I recently read something that compared parenting to sales. The book was totally unrelated to parenting, so at first I didn’t really think too much about it, but later the concept started to nag at me. Are parents really salespeople? How do I feel about that? Am I offended? Am I curious? What does that really mean?
To be honest, my immediate response was that I was offended. As parents I thought we were supposed to lead, educate, mold, and discipline our children, aren’t we? We show them by example and when they don’t get the hint then we TELL them what to do. We don’t wait for them to decide they are going to buy into this being an obedient kid thing, we expect them to do it. I admit it, that was my parenting ego jumping in and asserting her opinion. It was also a stereotypical view of a pushy, slick salesperson. I am a parent, not a slick salesperson who has no morals and just wants me to buy something I don’t need!
After a few seconds of being on my soapbox, I stepped down and let my higher self weigh in on the conversation. That’s the part of me that looks at things with curiosity and less judgment. I decided to expand my idea of salespeople. Yes, there are those who don’t listen and just come in with lots of practiced lines and don’t relent until you either buy something or you have to get downright rude to get rid of them. But that’s not what good sales is all about. Sales is about getting in your customer’s shoes, taking on his/her perspective, and seeing what their needs are. A good sales person will look at things from your perspective and then find the best fit for your needs. They will follow up to see how things are going and attempt to correct any problems. They will be polite, respectful and friendly. Of course, their aim is to sell you something because that is how they make their living. But if they sell you a defective product or something you hate, then how likely are you to go back to them or recommend them to someone else? Their livelihood depends in large part upon their reputation, repeat customers and referrals. So, it doesn’t make sense for them to sell you something you will hate and then tell everyone you know that they are terrible. The basic idea is that you do want to buy something which is why you are there (unless we are talking about telemarketers, which we are not), so why not find the product or service that best fits your needs?
Let’s look at those ideas in terms of parenting. I absolutely think as parents we need to walk in our children’s shoes frequently. As adults, our brains and emotions work one way, and our children’s brains and emotions work differently. If we try to impose the logic of our more evolved brain to that of a much less evolved brain we are not likely to get the results we want. For example, if we tell our 6th grader he needs to get good grades because it will benefit him in the future, we aren’t likely to get a lot of buy-in because the part of their brain that can plan for the future is still developing. Some kids might get this concept, but for the most part their world is much more immediate until that part of their brain develops more, which won’t be until their early 20’s. It’s not his fault and he is not purposely being difficult, the wiring just isn’t there. So, a good salesperson would take on the perspective of someone who needs more immediate reasons to get good grades because that’s what their biology requires.
What about the toddler who has a tantrum at the market? Our goal is to get them to behave and not cause a scene, right? We are trying to “sell” them on the idea of being polite in the market. Being a good salesperson, we would look at things from her perspective and figure out what she needs to “buy” our idea. First, is she hungry? Adults can put off being hungry but a toddler can’t. Her blood sugar levels affect her greatly, and she has no control over her behavior if her blood sugar is too low. Also, if she is hungry, that’s a little mean to take her to a place full of what she needs but tell her she can’t have it. Her world is still limited to food, nurturing, and emotions that she can’t control. Her body is simple – feed it frequently, give it lots of rest and lots of activity. As a salesperson wanting her to buy into the idea of behaving at the market, it is our job to make sure her body has what it needs first. She depends on us for this; she is not yet able to do it herself.
Checking in after the “sale” as a parent doesn’t mean getting your kid’s approval on your parenting. To me it means checking to see how they are doing, what’s going on in their world so that we can continue to see life through their eyes. If we know they are being teased at school it makes their moody behavior at home much more understandable. We can then figure out the “product” that is the best fit for them. Maybe they need some help with self-esteem. Or maybe they need help with some words for when they get teased. Or maybe it is more serious and we need to step in. The point is, knowing their need helps us adjust our parenting to fit the situation. And then we can check in to see if the intervention or “product” is working, or if we need to adjust something.
I think too often we miss the very basics of being friendly, polite and respectful. We want to make sure we are seen as their parent and the one in charge. Since when does that mean being rude and unfriendly? I am much more likely to follow a leader who is respectful and friendly to me than I am someone who is a jerk. Our kids are no different. They respond to being treated kindly. Fear of parents is not the same as respect. Fear will only go so far. If you want them to “buy” something, don’t alienate them right off the bat by talking to them in a way that immediately shuts them down or puts them on the defensive. You want them to stay engaged, to listen to you. Talk to them in a manner that would make you want to listen. It will probably work with them as well.
Perhaps the idea of being salespeople is not that far off. At the very least, borrowing some tools from the sale profession might help us be better parents. I think the things we are trying to instill in our kids will last a lot longer if we set up the conditions for them to want to buy what we are selling. This is not to replace the times when discipline is required, or in other unusual circumstances. In general, though, just like salespeople who have several different products, we have a lot to offer as parents, and finding the best way to offer that to our children can’t hurt.
For more parenting help give me a call or send me an email. I would love to help!
Gwen Bartran, MA, LPC