Working on Borrowed Time

"Work-life" balance is a cruel fantasy. How I learned to raise my child and run my company without feeling guilty.

From the moment it appeared as a New York Times Magazine cover story this spring, Arlie Hochschild's "The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home & Home Becomes Work" (Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Co., 1997), was more than a new book. It was the new conversation.

Hochschild's argument was shattering in its simplicity: "Work has become a form of 'home' and home has become 'work'." Our intense dedication to work is turning home and family into a rush job. The real losers are children who don't get what they need most — time with a fully engaged (and fully awake) parent.

As a single mother of a three-year-old daughter and CEO of a two-year-old, fast-growing new-media company, I expected to hate this book. I felt the bony finger of blame pointing out my inadequacies as a mother and as a CEO: Was I able to navigate between courting investors and taking calls from the school nurse?

But I enjoyed this book. Not because Hochschild pulls her punches about the net reduction in emotional effort at home. It turns out that Hochschild is more interested in asking why than assigning blame.

Why do we spend so much time at work? The simple, uncomfortable truth is: work is a rush. No doubt about it — owning your work and working at what you love is exciting, fulfilling, and fun. The message of the entrepreneurial economy is that the pursuit of success is an inalienable right.

And this is where "The Time Bind" gets under your skin. This book is less about the relentless squeeze between work and caregiving than about the squeeze we put on ourselves to succeed. Our focus is on "having it all" — and the image of the woman who achieves perfect balance via rigorous organization, superhuman energy, and creative scheduling.

It's a fantasy, and a cruel one. My partner at iVillage, Nancy Evans, always says: "There's no such thing as balance." She's right.

Recently, Nancy and I retreated from Silicon Alley to take stock of our work-life commitments. There are 168 hours in a seven-day week. The time needed to complete our list of activities exceeded 230 hours. While we could accomplish a burst of work in an all-nighter, we couldn't cram raising our children into compressed shifts. Instead I've decided that I owe my daughter what I call "lazy time": wandering, unscheduled, lolling time, with my full attention.

Of course, this is time "borrowed" from work. I've started to think of life as a series of chapters in which the short list of nonnegotiables rotates: pick one or two things per chapter to do well and ignore almost everything else. So during a recent financing round I didn't exercise regularly. I never went shopping. My "free" time was reserved for my daughter.

Hochschild's book has taught me to ask a new question: What if we apply the same creativity, energy, and engagement to our pursuit of "home" as we do to our pursuit of work? I'm ready to do the time.

Candice Carpenter (candice@aol.com) is CEO of iVillage in New York. She has been president of both Q2 (Barry Diller's cable network) and Time-Life Video and Television.

Sidebar: Workbooks

Arlie Hochschild, 57, a professor of sociology at the university of California, Berkeley, first defined the terms of the work-family debate in her best-selling book The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home (Viking, 1989). Now she's expanded the dialogue in her new book, The Time Bind. We asked her to recommend a reading list for working and living in the new economy.

The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure, Juliet B. Schor (BasicBooks, 1992).

Schor calculates that over the last two decades the average American worker has added an extra 164 hours — one month of work — to his or her work year.

Breaking the Mold: Women, Men, and Time in the New Corporate World, Lotte Bailyn (The Free Press, 1993).

A strong case for revising conventional thinking about time at work. Through rich case studies, Bailyn describes and challenges the time constraints built into company life.

The Responsive Workplace: Employers and a Changing Labor Force, Sheila B. Kamerman and Alfred J. Kahn (Columbia University Press, 1987).

The "Lewis and Clark of work-family issues," Kamerman and Kahn provide a nuts-and-bolts guide to alternative employee benefits. Their argument is simple: the new work force doesn't fit the old workplace — it's the organization's turn to be flexible.

Equal Parenthood and Social Policy: A Study of Parental Leave in Sweden,Linda Haas (SUNY Press, 1992).

The Swedes put their time where their values are: with their children. This nation's family-friendly policies suggest an agenda that a "time" movement could embrace.

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