All over the country, at desks in offices people are furiously tapping at keyboards and racking their brains to remember what they spent the year doing at work. It’s annual review season, the bit everyone dreads, writing up your summary of how amazingly well you’ve worked towards your agreed objectives all year, how you’ve given 110% at all times and exceeded all expectations.
It’s a drag. First, you’ve got to remember all your (obviously many) achievements during the year and then write about them in a way that makes you sound incredibly impressive. You look at the objectives you set a year ago and the reality dawns that you were supposed to actually achieve them not just agree them with your line manager. Oh well. At least there’s the “completed all required training” box to tick. You vow to keep a proper log next year weekly, but you know full well that this is the 12th year in row you’ve promised yourself that you’ll do this.
List of achievements complete, you move on to making yourself sound amazing. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Irish people are particularly bad at blowing our own trumpets, but we’ve attended enough “performance management workshops” to know that there’s no room for “we” on a PR form so we cringe as we take credit for work we did.
Next up you add verbs, active ones, “demonstrated”, “challenged”, “strove”, and sprinkle some strong adverbs “relentlessly”, “enthusiastically”, “efficiently”. Then we read and cringe.
Then, fit the carefully prepared bullet points into the pre-constructed objective-responding boxes and you’re done. Until the meeting where you get to discuss it. The form is the hard part, it’s mind-numbing, but important. It’s good to know what’s expected of us at work and get feedback as to how we’re doing. When our boss tells us we “fully met our objectives” we know we’re doing a good job. (Or an OK one, depending on their standards).
Doing all this work for my own work performance review got me thinking, and applying the PR process analogy to my other job, the important one. Objectives aren’t agreed, they’re suggested by society, imposed by public health nurses, added to by family, dictated by feeding schedules and most critically imposed by oneself.
We lose sight of whether our objectives are SMART. We consider them to be non-negotiable, lists of things we think that we need to do to raise well-rounded, well-nourished individuals.
What if we could measure our parenting performance against our real objectives? I mean, we all think we’re the worst mother ever from time to time, like when you have a shouty few minutes, or make a threat that you really didn’t mean to make (“maybe I’ll just go to work next Wednesday” is my favourite) or when you wish and wish that bedtime would come
How lovely would it be if we could get honest open feedback from the people that matter on this one, our kids? The only ones willing to give it are strangers, who intervene when small children are crying to tell you how you’re doing it ALL wrong.
I talk myself up in my work review but I think I’d be loath to say that I “fully met” my parenting objectives, I put myself under pressure to do better, much more than I do in my other job. I don’t actually ever look at my goals, and I certainly don’t consider whether they are “specific, measurable, attainable, relevant or time-based. What would parenting objectives even look like?
The long term goal is to keep the child alive, and happy. How to achieve this goal? That’s the hard part, so we come up with a list of all the things we think we need to do: entertain them; educate them; engage them; enlighten them. We try to make things perfect, organic and pure. We protect them. We cook from scratch, wash in non-bio and get regular fresh air. We bring them to medical appointments and feed them well. We do arts and crafts and try to keep the floors clean.
How do any of these actions relate to our sought outcome? Who knows. Are the short term objectives SMART? Who cares. We’re not being measured annually on this, we’re measuring ourselves daily. Putting pressure on ourselves to do ALL the things.
That’s not the important stuff. Keeping them warm and safe, spending time with them, knowing that they are loved and cherished, that’s what matters.
I asked the boys their view of my role as a mammy. My seven-year-old when asked “what am I supposed to do as a mammy?” replied “In general (!), minding us and being a solicitor. Washing dishes, putting Laoise to sleep, collecting us, giving us food.” I’m just shocked food was so far down the list considering it’s what I seem to spend most of my time doing. The feedback was positive “How am I carrying out those jobs?” I asked “Great”. I questioned areas for development “You need to get better at relaxing”. This kid knows me well.
The second child surveyed described my job as to “Help us, go to work, put a plaster on me, make stuff for us like rolls” and confirmed that I’m “pretty good” at it. He suggested I could work harder at “Doing your jobs quicker in work so you give me more hugs.”. I’m all for that too.
So this year, I’m definitely going to try to look at my parenting objectives on the bigger scale, and have regular one-to-ones with myself to consider whether I am giving enough hugs.
It seems from the feedback that I’m at least fully meeting, if not exceeding expectations, just not my own. My area for development is to remember this. That’s smart.