Saying No to Micro-Managing: What it Looks Like (for me)

In these posts — The Epic Job of Organising My Family & Organising Kids for School — I talked about saying no to micro-managing.  The fact is, I like micro-managing.  It means I know where everything is, where everyone is at and I RULE MY WORLD AND EVERYONE ANSWERS TO ME! No, I’m not a control freak.  Who wants to know?

Not wanting to micro-manage and not micro-managing are two different things. In the past, I used to micro-manage, a lot, and this is what happened: I became a huge nag, I got stressed about trying to manage absolutely everything and I used to take over if things were not done quick enough (or to my liking).  In my experience, micro-managing doesn’t work, well not for our family anyway.

For me, it’s been a process of letting go, and discovering that — surprise, surprise — everything doesn’t fall apart if I’m not on top of it.  And even if it does, I’ve learned to accept that a degree of chaos is part of our busy family life.  True, family life does not fit as nicely in a box, but oh, it’s so liberating NOT having to control everything. And it’s exhilarating to see my children blossom, mature and grow, within boundaries, yes, but with freedom within the boundaries.

Below are some of the ways I say no to micro-managing in our home life.

1. Jobs vs Systems

I manage the house in a certain way because it suits me and my family.  I am conscious though, that my children are not me, and when they are adults, they may like to choose to do things differently.   With this in mind, I aim to teach my kids to think about systems rather than jobs because systems take in many factors including situation and personal preference.

Here’s an example: Our hired DVDs were getting lost with our regular DVD collection, and so I put it to the kids to think about a system to ensure this didn’t happen anymore.  My daughter decided to mark a plastic box movies and this has become the dedicated spot for DVDs to return to the video shop and books to the library. It works!

saying no to micro managing

Another example is how I organise the plastic plates and cups. I keep them in plastic containers so it’s easy for the children to both unstack the dishwasher and get their own breakfast and drinks. 

saying no to micro managing

2.  Freedom within Boundaries

Children need boundaries to feel safe and secure. The tricky thing is to know where to put them. The idea of freedom within boundaries is to allow the child to work out their own system (and make mistakes!) within a certain framework. For example, I usually fold my children’s washing but I don’t put it away for them. Instead I say: “Here’s your clean washing. I’d like it put away by the end of the day please.” If they don’t, I tighten the boundaries until they can show me they can work within them and move the framework as they mature. More responsibility equals more freedom.

3. Responsibility

I want to give my children responsibility, and privileges to match, but in order for this to work, there needs to be some room for consequence for actions. Let’s take homework for example.  With my older children (now 10 and 12), I can’t stay on top of their homework or nag them to get it done.  I am happy to help, but not manage. In the case they don’t bring their homework back to school or it’s left uncompleted, they might be in trouble at school.  That’s sad for them but it’s a consequence for their action. Yes, I could totally micro-manage their homework and this may save them from getting into trouble but this won’t help them in the long term.

What I WOULD manage and act on, is if my kids didn’t care about being in trouble at school.  I see that as a parenting issue and the thing I would work on rather than managing homework for them.

4. Siblings

My kids are different and although I have general expectations for all my children, there are ways I like to parent individually too.  My eldest daughter is quite messy but she doesn’t hoard.  My second daughter is neater but likes to keep everything.   When it comes to their rooms, I expect different things of them. I don’t pressure my eldest daughter to be like her sister and vice versa.  I do expect my kids to clean their rooms but I allow for personality and this is reflected in my expectations.

5. Play

Educational games are wonderful but I truly believe children learn best when they are playing imaginative games with the space to create.  I help set up creative play opportunities, like this one, and then allow my children the space to play.  I also provide many opportunities for my children to play in wide open spaces.

saying no to micro managing

6. Not taking over

I like things to be done quickly, and so it’s struggle, a choice, to wait when my children are struggling or take time doing a tasks, like getting their shoes on or opening a jar lid.  If help is needed I have learned to take the time to show them rather than do it for them.  The key is to allow (much more) time to do things.

7. Tough times

After the Queensland floods in 2011, family life was pretty tough for a while.  When things are a little shaky at home, I find it necessary for me say, “I am mum,” and call the shots until things settle again at home.  I think there are particular times when more control is necessary.

8. We are a team

I want our family to be a team, where two things happen: everyone takes a little responsibility for running the house and  individuals can contribute their own ideas to how we do things at home.  This is a work in progress.

I am the manager of home life but not the micro-manager.  Saying no to micro-managing is a choice for me, and I can say it’s a very good thing for our family life.

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Kelly loves life at both ends of the spectrum: wearing high heel shoes one day and hiking boots the next; sipping tea out of a pretty cup and slurping hot coffee from a camping mug; challenging herself physically and stopping for quiet unhurried moments to feel the wind on her face. Kelly and her husband Matthew seek to live a fun and adventurous life with their four children and pet bird.

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  1. says

    I love this Kelly, I may be a little guilty of micro managing too, and you’re right, it does just lead to stress for everyone involved. Hmmm…food for thought, thanks Kell!

    • says

      It’s hard to find the balance, isn’t it? Boundaries always move and I find the changeable nature of family life challenging. In a way, I think micro-managing will make things easier, but like you say, it usually just stresses everyone out.

  2. ali says

    I really needed this post, thanks. I’m a real mirco manager and it causes me much stress, time to let go a bit I think!

  3. says

    New reader and super-fan of Sound of Music here. Been on your blog for the last 10 minutes and at the expense of sounding mushy, you rock! I love the balanced parenting message you’re trying to get across

  4. says

    Great post! It is always good to take a step back from “gotta get things done” to think about the ways things are getting done… or why things should be done… and all those reflective questions!
    Now I have to think of some “systems” to fix some our “job” problems at my house! 😉

  5. says

    LOVED this post! It’s crazy but I’ve never thought to bring my business brain to the family management side of things. Lots to think about. Thanks, Kelly. x

  6. says

    Off on a tangent – I think it would be good to constantly distinguish micro-managing/empowerment and being detailed-oriented. Sometimes it’s necessary to have control over details because a job just demands it. But you are right, being a micro-manager doesn’t make for the efficient use of people around you. Delegation and empowerment – done right – creates feelings of confidence and more importantly ownership in your team. :-) Good article! Colin

  7. says

    This is a keeper. I really like the line about creating systems rather than jobs. I’m going to consider this further. Thanks for sharing.

  8. says

    This is actually perfectly timed…. I do micro manage. With a toddler and a new born I feel I need to, however, I’m also micro managing my husband. It doesn’t take a psychic to imagine how much he loves that.
    I thought the issue was him…. I see now I need to let go for everyone’s sanity.
    Thanks for the early morning wake up call.

  9. Hannah says

    I am a total micro manager! My partner doesn’t even bother looking for his own underwear anymore (even if its in his drawer) he asks me EVERY morning where it is!

    I actually never realised I was like this though! Hmmmm

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