If I stopped to count, I think I get asked five or six times a day, “Can I help?” The answer is never, “no.” Instead, I come up with a detailed response that explains why this is not a good time to pitch in. It’s something I need to work on. Helping out is how kids learn to do things.
Any manager knows the conundrum. In order to effectively complete a large number of projects, a manager needs to delegate. Delegation is difficult, though. It’s a time investment that may not pay off in the end. It takes time away from the task to train someone else to do it, and then, that person is never going to do it exactly the way that you would do it. It’s the classic it’s-just-quicker-to-do-it-myself syndrome.
Raising triplets is project management. As the project manager for my troupe of junior employees, I make management mistakes all day long. I criticize in public, not in private. I use punishment as incentive more often than I use positive reinforcements. I don’t invest the time in growing my little employees so that they can take on more of the work of the house.
A parent of triplets who was a mentor to me very early on, gave me the following advice before it even made sense to me. He said, “The biggest mistake we made when raising our triplets was doing their homework for them. It created such a big problem as they advanced through high school.”
I didn’t understand at the time why this set of parents would do their kids’ homework. It seemed like such a no-brainer to demand that kids complete work on their own. Not so, though. As my kids began populating our sacred evening hours with homework, I quickly found myself pronouncing words rather than waiting for a child to sound a word out, rewriting letters in order to show how a letter should be neatly written rather than having the patience for the child to erase the writing and rewrite the word. A few weeks ago, the kids were asked to make flash cards. It was a task they needed some assistance with, but somehow it had managed to hang on, uncompleted, until Sunday night.
“She didn’t really mean for you to have to make flashcards over the weekend,” I heard myself say. The response I received after my lame attempt at not completing the weekend’s task was swift and forceful. Within minutes, we were making flashcards, and my Sunday night television viewing was gone.
When I’ve taken the time to teach children and not put them in front of the television so that I can quickly complete a task, they have mostly risen to the occasion. I now have a child folding laundry and putting it in drawers. I have a child sweeping floors and lining the trash can with a bag. Perhaps my biggest accomplishment is the most recent. I have a child scooping poop. She came to me and said, “When can I learn to clean the litter box?” She does a pretty good job of it, too, and get this: she likes it.
Preparing the Thanksgiving meal is a management challenge for anybody who is cooking for a group. Some cooks love delegating tasks out to others and having a lively kitchen full of helpers. Other cooks don’t want anybody stepping foot into the kitchen until the meal is ready.
I’ve been trying to create an experience for my children where they have memories of the foods I grew up with and they have the experience of the sights and sounds of me in the kitchen putting together a meal to show them I love them. But, if they dare to set foot in the kitchen under the guise of helping: oh, the horror, the horror.
There is still hope for me, though. I remind myself that my time investment affords me the luxury of being able to yell up the stairs and ask, “Can you please put that laundry away that is setting on the bed?” And it will be done, and it will be right, with the exception of a pair of socks or underwear ending up in the wrong drawer once in a while (an atrocity that, truth be told, happens when I complete the task myself).
On Thanksgiving, stuffing has been my friend in this regard. When I hear a chorus of “Can I help?” I immediately answer, “Yes.” Nothing much can go wrong. It’s tearing bread into pieces, after all. I can delegate the task and know it will be done properly (despite the small bumps in the road, such as when a controversy arose among my employees over the size of the crumbs and ripping technique).
Maybe I am not such a bad manager, after all. Perhaps I have the fear that many managers with wonderful employees have—the fear that someday, my team will be better than I at all sorts of tasks, and they will work me out of a job.