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Author: Parenting skills translate to workplace

Posted August 28, 2009

Ann Crittenden looks forward to the day when parents who’ve been out of the work force will proudly list on their resume that they spent their time drawing with a toddler instead of drawing a paycheck. That they managed a household rather than an office. That they negotiated crucial deals between siblings if not between businesses. In short, she looks forward to the day when listing “parenting” on a resume will get that profession the recognition it deserves.

An award-winning journalist, lecturer and the author of several books, including "The Price of Motherhood” and "If You’ve Raised Kids, You Can Manage Anything," Crittenden is the featured speaker at Carolina Parent’s Women@Work Breakfast on Sept. 15 at the American Tobacco complex in downtown Durham. The event honors the 2009 North Carolina Family-Friendly 50 companies, which are recognized for helping parents balance work and parenting.

From the author’s perspective, it’s exactly the work that parents do at home that helps them excel in the workplace. She recently spoke by phone from her home in Washington, D.C., about "If You’ve Raised Kids, You Can Manage Anything."

Question: Tell me about yourself and the book.

Answer: I think it’s clearly written by a mother who had a pretty long professional career before I had my child. It really did strike me that the experience you have at home is very rich and very applicable to management. [The book is] for somebody who has had a foot in both worlds. I think if you didn’t, it wouldn’t resonate. As a journalist, I covered business and economics, so that’s why I was familiar with management. And my big moment was when I started reading the baby books and the books about how to raise your child, and they were very similar to books on how to be a good manager.

Question: Is this a business book or a parenting book?

Answer: It was more for women who raise kids. I think it’s best placed in the parenting books, but it’s not really a how-to book. It’s an empowering book. But it probably should be read by business people.

Question: In your book, you talk about “soft skills” like multi-tasking, the importance of listening and practicing patience. Can non-parents learn these skills?

Answer: I never want to be in the position of saying you have to have kids to learn these skills. [But being a parent] gives you a depth of understanding.

Question: One of the things you emphasize in the book is the importance of women mentoring women. Could you explain that further?

Answer: Everyone needs a role model. It’s beyond even having a superior. It’s having a role model who is sympathetic and whom you can emulate. That early generation of women who had to make it on their own and break barriers was toughened up. I think there’s more of a critical mass [now]. Women feel more secure. I certainly see signs here in Washington where I am. You really don’t feel like you’re on your own.

Question: Have we reached the point where people can explain a gap in employment by saying they were home with the kids and not have that negatively impact them?

Answer: It’s very dependent on the employer, and so much depends on whom you’re sitting across from [in the interview]. We’re still at an awkward cultural moment, I think. We have a new neighbor who’s eight months pregnant, and she’s still nervous when people ask what she’s going to do. She plans to take off for a while. She has been on all these listservs, and people there are still questioning it. What do I put on my resume? The culture is still very workaholic. One of the main reasons I wrote [this book] was to dignify the work of raising children. This is very highly skilled work. We just think any 12-year-old can do it.

Question: What is the single biggest skill learned from parenting?

Answer: Perspective. You have a broader universe than the universe of the office. You should be able to see more than the office and not let it destroy you, not let it melt you down. You should be more cool. A little dose of humility comes to mind [as something else gained from parenting]. It’s harder to be one of those bosses who has no empathy and is dictatorial. [Parents] are people who have learned the lesson. Learned the big lesson.

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