parent opinion

'I was told to run my family like a business. Here's why I find the idea repugnant.'

Tips on how to run your family like a business have been doled out in parenting advice columns for decades. 

It's a variation on organisational self-help strategies such as the KonMarie Method and Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The idea that there is a specific formula for success and one need only punch in the right numbers is seductive.

The idea that business strategies like weekly meetings, targets, performance monitoring and job titles can improve home life has been spruiked by best-selling author of Crib Sheet and parenting research guru Emily Oster. 

Many a parenting blogger and author swears by it.

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Video via MamaMia.

Don't get me wrong, nothing gets me salivating quite like the promise of life-changing magic.

On the surface of it, I find the idea of a more organised and efficient home life appealing. If only there was an easier way, if only I was just a little more militant or 'business-minded' about organisation maybe our lives could be better. 

But something about this theory rang alarm bells for me as soon as I became aware of it. When I scratched a little deeper and interrogated the way it encourages workplace culture to bleed into our private lives, the 'running your family like a business' model quickly became repugnant to me.


For a start, most business principles are designed to use people to maximise efficiency and profits. In business, people are mostly a means to an end which is making money. Human capital is converted into cold hard cash. 

But at home I think the situation is reversed - money should be reinvested in human capital. The people in our home are not the means to an end, they are the ultimate goal.

Efficiency is welcome in my home but it's not a goal that we prioritise at all costs.

It might be more efficient for me to do all the domestic labour because I'm physically on the 'job site' more of the time and I have boobs so have somewhat 'specialised' in feeding an infant, but I object to cooking, cleaning and child rearing 100 per cent of the time for ethical reasons. 

It would be more efficient to make sure the kitchen is not 'overstaffed' with unnecessary labour, but sometimes it's nice to cook together. The kids are far, far slower at putting laundry away and cleaning up but they've got to learn somehow.

Home is also usually a place where we are genuinely allowed to feel our feelings. There is nothing quite like stepping inside and having a solid bitch session with a sympathetic ear. 

But feelings are an unwieldy medium and certainly not conducive to efficiency. 


Anyone who has sat with a toddler having a meltdown at the front door about the colour of their shoes will know that feelings cannot be rushed to get to a swimming lesson on time. Nor should they be. Feeling our feelings is how we communicate and how we learn to live with our feelings.

Business principles are widely criticised for working on the assumption that humans are robotic. It's arguable that this approach is even sustainable during work hours, but at home it surely becomes intolerable and no longer in our best interests. A business approach to home life erodes the time elasticity we require precisely because we aren't robots. Home is the decompression chamber.

Learning is also rather inefficient. 

If I assign a particular set of daily chores to my eldest son, he would become increasingly adept at those tasks, in business terms he would 'specialise' and meet 'key performance indicators'. Assigning him different tasks and rotating chores is less efficient but it gives rise to more learning experiences. 

What about play and spontaneity? A business-like routine seems to leave little room for boredom. Work and play are in binary opposition. The application of workplace culture in private life is a disturbing departure from the informal space and qualities that are difficult to measure.

Maybe my interpretation of the 'running your family like a business theory' is too literal, but if the idea is simply to cultivate a team-like environment and have logical routines - why use a business framework? Isn't this just common sense and pro-social behaviour? Why do we feel the need to frame family life in economic terms?


It's not just a question of whether the application of business principles leads to the adoption of business values in family life and the ethical problems this creates, but the question of how we retain identities and meaning-making outside of pursuits that generate money. 

Is work the only language we speak? Is this the only paradigm in which the world makes sense to us? If we can't chart it on a graph does that mean it doesn't count?

I remember being driven mad by not knowing how much milk my baby was getting because I couldn't measure the milk in my boob. A spot or a rash would appear and then disappear and I'd simply have no way of knowing what caused it. Having children and babies meant I had to learn how to exist in the grey areas - find peace with the 'not knowing'. 

I think family life is a vital reminder that not everything is cut and dried. The business approach tries to impose a rigid system on an inherently fluid and often immeasurable dynamic.

Capitalism has a useful purpose of allowing us to accumulate wealth to look after ourselves, but the ethics of this system are questionable even in business terms. To allow capitalism to reach its tentacles in and govern our interactions with those we love is a bridge too far.

How do you feel about the prospect of raising your family like a business model? Let us know in the comments below.

Feature Image: Instagram @bush_bambinis.

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