented heights. Last week, he released Coloring Book, the most pro-family, pro-God, pro-fun(?) rap album ever made. It has 2 Chainz, Kanye, Lil Wayne, Future, T-Pain and more. It's a masterpiece that I was going to write a long blog post about, but there's been a ton of great media coverage on the album already, so I'll just link over to a few of those instead. 

Stereogum's Review of Coloring Book - they nailed the "new parent" aspect to this album. 
I Speak To God in Public: Chance the Rapper's Faith - MTV offers a biblical breakdown of Chance's lyrics
Why Chance the Rapper's Christian Joy Matters - Buzzfeed explores the "inestimable joy" of Coloring Book