Time Crunch:Finding Time for Your Family AND Your Career
36, and Cheryl, 35, were two professionals on the fast track to career success
-- and to family disintegration. Like
many dual career couples today, the ever-increasing time demands of their work
lives, the hectic pace of deadlines, frequent business trips, the constant
barrage of phone calls, faxes, and emails to their home study (and their need
to respond), and their mismatched schedules were all taking a toll on their
marriage and on the quality of their relationships with their young children
-- seven-year-old Trish, and four-year-old Jimmy.
Tom, a vice-president of an investment company, rose at 5:00 a.m. to
run, shower, dress, make his daughter’s school lunch sandwich, and gulp a
quick cup of coffee before running out to catch the 8:19 train.
Cheryl, head of graphic design for a major advertising firm, rose at
6:30 a.m., woke the kids, showered, dressed and got the kids their breakfast,
got Trish to the school bus and drove Jimmy to daycare on her way to work.
Once a day they breathlessly connected by phone to “check in,” but
these micro moments of electronic intimacy were invariably cut short by some
pressing business matter.
Although each day they held out the hope that they’d be able to meet
for dinner as a family, these hopes were almost invariably dashed by some
last-minute work “emergency.” Typically,
Trish got home by 6:00 p.m. (the babysitter having picked up Jimmy and
supervised Trish’s homework), threw dinner together for the kids while
reviewing a pile of faxes, got them bathed (the kids, not the faxes) and put
them to bed (except Wednesdays, Tom’s one night of
“quality time” with the children, when he took over, giving Cheryl
the chance to relax -- time she usually spent catching up on work).
Weekends were spent on errands, shuttling Trish to dance classes and
Jimmy to a play group – each parent taking one child and one TO DO list, and
spending the days largely apart. By
the time Saturday evening rolled around, they often collapsed into bed, too
tired to go out or to take advantage of the fact that they had ended up in
bed, awake, at the same time.
In the last year, busyness had given way to bitterness – often
directed at one another. Cheryl
vented frustration at Tom that she had to manage most of the childcare along
with holding down a demanding job. Tom
felt betrayed by Cheryl in these moments, as she had encouraged him to accept
the promotion that, while greatly increasing his income, had thrust many new
responsibilities upon him. Cheryl
countered that she had encouraged him because she knew he’d have been
miserable passing up the opportunity, and she’d suffer as a result from his
sulking moods; and on and on. When
the children started crying during their fights, Tom and Cheryl decided to
seek professional help.
Sound like a couple you know -- maybe you?
the past twenty years, across socioeconomic classes, there has been an
increase in time devoted to work and a decline in leisure time, resulting in a
time crunch for many families. This
time crunch affects partners' time with each other, and for those who are
parents, time with children. Both
single and dual earner couples experience this crunch, but
the challenges for dual earner couples may be greatest, what with juggling the
multiple demands of two jobs, commuting, childrearing, and commitments to
extended family and community. There
are numerous theories and studies that seek to explain the flooding of family
life by work. Some claim that we
have become a nation of workaholics, or of people who prefer the social
structure of the workplace to our “messier” relationships with our spouses
and children. Other studies point
to the decrease in job stability and increase in layoffs (despite the decrease
in rates of unemployment) which raises anxiety (especially when we have
children to support) and keeps us staying late at the office to prove how
indispensable we are. In fact, a
1992 New York Times survey found 82 percent of workers said they would work
longer hours, if needed, to keep their jobs.
Interestingly, although Department of Labor statistics show almost a
twofold increase in company flextime programs over this decade, relatively few
workers take advantage of these programs.
Although some persons use work as an escape from family
relationships, the vast majority of working parents find themselves caught
between two ways of providing care for their children: insuring stable and
adequate financial support, and spending adequate time with them.
For instance, a 1995 national study by the Families and Work Institute
found women indicating that their "greatest family concern" was the
family not having enough time together -- this despite both men and women
defining success at home as having time together with the family.
And when asked if they would elect to spend more time with their
children or work to make more money, most woman said they’d work.
In fact, while both men and women working parents struggle to balance
work and family responsibilities, women shoulder the majority of the juggling
act. Women do far more “trip
chaining” – executing complex sequences of activities before, during, and
after work to keep the family gears moving: shuttling children to and from
school, lessons, play dates, and doctors’ appointments; depositing and
picking up laundry; shopping, and so on.
And for those couples in the “sandwich generation” --
simultaneously raising children and caring for their own elderly, often
infirmed parents -- the female partner typically receives the bulk of the
While women do more multitasking, men do more of the business traveling
that takes them away from home, often for extended periods.
Although for some, the work may be exciting, and the potential for
national or international travel may initially seem a glamorous job perk,
so-called Frequent Business Travelers (or F.B.T.s) many soon tire of the grind
and accompanying separation from partners and children.
Such travel drastically reduces the amount of time partners have for
each other, and also limits or entirely eliminate a sense of temporal
regularity or rhythmicity in their lives together -- rhythms of time apart
versus together, rhythms of sharing household chores, and so on.
In addition, the transitions of the traveling parent's departures and
returns can be extremely stressful for the marriage and for children.
How can parents cope with the pressures of work and career while still nurturing children and sustaining family relationships? Here are some tips: Create “sacred times” for you as a couple -- a weekly date (even if you stay home), a morning meditation time, a nightly “decompression” talk about the day’s events (even if only ten to fifteen minutes, and even if you’re physically apart); and so on. Be creative and be consistent! Some couples balk at the idea of scheduling intimacy. These couples suffer from what I call the “myth of spontaneity” -- the notion that even when their lives are completely overscheduled, somehow, they will just find the time to connect. Typically they don’t, and then blame each other rather than acknowledging their busy lives and being proactive in making intimacy happen. Even if you’re not spending as much time together as you’d ultimately prefer, knowing you can count on regular sacred times of togetherness can keep you connected while you work to change the balance of work and couple/family time.
Try using Sixty Second Pleasure
Points across the day – fun and even sensual activities that a couple can do
that last only sixty seconds or less! A
quick massage, sharing a piece of fruit, an embrace, dancing (that’s why
they invented pop music – short tunes for busy couples!), and when apart, a
quick phone call, or an affectionate, amusing email or fax.
If one partner (that is, the
woman!) is shouldering more of the little details of family life, sit down
together and see if the other partner can take over some of them.
Sometimes small changes in who does what reap significant decreases in
Arrange sacred times with the
kids as well – but remember, kids can’t handle emotional shorthand as well
as adults – they need more time! The
quality of “quality time” greatly diminishes when it’s too short.
Think about doing some mindless chores with the kids while having a
conversation -- it’s a great way to teach them skills and responsibilities
while connecting. Many kids
don’t like to have adult-like face-to- face conversations anyway!
Try to arrange regular family
time. Several studies including
ours at the Ackerman Institute show that families highly value having at least
one meal together daily, and many pull it off.
Schedule other times that everyone can count on for fun.
For both the couple and family
times, make sure you turn off the beepers and cell phones, and ignore the
phone and fax. Nothing gets in
the way of time together than the erratic interruptions of work dispatches
through modern technology!
Ultimately, if you wish to have
more time from work for family, you may need to think carefully about the
financial and career goals you’ve set, and make difficult choices to pare
down work. You may be surprised
to find, after some initial grumbling and suspicious (maybe envious!) sidelong
glances from your co-workers or boss as you leave only one hour past the
supposed end of the workday, that you don’t lose your job!
key to all these tips is regularity -- creating a rhythm of family life
that acknowledges realistic time pressures from work but that prioritizes and
fits in time for all the relationships in the family.