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Mothers/Wives are the Best Managers

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As International Women’s Day approaches

By Alok Joshi

After my mother passed away unexpectedly in 2020, I had to cut short my US visit and return to take care of my old father, who was left at the mercy of attendants. My new role was to manage the household (all by myself) and the two male attendants who looked after my dad in shifts plus the lady cook who lived in our apartment.

Armed with a management degree from Europe with over three decades of corporate experience across countries and companies, I was quite confident of managing everything single-handedly as a “male homemaker”.

However, at the outset, I am not ashamed of saying that I was a total FAILURE. Management degrees and real-life situations are two different things.

I carried on as a dutiful son for over a year, happy to spend time with my dad (who sadly left for his onward journey a few months ago). Despite being blessed to be close to my dad, it also turned out to be a very stressful period mainly because I failed to even manage the three workers (whereas in my last job in Mumbai, some 20 years ago, I had been a successful HR Manager responsible for over 3000 employees).

Until this day I wonder how my mother managed the household so well for several decades. Surely every mother does it but we often underestimate, ignore or take their home-management skills for granted. Unlike professional managers, mothers and wives are not given any formal home management training but they perform their roles admirably, without ever complaining. Their motivation is love, not money.

A homemaker knows how to manage the household helpers available to her. Many times, she has to hire them even if they are not as per her expectation because the kitchen cannot close, nor the house stay uncleaned even for a single day. She utilises them according to their strengths, aptitude and attitude. For instance, our night shift attendant was fond of talking and giving unsolicited medical advice (despite being a high-school drop-out) to my dad (who had guided scores of PhD students and was a Professor Emeritus himself). My mom trusted him the most and always listened to his mundane stories patiently. She had no problem with him at all. But I could not stand his dinner table discourses while he fed my dad. In fact, to avoid him, I started taking dinner in my bedroom. On top of it, my super vigilant mind grew suspicious that he was having an affair with the lady cook. In my attempts to catch them red-handed, I used to wake up at odd hours of the night and then was unable to fall asleep again.

The day-time attendant liked my simple and innocent mother a lot. He was happiest when sent for small errands because that gave him a chance to pinch money from her. In the afternoon, while my mom slept, he also enjoyed his cozy naps in dad’s room. During Covid and until she was alive, my mom provided him free lunch. As soon as I took over the charge, my biggest challenge was to catch him dozing off. I took away his free lunch, all his liberty and side-income.

My mother was overly kind to the lady cook, who had never worked in anybody’s house in the past. She bought her new clothes and trained her from scratch. For me, her cooking was as horrible as her temperament but my mom had no issues whatsoever. If ever I brought any non-veg food, the over-pampered lady cook would not eat dinner as a protest but dared to flaunt her multi-coloured lingerie in my room’s balcony (because my mom had allowed that).

In-fighting between the three workers became common which affected peace in the house. I had to tolerate them and their distasteful habits because of my father’s helplessness and dependence on them. Apparently, there was always peaceful co-existence when my mom managed them. That makes me believe that our mothers and wives are better HR Managers. Conflict management is something to learn from them. They do the balancing act so amazingly well. They work towards building and maintaining a harmonious family without siding or hurting anybody.

They are also great at inventory control. They know exactly when to replenish the stock. My mom would buy two sets of everything at a time. When something was half-used, she prepared in advance. I thought it was wasteful but my mom’s method worked well whereas the workers gave me a fresh list of things to be procured every morning.

We all know how mothers and wives (with some exceptions) are known for managing within the limited finances and yet manage to have hidden savings. My mother managed with whatever my dad brought home as a professor’s salary. But being able to read a balance sheet and managing the home budget are different ball games. I failed on that front too.

What keeps them doing the same thing day in and out is beyond my imagination. They are the first ones to get up in the morning and the last to go to bed. They have no holidays and work extra hours on festivals. Yet, they bind the family and convert a house into a home. They embody a sense of belongingness and keep the flock together as one unit.

Take any aspect of management, be it multi-tasking, delegation, rewards and punishment, participation, communication or even managing the boss (father), they are the best management gurus. Without denigrating the immense value of management education and training, I strongly suggest young people to quietly observe and learn management from their respective mothers or wives if they are married.

(Alok Joshi is an HR Advisor, corporate trainer, motivational speaker, freelance writer and author of two books.)