A job description for parents – how qualified are you?

Becoming a parent is arguably the most important job we’ll ever have. And yet, as any new mum or dad well knows, there’s no training or manual to help you navigate the ups and downs of raising children.

In her fourth blog for us (you can read the others here), Senior Product Manager and mum of two Laura Sands ponders whether she was really qualified to become a mum before she had children – and wonders what qualities would make us ’employable’ as a parent.

How job ability assessments got me thinking

I’ve recently been involved in a few assessment centres (as an assessor I hasten to add!). For the uninitiated, these are a series of tests that organisations put candidates through in order to assess their suitability for employment.

More than just an interview, these tests assess a range of interpersonal and technical skills, including  the ability to negotiate, analyse data and present yourself.

The tests got me thinking. I certainly wasn’t interviewed or assessed before becoming a mother, and yet parenthood demands (in business-speak) ‘performance against a broad range of competencies’ – some of which I’m fairly sure I would have failed at if tested before giving birth.

A job description for parents

So, for fun and reflection, I decided to write my own job description for parents – and list some of what I think are the top parenting requirements.

The ability to plan and prioritise

This quality goes without saying – especially when multiple children (and a husband?) are involved. Let’s face it, leaving the house to go to the park, nursery, shops (or anywhere) is a planning feat compared only to going on holiday or organising a Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award expedition.

Most of my attempts to leave the house go a bit like this:

  • Check kids are clean.
  • Coats on.
  • Shoes on.
  • Keys?
  • Damn it’s raining – pull out wellies and waterproofs.
  • Check water, emergency raisins and breadsticks.
  • Where are the nappies?
  • Grrr, no wet-wipes – find wet-wipes.
  • Mobile phone.
  • Handbag.
  • Keys?
  • Triple check keys?
  • Get into car.
  • Bugger – I still have my slippers on.

I admit that I’m not the most organised person, but I know people who are far worse. It’s a miracle we ever get anywhere at all, let alone turn up on time. But let’s consider the following as a serious prioritisation exercise:

Take one child crying for food/TV/the iPad, while the other needs the potty NOW or has done a mega nappy filler (the cat is miaowing to go outside too). Then add a ringing phone, or someone at the door. Oh, and you desperately need the loo too.

It makes a crammed inbox seem like a (pre-kids) walk in the park, doesn’t it?!

Innovation and creative thinking

I’d always thought that I would be able to pull this one out of the bag. I enjoy creative pursuits and, before actually having children, envisaged rainy afternoons creating charming objets d’art from egg boxes and pipe cleaners.

But it seems not. My kids are never impressed with my adaptations of boxes into police cars (“But the wheels don’t go round!” they lament) and my drawings are dismissed with, “No, that’s not the right one. I want it like that”.

But creativity has many outlets. My fussy eating three year-old won’t touch cauliflower, but will happily eat ‘snowy trees’, and getting into the bath is almost an endurance event, unless ‘mummy alligator’ is on the loose to chase them into the bath – parents 1, kids nil *high five*.


Pre-kids, I took the view that I would NOT negotiate. It was the NATO stance on hostage situations, and I looked down on those parents I heard pleading with their offspring to do x, y, or z.

Oh, the naivety. The number of stories at bedtime, stickers for good behaviour and even how many shoes to wear when we leave the house(?) – everything, it seems is up for negotiation.

I’d assumed that this would start at the age of about 15, with the expected, “Be back at 10pm”, “No, 11.00”, “No, 10.15″… followed by the eventual return at 10.55. I’m not even sure how to play this. I don’t want to be a walkover for sure, but also want allow a certain spirit to develop. But maybe not that much…

Being a quick learner and adapting to new information

I hadn’t realised just how well I’d delivered against this one, until I had some (child-free) girlfriends visit. Big lad was desperate to play with them, and so we settled down to play a Thomas the Tank Engine version of Snakes and Ladders (rock and roll eh?).

The kids were amazed at the fact that here were some grown-ups who did not know who Percy, James and Edward were. My friends were amazed at the fact that I did. So we had a very confused 15 minutes of moving coloured trains around a board.

And it’s not just tank engines. I now appreciate that ‘diggers’ is a generic term for large construction vehicles. There are excavators, bulldozers (with and without caterpillars), bobcats … and that is only scratching the surface.

Good communication skills

‘Plain’ english? Presentation writing? Presenting skills? Email etiquette? How about teaching a language? Understanding toddler-ese? Clearly (and calmly) informing basic requirements in the face of heightened emotion (in other words a tantrum)? Or getting someone to actually listen to what you are saying (I find the sporadic use of the word ‘cake’ helps quite a lot)?

I now consider myself something of a polyglot – and that’s more than my rusty German, holiday Italian and very basic Latin. Work-speak, soothing/shouty/calm mummy-speak and everything in between. No wonder there are days when I completely forget the names of people I have known for years!

And that’s just the start

But more than all of the above (and heaven knows I could have gone on with many many more examples) there are things that no employer ever seeks, but just happen.

Patience, selflessness and love. These just happen, and only in the most serious and unusual cases do they not. This is what defines us as parents, what softens the hard edges and makes you a different person to the person you were pre-babies.

So even if you can’t leave the house on time, and remember to pack spare clothes and wet wipes, or if you are incapable of creating a fort out of cereal boxes, who cares? Your most important employer won’t fire you – this is a job for life.

You can find out more about Laura’s experiences as a working mum on her blog