Fallout for Families

October 16, 2008

Like you, I’ve been following the volatile developments in the financial markets closely for the last couple weeks.  I have to admit that I’ve been more focused on how all these changes will impact me and my family than on how they might impact family life across America.  I read a story by the Wall Street Journal’s Sue Shellenbarger (author of the blog “The Juggle“) today that gave me a wake-up call.

Sue’s story, titled “Another Casualty Emerges From the Crisis: Family Time,” is worth a quick read (found it online here).  Beyond explaining how the economic crisis will force many parents to give up on their dreams of work-family balance, she suggests that fewer parents will have the opportunity to volunteer time as they are forced to spend more time on paid employment.

A friend suggested the other day that our children may grow up with the same outlook at the children of the Depression.  While I don’t think it’s going to be that severe, most school-aged kids are going to pick up on the fact that something big is going on and will want to understand what and why.  The thing I’ve found frustrating is attempting to explain what went wrong.  I’ve been a student of business my entire life, and yet I cannot give an explanation that is sufficiently succinct to satisfy my two older kids’ curiosity without exceeding their attention spans.  I talk, they listen, they cock their heads, I try again, and finally they give me the “okay Dad, we don’t need to know” look and walk away.

Last week’s events will leave a lasting mark on our economy and, in most cases, our families and children.  How are you handling this conversation with your kids, and what resources have you found to give them an age-appropriate explanation?

PTG as Minivan

August 24, 2008

I got into a conversation last night with my wife and some friends about the image of the PTG (the name of the parent teacher organization in our school).   It struck me that the image of the PTG has a lot of similarities with the image of the minivan.  How so?  Let’s start with the minivan.

The minivan is perhaps the best designed vehicle ever (for its particular market — young families).  These families need a car that’s big enough to hold a bunch of kid gear (stroller, diaper bag, tricycles…), accommodate multiple car seats, safe and easy boarding (sliding doors are easier on the fingers than hinged doors), and provide easy access to the kids from the front seat.  The center aisle suits magnificently.

Have you ever owned a minivan?  If so, I am willing to bet that you felt slightly embarrassed to tell your friends when you first got it.  You felt like you were compromising.  Almost like you were selling out (“Oh God, I’ve entered the minivan phase”).  You simply couldn’t say no without appearing shallow and frivolous.  You’re much too practical to let fashion drive such an important purchase decision, but the usefulness overwhelmed your sense of cool.  That feeling is the impact of marketing gone bad.  Who aspires to be a “soccer mom?”  To be a “me too” suburban mother?  The car makers have a great product but have missed the mark in their marketing.

It’s the same situation with the PTG.  The PTG is core to our school community, planning, running, and paying for all sorts of great events and activities.  It coordinates the room parent program which does a lot of great stuff in the classrooms throughout the year.  An elementary school without a PTG would be a hollow place indeed.  So why is it so hard to get volunteers?  I’ve never noticed a surplus of candidates for any PTG office.  PTG leaders start the successor search immediately after assuming office — reflecting just how long that process takes.  And fathers… why are so few involved?  We had a guy serve as PTG Treasurer a few years ago and it was not at all uncommon to hear other parents snickering.  “What’s wrong with him?”  What competent man would volunteer to get involved in the PTG?  Totally uncalled for.

Have I made it clear why I think the PTG is like a minivan?  I am not quite ready to buy a minivan, but it is probably time that I got formally involved with my PTG.  How?  The first step (agreed with the other dad at dinner last night) is to pull together a pool of dads to help out with PTG events.  We want to give it a catchy name, something unexpected like “PTG Dads.”  Think others will respond to the call?  Stay tuned for updates.