the Impossible: Balancing Work and Family
Rev. Dr. Ron Johnson
In the best-seller The Overworked American:
The Unexpected Decline of Leisure, Juliet Schor reported
that work hours and stress are up, and family time and sleep
are down for all classes of employed Americans. Working moms
come home to a "second shift"; fathers find themselves
juggling new and multiple work and family roles; and single
parents are almost always on the brink of being overwhelmed.
Industries overwork us or, perhaps worse, underwork us by
making us "temps" or part-timers. Some workplace
policies are family-friendly, but many are not. And many leisure
activities do not promote real recreation and renewing space
in our lives. Such work and family patterns can lead to stress,
depression, and marital and family conflict. Moving from burnout
to balance can be challenging.
a thought experiment, imagine being a foreigner in our culture,
where all the daily activities are unknown to you. Piece by
piece, as you observe us working or raising our children,
you discover the patterns and values of our lives by our "practices."
What would you see about the "practices" of our
work and family life? What might you think?
better balance and organize our work and family life, a number
of solutions have been suggested. Examples include:
efficient time management--making "quality time"
by prioritizing, planning, and protecting blocks of time;
buying others' time for needed services; developing smoother,
more efficient systems (for calendars, shopping, eating,
ownership of your time--learning to say "no";
delegating (to family members, co-workers); using your "peak"
time for your most important jobs; breaking down big jobs
into doable increments; learning to recognize and act differently
when things are out of balance.
Reviewing the systems and traditions that orient you and
order your life--asking how you understand, make and value
family time, work time, community time, spiritual time?
What goals and goods are you seeking? How does your culture
view time (e.g., "time is money") and do you agree?
Matching your practices to your values--how do you believe
you should balance the time needed for family, work, God,
self and community? Is your current way really working for
you and others? Is your rhythm integrated with your deeper
Such balancing requires the ability to recognize and juggle
the multidimensional, multi-categorical responsibilities and
opportunities of life. Our
spiritual traditions offer us some important questions and
some disciplined guidance. What is the meaning of money and
time to us? Is our work an occupation or a vocation? Are we
"selling ourselves" too cheaply, or for a questionable
end? What is the meaning of marriage, parenting, caring for
our relatives, and family life to us, in this season of our
disciplines and virtues such as silence, solitude, generosity,
worshipping together, eating together, and making a day apart
(or sabbath, Hebrew for "pausing" or "ceasing")
are offered as spiritual remedies. The rhythms of
work and commerce are replaced by the rhythms of worship and
recreation, for discerning our right relations to each other
and to our world. "We need Sabbath, though we doubt we
have time for it," says Dorothy Bass, in Practicing
Our Faith. Without the protection of such spiritual customs
or traditions, commerce and consumerism might invariably run
without a "pause."
practices punctuate our life rhythms, and put our work in
the context of God's work. They help us check and resist our
various idolatries. We pause from doing and making to remember
being and loving. Our spiritual wisdoms suggest that doing,
remembering and resting form a deep and sustaining rhythm
©2006 Ron Johnson