The Kidder Family, profiled in the Wall Street Journal for its use of workplace methods to make their family life happier and still productive.article February 9. The large spread featured a fun graphic with photo mugs of a family of five with their family-company titles, plus the cat (Rodent Removal Engineer) and the dog (Security Officer).
The author is Bruce Feiler, whose new book The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Marriage, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More is being released this month. Mr. Feiler reports that families are starting to take some pages from the workplace to manage their hectic family lives: weekly family meetings, accountability sheets in the kitchen for daily and weekly chores, a family mission statement, and much freer back and forth between children and parents (borrowed from agile development methods), all in the interests of building the enterprise--a happy and productive family.
This is not a new idea. As many of us have known since we enjoyed Cheaper by the Dozen as children, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Gilbreth applied their efficiency methods--in-depth studies on how to reduce fatigue and increase productivity--to the daily lives of their house full of children. Unlike their contemporary and rival efficiency expert Frederick Taylor, the Gilbreths believed that people who enjoyed their work were far more productive than those who didn't, and so were keenly interested in all the subjective aspects of creating a human and productive workplace. For instance, they studied the causes of stress (in which they included clutter) and how to remove them.
Mrs. Lillian GilbrethNevertheless, one might well ponder how Mr. and Mrs. Gilbreth, both of whom worked full time professionally, albeit at home, were able to maintain their large family of 12 youngsters with the help of one cook and one adored but feckless handyman, and then after Frank Gilbreth died, without a father and without the cook. Family councils, where chores were assigned with much back and forth on skill levels by age and likes and dislikes, routines, family meals, fun outings, a stripped down and lean vacation home to go to each summer, were among the ways the Gilbreths kept their children happy and productive in their endeavors, while as mother and father blazed new trails in the industrialized workplace.
Underlying their success, I believe, were two secret ingredients. First, the marriage between the Gilbreths was a partnership in every sense of the word. Although Mrs. Gilbreth
was willing to take a second place next to her husband, she held nothing back in bringing her excellent education, intelligence and thoughtfulness, self-discipline, and energy for the use of her husband and her family--and found great joy in doing so. Second, radiating from their mutual respect for each other, the Gilbreths showed great respect for their children. "Each member of the home must not only be able to express himself but be urged to do so and given not only the opportunity but the rewards of expression," she wrote in her 1928 book, Living with Children.
Expectations and standards were high. Children were not harshly disciplined nor were they coddled:
"It is better, too, for children to enter the family life as sharing rather than receiving members. They should not be allowed needlessly to change the entire method of living or to feel that they are to be the center of interest and the real reason for the existence of the family. This is no kindness to them. All their lives long they will have to learn to adjust themselves to the needs of others; the family may not continue to make them the most important members of the household, and even if it does, the world will not follow its example.... It may be beneficial for parents and family 'to give up everything for the baby,' but it is most undesirable for the baby....
"If a satisfying life is one full of experiences, then it is our job to expose the child to experiences, not to shield him from them; to help him overcome difficulties, not move them out of his way; to teach him to achieve successes, not hand him the results of successes we have achieved for him....
As often and as early as possible, he should become an active participant in every home problem in order to derive creative experience from it....
"Nothing better generates self-confidence than being effective. While the child in a home consciously governed by laws which hold good everywhere may have a little harder time learning to be effective, he has a much better chance to be so when he later steps out in the world than if he had to learn a new technique of handling situations when faced with the difficulties of a more complex life."
The Gilbreth family on the see-saw outside their vacation home.
By the same reasoning, "as a part of his effectiveness in the world, we want the child to learn to make his own decisions wisely and quickly and having made them, to be satisfied with the results. We may start with letting him decide on the color, design, and cut of his clothes. This is a personal problem that is sure to interest him and on which he will have opinions at a very early age. I have known youngsters to point out in a very decided manner which dress they wanted to wear before they were old enough to ask for the dress or discuss the matter."
I found Mr. Feiler's article right in the spirit of Mrs. Gilbreth's child-raising philosophy. In Living with Children, Mrs. Gilbreth opined that it is far more difficult to raise one child than many. I have seen articles recently in which women have spent so much energy on being mothers that there is little time for anything else, so great is their obsession with their youngster and doing everything "right." I think Mrs. Gilbreth would laugh at such an attitude. I hope that Mr. Feiler's book helps demystify some of the current views of raising children.