Magazine article Insight on the News

For Today's Parents, It's Work, Sweet Work

Magazine article Insight on the News

For Today's Parents, It's Work, Sweet Work

Article excerpt

Family advocate Brian Robertson says that as parents struggle to juggle work and family life, they effectively are falling down on the job of providing a nurturing home lop their children.

Washington writer and editor Brian Robertson, a research fellow at the New Economy Information Network (www.newecon.org), became concerned about the problems of balancing a career and family after watching Americans struggle to achieve this, often at the expense of their children. He noticed that many politicians and pundits were talking about the issue but not addressing how Americans had fallen into such a dilemma. Out of this concern has come his book, There's No Place Like Work: How Business, Government and Our Obsession With Work Have Driven Parents From Home.

Insight: What is the basic theme of your book?

Brian Robertson: In the last 30 years we have experienced something of a social revolution in the area of work and family. We are just beginning to see some of the manifestations of that. It can probably be characterized best as a flight from domesticity or a flight from home and hearth. One of the most immediate and clear consequences of that is lack of parental time with the children. Workers increasingly feel this tension as they juggle both employment and family responsibilities.

My book is an attempt to put this in some form of historical, social, policy context. Although the issue of balancing work and family increasingly is talked about on the left and the right, I find that it's discussed in a way that is completely removed from historical experience.

For instance, people talk about the difficulty they have managing their home and responsibilities but rarely about how we got to this point. It's almost as if there is some assumption of inevitability. But I make the case that there were a lot of incremental steps that led us here -- both in public-policy decisions and also a whole cultural revolution affecting our attitudes about work and family life. So I try to go in separate chapters into the evolution in our view of home and work.

Insight: What do you see as the major crisis facing the American family?

BR: It is the almost wholesale abandonment of home life. There's something of a cultural taming toward the workplace where people find identity and self-fulfillment, and this is far different from the older view of work along the lines of earning a living at something you liked to do in order to provide a home life. There was a real hierarchy of values. Today we have this idea that people find identity and worth in their work that they used to find in the home life of the family. So that is one aspect of what is going on. At the same time it is clear from polls that there is a genuine desire by many people to spend more time with their families.

Most conservatives would argue that there is no economic necessity to put the workplace above the home place. I think that is a very simplistic spin. Dual-income families are statistically closer to the norm than single-income families. I would make the case that many families, especially those with preschool kids, would rather have one parent at home taking care of the children. But many don't feel they are economically able to do that.

As the dual income becomes the social norm, prices and lifestyles in the economy become oriented toward those families. So even if you have people who would prefer to get by on one income, they are competing with a lot of others to whom the dual income is the norm.

Insight: So what policies contributed to this? Are legislators partly responsible?

BR: Absolutely. After World War II we lost sight in our tax policy of treating the family as an economic unit. In other words, our income-tax system has been oriented toward taxing a bunch of individual earners without taking account of the fact that they belong to families. Once you do that, it is clear that we should allow parents who are raising children to keep more of their income as they raise, socialize and educate the future workers of society. …

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