Seminar hopes to turn women and men into competent mommies and daddies

GIVING PARENTS SKILLS TO DO THE JOB

January 20, 1992|By Lynn Williams

Imagine a corporation in which none of the employees has been trained for their jobs. Not only have the CEOs received no schooling, but they have only the remotest idea of their company's objectives, and no clear plans for reaching them. Relying on instinct, tradition and idle advice picked up at the supermarket or health club, they attempt to pilot their firm through the treacherous shoals of the 1990s.

Now imagine such a corporation actually thriving. Pretty far-fetched, right? Clearly, such a rudderless ship is on a one-way trip to Belly-Up City.

That's just what seems to be happening to that most basic of organizations, the family, according to Joseph Procaccini, director of the Center for Family, Work and Education on the Columbia campus of Loyola College.

"If we discovered that all the people running the hospitals in Maryland -- or even the 7-Elevens -- had no training, we would say, 'Well, of course they're going out of business!' " Dr. Procaccini says. "But when families 'go out of business' we just stand there in amazement and say, 'What's wrong with American society?' "

Dr. Procaccini, who received his doctorate in management from Catholic University in Washington, spent much of the '80s studying families in crisis, and came to the realization that many of the problems that cause the family to fail -- problems with discipline, for example, or communication, or decision-making -- could be solved with the same sort of management techniques routinely taught to business executives.

Mastering such thorny issues as delegating authority, making long-range plans, motivating your "workers" and organizing a fair division of labor is just as essential for parents, he believes, as for administrators; especially these days, when news on the family front is as disheartening as recession-era business profits.

Dr. Procaccini has packaged his expertise into a program called "Parent as Manager," which will include eight free seminars, to be held Saturday mornings at the center beginning Saturday (see box). In the seminars, he will share the spotlight with professionals from such fields as finance and psychology.

"The original inspiration stemmed from my work," Dr. Procaccini explains. "I teach graduate management programs, and a lot of people in my programs are in their 30s, and trying to balance work and family responsibilities. They would always say, 'Work is bad enough, but then I have to go home and take care of all those obligations, too.' "

In his book, "Parent Burnout," co-authored with Mark W. Kiefaber (Doubleday, 1984), he addressed the causes of parental stress. Two years later, in "Plus Parenting," he presented his theory of parenting as a form of business management. Ever since, he has been talking about family management techniques to groups from the PTA to professional organizations and offering all-day workshops for mothers and fathers who want to take charge of their "family firms."

Romantic notions about family life, he has found, often keep people from approaching parenting as the skilled job it is. Love is necessary, of course, but it's not enough to keep a household running smoothly. Just because a person "loves cars," he points out, that doesn't qualify him to run General Motors.

/# The "Parent As Manager" course,

he says, is like "an MBA for parents.

"It It looks at issues like long-range planning, but it also has a

heavy focus on building a strong family culture or climate."

One of the issues to be addressed will be parental styles, says Mickey Fenzel, an assistant professor of psychology at Loyola with experience in adolescent and family therapy. Three basic styles will be examined: the Authoritarian, which emphasizes parental control; the Permissive, which eschews structure and boundaries, and the Authoritative.

"Authoritative-style parents communicate warmth and caring to the kid, but also communicate the need for responsible behavior and limits,"Dr. Fenzel explains. He compares effective parental styles, which encourage self-esteem and motivation, with effective management styles in the workplace and in athletics.

Besides the lectures, "Parent as Manager" participants will be invited to share their experiences; the two-hour sessions will be part lecture and part discussion, according to one of the participating professionals, Margaret Murphy. The Ellicott City resident will, for example, be sharing her experiences as a working woman -- she's assistant vice-president of the Federal Reserve Bank -- who also happens to be the mother of five, ranging from elementary school- to college-age.

"My style in dealing with groups is highly interactive," she says. "I provide a framework and a process for the learning experience, and the experiences of the people in the group fill in the framework. They apply what is useful to their own situations."

"We want families to be pro-active, rather than reactive," Dr. Procaccini states. "I think a key to the series is that we have some control over where the family is going."

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