Every economic crisis brings to the work–life juggling act out of balance. The greater the economic crisis, the harder it is for families to maintain their lifestyle and values and therefore questions what work-life balance is.
Everywhere around the world what was considered proper work-life balance is no longer the same as it was 50 years ago. Whereas in the past, the working 9 to 5 seemed to be demanding, today, working 9 to 5 as a parent is a rare luxury.
Are you feeling some of this too?
I think the source of the imbalance is that people want to eat the cake and have it too. In the name of family values, they work themselves to death. In Australia, for example, the weekly hours parents spend at work reached 50, not including commute time, which leaves very little time for parenting and passing on values to their kids. Most parents view this lifestyle as necessary and do not recognize it as a sign of a social crisis.
Parents are the most important agents of socialization for their kids. They are a channel of values and codes of behavior. The reason they have the biggest influence over their kids is that more than any other agent (teachers, family members and friends), they are the best at keeping their kids’ interests.
The notion of work life balance changed over the years a lot like the way the ideal body weight did – Marilyn Monroe, who was considered as having the ultimate figure during her time, would have been considered fat in our recent anorexic-celebrity world. Similarly, a person working 10-12 hours a day regularly would have been considered a serious workaholic a few decades ago, but in our high-pressure society, this is the norm.
Your children need your presence more than your presents
– Jesse Jackson
Kids are now highly influenced daily by over exposure to information beyond their capacity to grasp, but have less of the guidance to filter some of that information on their own, because for the sake of their families, parents make work a higher priority and leave their kids as easy targets of many others who want to influence them.
In recent years, the challenge of parenting has increased together along with the decrease of hours spent with the kids. A research in England found that the average parent spends 9 hours a week with their kids. In those 9 hours, they take care of their basic needs (feeding and cleaning), help them with homework but have little time for fun. In such a lifestyle, there is no place for close, happy parenting.
The pressure to stay at work longer creeps up slowly. Workplaces have many techniques to “encourage” their workers to spend more time at work to increase their profit. As the economic situation hits them harder, companies try to get more out of their employees in order to survive.
Some employers an amazingly attractive ways to make their workers work longer hours. Over 20 years ago, Gal’s first employers’ way to make workers give extra hours was to supply taxi services that brought all the workers half an hour before the official start of the day and left for home 15 minutes after the official end, supposedly to allow them to get organized. If you calculate 500 hundred workers giving 45 minutes of extra time every day, you will understand how profitable the taxi service was. If someone missed the home-bound taxi for any reason, the next taxi service left only 2 hours later, which made people work even longer.
Employers give their workers other services that ensure they give extra hours of work, like breakfast between 7:30 and 8:30 or an on-site gym. For example, Google is an innovative employer whose employees have lots of fun and get a lot of free services, but they practically live at work (note the word “hardworking”). Parents who feel an ever-increasing financial burden consider these benefits great bonuses, but fail to recognize their effects on their work-life imbalance.
Friends of ours used to have parenting shifts and hardly ever spent family time together. She left home at 6am, when the kids were still asleep, went to the gym and had breakfast at work. He got the kids up, gave them breakfast, got them ready for school and then went to work. She came home at 5pm, picked up the kids from all kinds of childcare arrangements, gave them dinner and got them ready for bed. He came home when the kids were already fast asleep.
She never saw them getting up in the morning and he never put them to bed. Working 6 days a week left them only 1 day a week for shopping, socializing, homework, putting their house in order and relaxing. When they had their third child, they finally realized they were not raising kids but surviving their kids in the name of putting their family at the top of their priority list. Slowly, over the course of 12 years, they had lost all the reasons for having a family. Getting up one morning and discovering you do not know your partner or your kids and that they are growing up with or without you is a painful awakening that is very hard to take. The sad bit is that waking up one day and understanding this is no guarantee that family values will be restored.
As with everything you do, your kids are always watching, listening and paying attention to what you do. When their turn comes to be parents, they will most likely do it like you, so what you decide today is carried into the future, probably for a long time.
For your kids’ and family’s sake, next time you need to choose whether or not to stay at work one more hour, come early to work, take a job with over an hour of commute, bring work home or open a business – think twice. It may be the norm that kids do not see their parents enough, but it does not have to be like that for you.
When you first started reading, you may have been looking for work-life balance tips. I want you to know I was going to offer some, but then I realized that work-life balance is a matter of priority/attitude/mindset. When emotional wellbeing is more important than physical comfort, when having good great relationships with your partner and your kids is more important than achieving financial goals, you will find your own way. In fact, this blog is already full of tips you can use, but only when you are ready.