Running the family like a firm for success

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 3:10 pm on 27 September 2021

Running a successful family is a lot like running a successful small business, says Dr Emily Oster, author of The Family Firm: A Data-Driven Guide To Better Decision Making In The Early School Years.

The American economics professor tells Jesse Mulligan how using business decision-making principles to the home can pay big dividends.

Dr Emily Oster

Dr Emily Oster Photo: supplied

You can read Emily Oster's blog ParentData here

Effective family decision-making takes a clear vision about priorities, logistical finesse and a firm grasp of the data, Oster tells Jesse Mulligan.

This approach to family decision-making seems "structured, formal, and cold-seeming" to some people but it has the potential to make your family time happier and more relaxed, she says.

"Because we love the people in our household we don't like the idea that we're treating [family] like our job but there's real value in being able to separate the parts of our lives that are about loving each other from the logistics."

Part of the approach, Oster says, is to give up on the idea of making the "right" decision because you can never know if the decision was right.

The best you can do is say 'did I make this decision in the right way?'

"When you're deciding about [soccer practise, for example], you shouldn't do it in this haphazard way, you should approach it like it's your job because it's going to affect your life the same way your job affects your life."

The first step is to craft a family mission statement that defines your family's values, Oster says.

"If you are not aligned on those dimensions there is an inevitable amount of conflict … you're going to be disagreeing in your daily life if you dont agree on those central values."

Her family's mission statement is something like 'let's raise adults': "We're trying to scaffold our kids and set them up so when they're not in our house they can be happy and nice and contribute."

Then apply the four Fs, as outlined by The Washington Post, to every decision:

Frame the question: This means not just knowing that there's a problem to solve, but defining what exactly needs to be answered to solve that problem. (So not, "Where should I send my kid to school?" but "Should I send my kid to school X or school Y?")

Fact-find: Gather intel from a variety of sources, whether that's scientific research or other parents you know. Consider the likely impact of your choices, maybe by making up sample schedules or budgets.

Final decision: Don't hem and haw. Schedule a meeting and be done with it.

Follow-up: After a decision has been implemented and you're seeing results, meet again to revisit the choice.

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