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Randi Kreiss

The family survey: Proceed at your own risk


Almost before I was out of my doctor’s office, an email popped up on my phone asking me to take a brief survey. Was the front desk helpful? Was I satisfied with my appointment? Did I have to wait too long? Was I happy with my diagnosis? Well, no, it didn’t actually ask me that, but it did prod and probe my experience, taking the vitals of my medical encounter.

The same day, I was asked to stay on the phone and offer feedback on my call to the National Grid people. Hah! That was cathartic. And then Google asked my opinion about a search, and then six (I counted) more websites asked me to take a “brief survey” after a transaction. I figure that a person could spend the better part of her days completing surveys, and to what end? How is the data used? Does anyone actually give a damn, or are the surveys in place just to make us feel as if someone is listening?

One popular company is SurveyMonkey, which is used by businesses to scope out customers’ reactions to their products or services. “Did your mangoes arrive fresh? Did your new shirt fit? Were you satisfied with the Medicare.gov rep who answered your questions?

The longest survey I ever filled out was from Ancestry.com. It went on forever, cheerleading my efforts and periodically asking if I would invest another five minutes, and then another, and so on. All I got in return was the knowledge that I inherited my dad’s ability to wiggle my ears.

Now, after 47 years as a parent, I would like to launch the mother of all surveys: I want my kids to give me feedback on their experience as my children. After all, my work as one of their parents has been the most significant job of my lifetime.

According to SurveyMonkey, I should begin with these questions:

Were you treated with courtesy and respect?

I imagine Jocelyn would mention the time I kind of pushed her onto the day camp bus even though she was clinging to my ankles. Jason might bring up all those times he was grounded for blowing past his curfew.

What could your mother have done differently?

That, no doubt, is a long list, beginning with upgrading lunch box selections from bologna to roast beef. Allowing the kids to go to the city by themselves. Having a car in college.

Were you happy with your room placement? Amenities? Were your mother’s efforts at parenting a success or a flop? Did you like attending family events?

I know the birthday parties featuring homemade ice cream cakes were a hit. I’m not so sure about the forced marches to museums. Hey, sometimes you just have to expose kids to experiences in the hope that they’ll learn something new (piano lessons, Picasso exhibits, visits to elders in facilities). Yes, I know that sounds defensive.

Would you recommend your mom to other children who need parents?

One has to be very careful in framing questions, as with any survey. I might ask an open-ended question, such as, How could your life as a child been improved? Or perhaps something more narrowly focused: Whose baked chicken was better, your mother’s or your grandmother’s?

Then there are the ratings questions: On a scale of 1 to 5, how safe did you feel when your dad perched you on the back of his bicycle when you were 2 and wore no helmet? How safe did you feel anytime he drove? On a scale of 1 to 10, what was the quality of family dinner conversations?

For the record, I tried very hard to insist on Friday-night dinner together, and I constantly tossed out conversation starters sure to be popular with teenagers, such as “Can you name the Balkan countries that emerged from the breakup of Yugoslavia?” I mean, who wouldn’t take that bid?

According to SurveyMonkey, one can also ask either/or questions. Who did you like better, Mom or Dad? and the related, Which parent secretly gave you extra money? Candy? The car keys? A fake I.D.?

The multiple-choice question is always popular. I would ask: Would your ideal family be: A) the Simpsons, B) the Huxtables, C) the Sopranos or D) us?

Two final questions would be, How likely are you to recommend me as a mother? Would you choose me again?

I would choose them.

Copyright 2019 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.