VITAL SIGNS: Put your kids to good use

VITAL SIGNS: Put your kids to good use - There are a thousand reasons for modern middle-class managerial types not to rear children. For a start, it's terribly expensive - the schools and the skiing holidays and the piano lessons and the orthodontist and

by PETER YORK, in his persona as Peter Wallis, is managing directorof consultants SRU, e-mail: peter@sru.co.uk
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

There are a thousand reasons for modern middle-class managerial types not to rear children. For a start, it's terribly expensive - the schools and the skiing holidays and the piano lessons and the orthodontist and the shoes and the forest of electronic kit.

You might also take the high-minded view - it's a ghastly world, and the children will contribute to over-population and use resources that could go somewhere else - OAPs in Hartlepool, say. You could acknowledge that you might not be up to the job, not responsible or grown-up enough yourself.

And you could say you don't want anyone tying you down, making you risk-averse when it comes to jobs abroad, jobs with an income-now-vs-partnership-or-massive-options-later kind of trade-off, or any of those things that lead your children to ask third parties 'Who is that man/woman?' when you turn up occasionally.

If you're a modern person you'll believe that the old upper-class approach - nannies, boarding schools - makes for emotionally impoverished children.

You'll believe in work/ life balance and that if you find your work so compelling as to warrant 24/7 then you shouldn't punish them for it.

But I have a message of hope for waverers. Children can be very useful.

MT readers, past masters at calculating ROCE on every possible endeavour and deep believers in the 'people are our greatest asset' mantra of the HR movement, will be able to work out wonderful ways of exploiting their own tinies.

The old approaches to payback are off-limits. They can't go up chimneys, on the streets or on the stage (not at 14 anyway). But there are new opportunities that play to modern corporate imperatives.

First, children can do a lot for your personal positioning.

Why do so many otherwise monstrous beings choose to display their little darlings in their offices and in their publicity? Why do ambitious ego-maniacs get themselves interviewed in the bosom of their lovely families?

A family can redeem and humanise the public persona of a senior manager who's a real expert in constructive dismissal and cost-free factory closures. Family says 'stable and reliable', it suggests 'in touch with the heart'. Family is a point of contact, a conversation opener with a mass of different types.

Your children can make you seem more ... interesting. A piano or rowing prodigy at 10, a round-the-world yachtsman at 20, all those things can bring colleagues to your desk and help sales contacts stay around a little longer. And if they get started quickly, achieving children can bring a little vicarious social mobility into your life in your 40s and 50s.

So fast-track them, get every neurone thoroughly worked out. Think of that girl who got to Cambridge at - was it 14? You'd have been made.

Your children can help you network. Get that impossibly expensive school to pay for itself. Teach your children to recognise who their really important well-connected friends are and make sure they drag them home. Encourage sleep-over exchanges and you'll be on a new dinner-party circuit. Do things for the school and you'll find yourself on the platform. Children are natural heat-seekers - just a little training and they can go find in Gstaad and Tobago, the Hamptons or Woolhara. Think of it as part of their education.

And while they're networking, they can spy for you. Children are great spies - put that enquiring energy to use. Train them to pump their little friends for those vital clues about the business, the marriage and personal finances. They'll love playing detective.

And you can learn from your children. They can update you as they grow.

As teenagers (meaning at about nine now) they can explain the heartbeat of modern culture, move you from your archaic CDs to Craig David and completely re-style you by the time they're 16 (and, of course, they'll never put you into anything too young; they want you to act your age!).

Ideally, if it's your business, they'd carry it on, working like mad for practically nothing, driven by duty. Here's a joyous thought. One of my SRU partners is a woman so forensically clever, so perfectionist, so demanding that we despaired of ever keeping a secretary for her; they used to leave every month. But now she has a PA who's stuck it out for several years, who manages her, who's uncomplaining ... her daughter. Some return for all those years of flexitime and anxious hyper-parenting.

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