The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Workby Arlie Russell Hochschild
Arlie Russell Hochschild's The Time Bind was a New York Times Notable Book.
Arlie Russell Hochschild's The Time Bind was a New York Times Notable Book.
Sociologist Hochschild (Univ. of Calif., Berkeley) observes a large corporation ostensibly committed to "family-friendly" policies and outlines a familiar story: The excessive demands of work create stresses at home because there is insufficient time to do everything. This is especially hard on women, who, as Hochschild documented in The Second Shift (1989), bear the brunt of housekeeping chores, and on children, whose emotional needs require time with parents. Except for some older men, the people Hochschild interviews are aware of and concerned about the implications of this time bind. What is surprising, consequently, is their failure to embrace reduced workloads, flex time, and other components of the company's effort to help employees balance the demands of work and home. While supporting the existence of these policies, few employees take advantage of them. Fears about job security and career advancement are present, of course, but many employees were uninterested in such options because they perceived work, not home, as the less stressful and more emotionally rich environment. With family lives careening on the brink of disaster and parents feeling perpetually out of control, the office or factory floor provides a sense of accomplishment, fulfillment, and camaraderie. Unfortunately, after uncovering this surprising reversal of conventional expectations, Hochschild buries it by simply assuming it is a pathology. Escaping from the home by going to work reflects a dynamic with costs, but it also suggests a need to reconsider common conceptions of what constitutes a satisfying adult life.
The disappointing failure to press forward with her observations does not prevent this from being a provocative book.
“Truly subversive....Hochschild has exposed something that feels like an unacknowledged home truth, America's clean little secret: work, not even the substance of it but the buzzy surface feeling of office life, is for many a source of pleasure.” The New York Times Book Review
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The Time Bind
When Work Becomes Home And Home Becomes Work
By Arlie Russell Hochschild
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2000 Arlie Russell Hochschild
All rights reserved.
The Waving Window
It is 6:45 A.M. on a fine June day in the midwestern town of Spotted Deer. At a childcare center in the basement of the Baptist church, Diane Caselli, a childcare worker in blue jeans and loose shirt, methodically turns over small upended chairs that rest on a Lilliputian breakfast table. She sets out small bowls, spoons, napkins, and a pitcher of milk around a commanding box of Cheerios. The room is cheerful, clean, half-asleep. Diane moves slowly past neatly shelved puzzles and toys, a hat rack hung with floppy, donated dress-up hats and droopy pocketbooks, a tub filled with bits of colored paper. Paintings of swerving trains and tipsy houses are taped to the wall.
At seven, a tall, awkward-looking man peers hesitantly into the room, then ventures a few steps forward looking for Diane. His son Timmy tromps in behind him. Diane walks over, takes Timmy's hand, and leads him to the breakfast table, where she seats him and helps him pour cereal and milk into his bowl. Timmy's dad, meanwhile, hurries toward the door.
One wall of the room has four large windows that overlook a sidewalk. In front of the second window is a set of small wooden steps children climb to wave good-bye to their departing parents. It's called "the waving window." Timmy dashes from the breakfast table, climbs up the wooden steps, and waits.
His dad, an engineer, briskly strides past the first window toward his red Volvo parked down the street. He stops for a moment in front of the waving window, tilts his head, eyebrows lifted clownishly, then walks on without a backward glance. Timmy returns to his cereal, sighs, and declares excitedly, "My Dad sawed me wave!" Diane and Marie Martin, the center's other childcare worker, exchange warm smiles over Timmy's head. As professionals they aren't supposed to have favorites, but sometimes it's hard not to.
A moment later, in a burst of excitement, Jarod and Tylor, four-year-old twins, bound in ahead of their mother, a quick-stepping, trim woman in a black and white business suit. A successful junior manager, she doesn't pause at the door, but with an air of pleasant authority, strides — clack, clack, clack — up to the breakfast table, as if in her kitchen at home. Car keys in hand, she pours out Cheerios and milk, consulting each twin about the amount. She watches them eat for a few minutes. Then, glancing at her watch, she bends down, offers long hugs, leaves the childcare room, and reappears outside. She feigns surprise at the first window, makes a funny face at the second, races to the third, and gives a big wave at the fourth. Finally, out of sight, she breaks into a run for her car.
At 7:40 A.M., four-year-old Cassie sidles in, her hair half-combed, a blanket in one hand, a fudge bar in the other. "I'm late," her mother explains to Diane. "Cassie wanted the fudge bar so bad, I gave it to her," she adds apologetically — though Diane has said nothing. Gwen Bell is a sturdy young woman, with short-cropped dark hair. Lightly made up and minimally adorned with gold stud earrings, she is neatly dressed in khaki slacks and jacket. Some Amerco mothers don business suits as soldiers don armor while a few wear floral dresses suggesting festivity and leisure. But Cassie's mother is dressed in a neutral way, as if she were just getting the job of self-presentation done.
"Pleeese, can't you take me with you?" Cassie pleads.
"You know I can't take you to work," Gwen replies in a tone that suggests she's heard this request before. Cassie's shoulders droop in defeat. She's given it a try, but now she's resigned to her mother's imminent departure, and she's agreed, it seems, not to make too much fuss about it. Aware of her mother's unease about her long day at childcare, however, she's struck a hard bargain. Every so often she gets a morning fudge bar. This is their deal, and Cassie keeps her mother to it. As Gwen Bell later explained to me, she continually feels that she owes Cassie more time than she actually gives her. She has a time-debt to her daughter. If many busy parents settle such debts on evenings or weekends when their children eagerly "collect" promised time, Cassie insists on a morning down payment, a fudge bar that makes her mother uneasy but saves her the trouble and embarrassment of a tantrum. Like other parents at the center, Gwen sometimes finds herself indulging her child with treats or softened rules in exchange for missed time together. Diane speaks quietly to Cassie, trying to persuade her to stop sulking and join the others.
The center works on "child time." Its rhythms are child-paced, flexible, mainly slow. Teachers patiently oversee the laborious task of tying a shoelace, a prolonged sit on the potty, the scrambled telling of a tall tale. In this and other ways it is an excellent childcare center, one of a dozen islands of child time I was to discover in my three summers of field research at Amerco, a Fortune 500 company headquartered in Spotted Deer. Scattered throughout the town, such islands — a playground, a pediatrician's waiting room, the back of a family van — stand out against the faster paced, more bureaucratically segmented blocks of adult work time.
Indeed, on that June morning, seated atop a tiny stool inside the center, I find myself musing impatiently, things are slow here. I watch Timmy pretend he is in an airplane for what seems like a very long time. Jarod and Tylor slowly sort out pieces of a puzzle an adult could arrange in a flash. I begin to feel slightly bored. I have, after all, left behind my own hectic university schedule — teaching classes, advising students, keeping up with a blizzard of faxes, phone calls, and e-mail messages — and I feel in a hurry to get busy with the task at hand.
I had come to Spotted Deer to explore a question I'd been left with after finishing my last book, The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home. In that work I had examined the tensions that arise at home in two-job marriages when working women also do the lion's share of the childcare and housework. Such marriages were far less strained, I found, when men committed themselves to sharing what I came to call "the second shift," the care of children and home. But even with the work shared out, there seemed to be less and less time for the second shift, not to mention relaxed family life. Something was amiss, and whatever it was, I sensed that I would not find out simply by looking at home life by itself.
Everything I already knew or would soon learn pointed to the workplace as the arena that needed to be explored. As a start, I was well aware that, while in 1950 12.6 percent of married mothers with children under age seventeen worked for pay, by 1994, 69 percent did so; and 58.8 percent of wives with children age one or younger were in the workforce. Many of these wives also had a hand in caring for elderly relatives. In addition, the hours both men and women put in at work had increased — either for college-educated workers or, depending on which scholars you read, for all workers. In her book The Overworked American, the economist Juliet Schor has claimed that over the last two decades the average worker has added an extra 164 hours — a month of work — to his or her work year. Workers now take fewer unpaid leaves, and even fewer paid ones. In the 1980s alone, vacations shortened by 14 percent. According to the economist Victor Fuchs, between 1960 and 1986 parental time available to children per week fell ten hours in white households and twelve hours in black households. It was also evident, however you cut the figures, that life was coming to center more on work. More women were on board the work train, and the train was moving faster. It wasn't just that ever larger numbers of mothers of young children were taking paying jobs, but that fewer of those jobs were part time; and fewer of those mothers were taking time off even in the summer, as they might once have done, to care for school-aged children on vacation. Women moving into the workforce — whether or not they were mothers — were less inclined than ever to move out of it. It was apparent, in fact, that working mothers were increasingly fitting the profile of working fathers. But those fathers, far from cutting back to help out at home, studies told us, were now working even longer hours. In fact, their hours were as long as those of childless men.
All this could be read in the numbers — as well as in the tensions in many of the households I had visited. I was left with a nagging question: given longer workdays — and more of them — how could parents balance jobs with family life? Or, to put the matter another way, was life at work winning out over life at home? If so, was there not some way to organize work to avoid penalizing employees, male and female, for having lives outside of work and to ease the burden on their children?
I was thinking about these questions when a surprising event occurred. I was asked to give a talk at Amerco, a company about which I knew little except that it had been identified as one of the ten most "family-friendly" companies in America by the Families and Work Institute, by Working Mother magazine, and by the authors of Companies That Care. At a dinner given after my talk, a company spokesman seated next to me asked if I had ever thought of studying family-friendly policies in the workplace itself. To tell the truth, I could not believe my luck. If there was ever a chance for families to balance home and work, I thought to myself, it would be at a place like this. Amerco's management clearly hoped my findings would help them answer a few questions of their own. In the late 1980s, the company had been distressed to discover a startling fact: they were losing professional women far faster than they were losing professional men. Each time such a worker was lost, it cost the company a great deal of money to recruit and train a replacement. The company had tried to eliminate this waste of money and talent by addressing one probable reason women were leaving: the absence of what was called "work-family balance." Amerco now offered a range of remedial programs including options for part-time work, job sharing, and flextime. Did these policies really help Amerco? Given current trends, it seemed crucial to top management to know the answer. Six months later I found myself lodged at a cozy bed-and-breakfast on a tree-lined street in Spotted Deer, ready to begin finding out.
The receptionist at company headquarters issued me a magnetized badge, a bit like one of those magic rings that children once found in cereal boxes, which opened company doors everywhere day and night. Over the course of three summers between 1990 and 1993, I "badged in" and "badged out" behind employees I was following around. I also checked in regularly with Amy Truett, the official in charge of the Work-Life Balance program in Amerco's Human Resources Division, which handled all matters having to do with personnel. A lively, dark-haired, plainspoken woman with a laconic sense of humor, Amy Truett was much beloved by those with whom she worked. Dressed in cheerful primary colors, she walked Amerco's corridors with deliberate strides, exuding an aura of friendly efficiency. It was Amy's job to make "balance" more than just a corporate buzzword. Perhaps to signal this goal, a psychologist hired in 1991 to help set up Work-Life Balance policies had hung on the wall of her office next to Amy's a series of photos of her daughter eating a drippy tomato, holding aloft a large fish, and making mud pies, each a still-life reminder that children are not icons to be safely worshipped from afar but messy, lovable, real people.
I interviewed top and middle managers, clerks and factory workers — a hundred and thirty people in all. Most were part of two-job couples, some were single parents, and a few were single without children. Sometimes we met in their offices or in a plant breakroom, sometimes in their homes, often in both places. Early mornings and evenings, weekends and holidays, I sat on the lawn by the edge of a series of parking lots that circled company headquarters, watching people walk to and from their vans, cars, or pick-up trucks to see when they came to work and when they left.
I talked with psychologists in and outside the company, child-care workers hired by Amerco, homemakers married to Amerco employees, and company consultants. Along with the Spotted Deer Childcare Center, I visited local YWCA after-school programs as well as a Parent Resource Center funded by the company. I attended company sessions of the Women's Quality Improvement Team and the Work Family Progress Committee, a Valuing Diversity workshop, and two High Performance Team meetings. A team in Amerco's Sales Division allowed me to sit in on its meetings. To their surprise — and mine — I also became the fifth wheel on a golfing expedition designed to build team spirit. During several night shifts at an Amerco factory, tired workers patiently talked with me over coffee in the breakroom. One even took me to a local bar to meet her friends and relatives.
The company gave me access to a series of its internal "climate surveys" of employee attitudes, and I combed through research reports on other companies, national opinion polls, and a burgeoning literature on work and family life. I also attended work-family conferences held in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Boston by The Conference Board, a respected organization that gathers and disseminates information of interest to the benefit of the business management community.
Six families — four two-parent families and two single-mother families — allowed me to follow them on typical workdays from dawn until dusk and beyond. I found myself watching a small child creep into her mother's bed at dawn for an extra cuddle and snooze. One day I sat for over an hour on a green plastic turtle watching two giggly girls slither down a small water slide into a pool. Many times children approached me to locate a missing button on a shirt or — more hopelessly for me — to play Super Mario Brothers on the Nintendo set, while a busy parent cooked dinner.
It was thanks to this research project, then, that I had come to the Spotted Deer Childcare Center, where I was trying to adapt to the temporal rhythm of four-year-olds. The center had become part of my on-the-job research because on-the-job parents were increasingly turning to nonrelatives to care for their children, and for increasingly long periods of time. For children like Timmy, Jarod, or Tylor, hours in daycare can now be remarkably long; and as one national childcare study showed, the younger the child, the more time he or she is likely to spend in daycare. Babies under one year of age were found to stay on average forty-two hours a week.
The director of Amerco's Spotted Deer Childcare Center, a thoughtful woman of forty-four and a mother of two, observed,
Most of our Amerco parents work from 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. They bring their children in half an hour ahead of time and pick them up a half hour after they leave work. It's longer if they have a late meeting, or try to fit in errands or exercise. It's a nine- or ten-hour day for most of the children.
When I asked her what kind of a day at the center she thought would most benefit a child, she replied that on average most three-and four-year-olds should have "an active morning, lunch, a nap and go home after their nap — ideally six or seven hours." Though she, like her colleagues at the Spotted Deer Childcare Center, felt that most children did well under her care, nine hours, she remained convinced, was generally "too long."
In her book When the Bough Breaks: The Cost of Neglecting Our Children, the economist Sylvia Hewlett links the "time deficit" caused by long parental workdays to a series of alarming trends in child development. Compared to the previous generation, Hewlett claims, young people today are more likely to "underperform at school, commit suicide, need psychiatric help, suffer a severe eating disorder, bear a child out of wedlock, take drugs, be the victim of a violent crime." or Studies have shown that long hours at home alone increase the likelihood that a child will use alcohol or drugs. In truth, scholars don't yet know what, if any, the exact links are between these ominous trends and the lessening amounts of time parents spend with children. But we needn't dwell on sledgehammer problems like child heroin use or suicide to realize that for children like those at the Spotted Deer Childcare Center, time is a problem. It's enough to observe that children say they want more time with their parents, and parents say they regret not spending more time with their children. In a 1990 Los Angeles Times survey of 1,000 families, for instance, 57 percent of fathers and 55 percent of mothers reported feeling guilty that they spent too little time with their children.
Excerpted from The Time Bind by Arlie Russell Hochschild. Copyright © 2000 Arlie Russell Hochschild. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Arlie Russell Hochschild is the author of two New York Times Notable Books of the Year, The Second Shift and The Managed Heart. A professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, she lives in San Francisco.
Arlie Russell Hochschild is the author of The Time Bind, The Second Shift, and The Managed Heart. She is a professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, Her articles have appeared in Harper's, Mother Jones, and Psychology Today, among others. She lives in San Francisco.
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