12 Oct Employment and the Family
By Marci Nelson
I grew up in a large family. My parents had four sons and four daughters, and we lived a very happy childhood where my siblings and I felt immense love and safety. For as long as I can remember, my dad has been a cemetery caretaker. This means that he mows, trims, waters, and cleans the grounds, while also operating the backhoe to dig the graves and, a few days later, lower the vault, and close the grave of the beloved deceased. He works harder than anyone I know, yet his income does not reflect the manual labor he provides.
It was not until adulthood that I realized my family’s economic situation growing up. Though we had only the necessities, and very little extra, as a child I never felt that we were lacking financially. I lived a full life, able to work, play, and thrive with my family despite my father’s meager income. My father’s employment is a strength to my family as we work together, and also as we live a life of frugality and self-reliance.
We live in a world that blatantly opposes traditional views of the family. It is easy to see how pornography, prostitution, drugs, the media, and divorce attack our families from every angle. I propose that there are other influences that have the same destructive impact on our families, without us even realizing it, and almost all families are affected: This influence is the need, and ever-increasing desire, for bigger and better employment.
C.S. Lewis penned “The home is the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose and that is to support the ultimate career.” This concept is discussed in the book, The Turning by Richard and Linda Eyre. In our world, however, employment no longer supports the family; instead, the family’s role is to support employment. As businesses hunt for growth and profit, priorities shift to the job and the family is replaced as an individual’s source of pride and accomplishment. I was shocked at this concept: that our employment – our very livelihoods – have the power to destroy our families as they move further down the ranks of importance below our careers.
According to Pew Research Center, the percentage of dual-income families has gone up from 25% to 60% in 2012. This means that more daycare providers are primary caregivers and fewer mothers and fathers are available for their children. Studies have shown that the American adults work an average of 47 hours per week, with 40% reporting more than 50 hours per week. This means that parents are at work more, with their family less, and someone else (or something else) is replacing the function of two parents. Other reports indicate that Americans are given, and take, fewer days off. Instead of working to live, we live to work, and as a result, our families are put on the back-burner. Business trips and promotions are becoming more important than attending soccer games and family dinners.
In addition to longer work hours, Corporate America demolishes our nation’s families by the decline in wages, the downsizing of corporations resulting in layoffs, and the lack of accommodation for parents to balance work and home life.
So what is the solution? American families cannot go without employment. Yet, obsessive-employment is taking over the lives of adults and, consequently, our families.
Urie Bronfenbrenner, a child development specialist, proposes a possible solution to the widening family-work chasm. He suggests that every work-place “install two telephone lines, one incoming and one outgoing, and put a sign over them that says: Family Calls Only. …. The important thing is the knowledge that [the phones] are there, that you can be reached, or that you can reach your family. They probably wouldn’t even be used that much.”
The point is not to actually provide two telephone line (the suggestion is more metaphorical), but to ensure every possible opportunity for family to be considered and made our top priority. Perhaps that means providing longer maternity and paternity leave, more vacation days, elder-care, better healthcare, on-site daycare, and better pay.
That being said, can this actually be implemented? YES! One person at a time, one company at a time. Until this problem can be addressed, however, I suggest we start in our own families and in our own workplaces. Perhaps it is time for a little introspection. Consider why you’re working the hours you work – would it benefit my family more to work more hours or spend quality time with my children? Do my children need more things to do, or more opportunities to serve? Can I afford to cut back on work so that I can watch my little ones grow up? After all, your kids are only kids once!
We live in a world where parents are being forced to work longer hours, for less money, and without family-friendly benefits. This needs to change. Such a change will strengthen our families AND our economy. It will benefit our children – the ones who need us the most. And as we make steps to improve the employment of families, and resolve to make our families our most important priority, we will make a statement that families are important and that they are connected to the workplace. Wealth, education, power, prestige, luxury, and status are not inherently wrong. However, let us resolve to not let them become a priority over our family relationships.