Why Families Today Have No Time

Republished here with permission from Kristin Maschka’s blog.

In my life before motherhood, I led time management training sessions for employees of a big company. I indoctrinated everyone in the Franklin-Covey system for managing time. Before the age of iPhones, I kept my own binder-size day-planner and later a Palm Pilot at my side to manage my own time. But they were no match for what happened to my time once I had a child. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t make it all fit.

Even now, in order to save time I strategize how often I really need to shower before someone notices, as in “I won’t see anyone tomorrow, so I can put on a baseball cap and wait to wash my hair until Saturday.” I’ll tell you a secret, families do the same with our kids. One mother told me, “We do a lot of ‘rinse offs’ in our house—where we count to 30 and focus on the ‘pits and privates.’”

For all this insanity, we blame ourselves saying things like, “There must be some secret to it all, maybe in this magazine,” and “We just have to figure out a way to manage our time better!” I had trouble thinking I was a time management failure, and I just didn’t remember my own mother, or father, being this rushed. Why do we feel like we are more squeezed for time than our parents were?

My husband has a job remarkably similar to my dad’s. My dad is—and was when I was a child—an attorney in a firm in southern Minnesota. My husband is an attorney in a boutique law firm in downtown Los Angeles. The commute is different, but my husband works about as much as my dad did when I was a kid, 45-50 hours a week.

What’s different is what I’m doing. My own mother wasn’t employed—we were a typical single-earner family in 1970. Today everything has changed; most couples have both parents employed. Intellectually, we are all aware of this shift.

OK, but let’s do the math. I probably work about 30 hours a week give or take. And as current stats go, that’s pretty typical. That translates to 1400 hours a year. 1400 more hours of employed time being squeezed into our family lives today compared to a single earner family a generation ago. Even if you compare two-earner families today with the rarer two-earner families 30 years ago, today’s family is working 500 more hours a year.

If so many more mothers are employed, and if couples’ combined employed hours have gone up so much, where did that time come from? Conventional wisdom says that mothers must be spending less time with children to make room for employment; therefore, mothers’ move into the workforce hasn’t been good for kids. Therefore, cue mother guilt.

The only reason I know to challenge that conventional wisdom is that my husband and I happened to fast forward through that generational shift ourselves. By that I mean when our daughter was born I wasn’t employed, and three years later I was. Where did we find the time?

Most of the hours I needed for my job I got by dropping a lot of housework. My husband picked up some of that housework. We paid for some of it, at the local pizza place, for example, or by hiring someone to clean the house, and a whole lot of it just stopped getting done. Another big chunk of hours came out of my own free time and TV time. I got nearly an hour a day for my job by sleeping less and gained a bit by doing a lot more multitasking. School took some of the childcare, my husband picked up quite a bit, and most of the childcare hours I dropped were the ones where I was really doing something else, like grocery shopping, and watching our daughter at the same time. I made up for time I lost with her during the week by spending more time with her on the weekend.

The time hasn’t come from our kids. Employed mothers today spend just as much time with their kids as non-employed mothers did back in the 1970s. They’ve stolen time from just about everything else to make it happen. In the same time span, fathers have dramatically increased their time with children.

Contrary to popular belief, parents today are spending almost 2/3 more time engaged with their kids as our parents did—to the tune of 436 more hours a year.

500 – 1400 more employed hours +

436 more hours with kids =

936 – 1836 additional hours per year that today’s parents are spending at work and with kids than our own parents did.

That’s 2.5 – 5 hours more a day.

So no, I did not shower today. And neither did my kid.

Kristin Maschka is a best-selling author and a consultant in organization development and change leadership. Kristin brings a fresh perspective and authentic voice to the issues at the heart of family and community life today: modern motherhood and fatherhood, public education, community organizations, worklife issues, personal finance and economics, technology and business. You can find her on Twitter at kristinmaschka.

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