Taking Time in Hand

At her
At her "command center," Phoebe Cole, 35, goes over the schedule with son Caleb, 3; daughter Carolina, 6 weeks; and husband Harry, 41. (Photos By Dayna Smith For The Washington Post)
By Annie Groer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 31, 2007

On nice weekends Phoebe and Harry Cole often take their children to an Alexandria park for a picnic.

While 6-week-old Carolina sleeps and Caleb, 3, frolics with Mom, Dad cooks. And cooks: turkey burgers. Salmon. Chicken. Sausage. Pork chops.

That takes care of the family's meat for the week, said Phoebe Cole. "Some of it we eat at the park; the rest I take home and refrigerate or freeze. It's all part of my weekly meal planning, because food is my weakest area."

The grillathon is one of many strategies Cole, 35, uses to stay on top of an increasingly busy life. She says the lists, schedules and calendars at her "command center" desk in the living room allow her to spend more time with the kids, her husband and herself.

They also are the hallmarks of a new career she took on last year, even while expecting a baby. Cole is one of about 100 women nationwide who work with clients in a home-based occupation known as "certified family manager coach."

The term was coined by Kathy Peel, a Dallas author and founder of Family Manager Inc., who developed a $499 online certification course based on home-keeping principles found in her 18 books. Newly minted coaches go forth and charge $199 for a household assessment and makeover and two consultations aimed at helping the harried better manage their domestic lives.

The emphasis here is not just on redesigning closets and alphabetizing spices. It is on involving the whole family in setting goals and priorities and managing time. "Getting kids to school on time is more important than getting the clutter out of the basement," said Peel, 56, whose Web site is at http://www.familymanager.com.

In a nation whose citizenry already hires others to walk the dog, prepare meals and get the car inspected, it's hardly a leap to sell consumers a multi-tier system promising rewards from cleaner floors to time for a facial.

But not everyone is convinced. Domestic coaching "may be the fad du jour," said trend spotter Marian Salzman, senior vice president of J. Walter Thompson advertising agency. "We are willing to try anything that will buy us time."

In Peel's ideal universe, a family works as a team, led by a manager -- and, yes, it's nearly always the mom. The coaches teach such basics as "communication, priorities, getting your kids to help with housework," she said. Family meetings, chore delegation, house rules and self-nurturing are all part of the business plan.

"The point here is that the job of family manager is a valuable executive-level position, and we need to get over any preconceived Stepford-wife notion about what it means to oversee the goings-on of a home and family," Peel said. "The makeover service helps people figure out what needs to be done first" in seven areas: home and property, food and meals, family and friends, money and finances, time and scheduling, self-management, and special events.

That last one, Peel said, "sends lots of people over the edge. On top of everything you have to do, there is the holiday season, vacations, garage sales, weddings."

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