Dear Young Family of the 21st Century,
No, it’s not all in your head. If you’re a working parent and your other half is also toiling away somewhere, there are simply not enough hours in the day to check off your To Do list. You can only fit so much in those 24, no matter how early you rise or how late you stay up, no matter how organized you are or how much you delegate. The wonder of technology isn’t helping that hapless hurriedness, either.
A Pew Research Center report released last week shows that, even as more families have both mom and dad working full time, even as this dual-income arrangement is less pioneering and more established, striking a work-life balance is a Sisyphean task. Some days are fine. Others, however, you wouldn’t mind being teleported to a deserted island. You’d even leave behind your smartphone for a few hours of peace and quiet.
I get it. Having adult children nearby allows me a front-row seat to their struggles, so I often witness my kids racing from home-to-work-and-back, followed by the mad dash to the kids’ lessons and practices. Their slog reminds me of that chillingly true saw: The more things change, the more they stay the same. But now you parents of young children are working longer hours, battling more insufferable traffic, and feeling pressured by an economy that may or may not be do well by you.
Stress? Oh, yeah. You’re on your way to a post-grad on that subject.
You’re now employed in a round-the-clock work society where physically leaving the office is nothing more than a technicality. You’re expected to answer your boss’s calls while on vacation and draft that all-important email to a client after the kids have been put to bed. You’re tethered to work, always and forever. They own you, man, they own you. This is particularly true for the highly skilled and highly compensated employees in law, finance, consulting and accounting. (Makes the life of starving artist a bit more attractive, doesn’t it?)
So no, the ever-increasing amount of time needed to earn a paycheck is not a figment of your imagination. You’re working at least 9 percent more hours than your parents were in 1979, according to the Current Population Survey Data. And this crunch isn’t easily resolved by more family friendly-policies either. Sadly, overworking is an expectation so embedded in our culture that I doubt it will ever change.
So what does it all mean?
For one, the burden of keeping it together continues to fall heavily on moms, according to the Pew report. Though duties are more evenly divided among two-earner families, women still shoulder more of the tasks. And they’re not happy about it, either. (Repeat after me: The more things change, the more they stay the same.)
And for second, you, young family of the 21st Century, are — as Atlantic magazine so aptly put it — money rich and time poor. Which is nice, sort of. See, that sweet chunk of income carries a price: the death of leisure, the lack of couple time, the endless exhaustion.
I wish I could offer advice, a one-size-fits-all policy to keep everyone happy, but life is never that simple and every family must decide on its own coping strategy. Years ago I thought it would be different for my children and their peers. It isn’t.
A veteran working mother.