Would you use adjectives like pressed, pressured, hurried or frantic to describe your life these days? And would you agree with the statement, "I just don't have enough TIME in the day to get everything done?"
If so, you're probably experiencing the accumulated effects of profound social changes over the past two decades - changes that have created harried lifestyles and have made TIME perhaps "the most precious commodity in the land."This observation regarding time comes from pollster Louis Harris, whose recent survey documented that the amount of leisure time enjoyed by Americans has shrunk 37 percent since 1973. Over the same period the average workweek, including commuting, has jumped from under 41 hours to nearly 47 hours.
A poll for Time Magazine and CNN conducted by Yankelovich Clancy Shullman also found time pressure especially acute among women of two-income families: 73 percent of the women complained of having too little leisure time, as did 51 percent of men.
If this trend toward decreasing leisure time continues, says a Time magazine cover story (April 24, 1989), "time could end up being to the '90s what money was to the '80s."
The increasing "time famine" comes from many complex factors, says Nancy Gibbs, author of the Time article.
These include technological changes, such as automated environments, the explosion of information ("the mind can't handle it all"), new time-saving devices (that ironically may make people work harder), and the availability of fax machines, portable phones and new super computers (one that operates at a trillionth of a second). (Simply to remain competitive under these conditions, Gibbs says, "professionals find that their lives are one long, continuous workday, bleeding into the wee hours and squeezing out any leisure time.") Add to this a work ethic gone mad ("work has become trendy") and the Middle Class Squeeze ("the phenomena of `falling behind' while `getting ahead' "), and you can see why Americans are reeling from the "loss" of time.
Over the past decade no one quite bargained for soaring house prices, erosion of inflation on paychecks, stagnant wages and skyrocketing medical and tuition costs. So now it often takes two paychecks to fund what many imagined was a middle-class life, says Gibbs.
If both spouses are working to make ends meet, which is the case in 57 percent of U.S. families, "someone still has to find the time to make lunches and pediatrician appointments, shop, cook, fix the washer, do the laundry, take the children to choir practice. Single-parent households are squeezed even more."
Our "shortcut society" is changing the way the family functions. Nowhere are the impacts more profound than around the kitchen table where vital family time is becoming less and less available. "Even parents who like their jobs and love their kids find that the pressure to do justice to both becomes almost unbearable," says Gibbs.
Most ominous are the effects on children, she points out. The first thing to go is "hanging-around" time. "The very culture of children, of freedom and fantasy and kids teaching kids to play jacks is collapsing under the weight of hectic family schedules."
It may be that the same loss of leisure among parents produces pressure for rapid achievement and overprogramming of children, whose "social lives out of nursery school may rival those of their parents in complexity," says Gibbs. "If parents see parenting largely as an investment of their precious time, they may end up viewing children as objects to be improved rather than individuals to be nurtured at their own pace."
Another ominous effect of rapid-paced schedules is exhaustion. In a recent study of working couples, Gibbs quotes the author as saying, "A lot of people talked about sleep. They talked about sleep the way a hungry person talks about food."
What are the implications of the sweeping social pressures - so aptly described by Gibbs - for YOUR family? What kinds of changes might you consider to address the pressures on your family in the '90s? Here are some ideas: Recognize the changes. The sense of acceleration of the pace of your lifestyle - of a more frantic schedule - probably ISN'T your imagination. You're living on the frontier of monumental changes that are going to continue to have an impact on your family.
-Identify your stress. If you're living on the "edge" of burnout, admit it. If your frantic lifestyle is eroding the very core of your time together as a family, acknowledge it.
Take time out to identify the costs of any frenzied pace and to consider whether you're a work addict. "At some point, individuals must find the time to consider the price of their preoccupation and the toll on the spirit exacted by exhaustion," observes Gibbs. Recovery may mean trying to modify your work situation to create a more flexible schedule.
-Be flexible about division of labor. If you're in a two-parent family, be ready to renegotiate roles to take pressure off the family. The tacit contract regarding roles you negotiated when you first married (perhaps YEARS ago) may not fit today's family needs.
-Simplify. Cut corners when it comes to activities that don't have to do with nurturing people. Since housework is similar to stringing beads without a knot, decide on a number of hours a week to commit to housework and then stick to your limits.
-Be clear about your family goals. What's most important? A challenging and fulfilling job? A bigger house? A college education for a child? Some hard choices are vital to preserve the integrity of family life.
-Systematically set aside personal time each week. In order to have enough energy to take care of other people, it's essential you take care of yourself.
-Also set aside weekly time for a spouse and for children. Says Gibbs: "Being 8 years old should include some long, ice-creamy afternoons of favorite stories and grassy feet. Some things are just worth the time."