Tuesday, April 13, 2004

The Time Bind

I’ve been reading several books by Arlie Russell Hochschild over the past couple of weeks as background research for a paper on the politics of parenthood. The Time Bind is an excellent read.

This book is more damning of childcare than The Second Shift. Whereas the Second Shift put much of the blame on women’s extra work at home on men, this book blames the workplace and both parents for their neglect of children and their private lives. The book starts out with Hochschild’s observations of children left at a childcare center by their hurried parents. Some kids react better than others.

In this book, women, as much as men, have embraced the speed up of life by the new economy. They make their home life more efficient and squeeze time with the kids into short moments of “quality time.” Kids don’t work like this. They rebel against the schedules and throw tantrums or drag feet. Some parents appease the sad children with extravagant gifts. Dealing with recalcitrant tots becomes a third shift.

In addition, even when they are at home, the workers are often answering e-mail from work and taking phone calls. Kids don’t like this either.

Because home life has become so complicated with unhappy children, stressed-out marriages, and messy homes, many are now more comfortable in their workplace than at home. People feel that are better supported at work. They have more manageable demands than at home. With many people divorced and remarried, work relationships are more stable. People are not protesting the growing demands of the workplace, but they like work better than home. “Home has become work, and work has become home.”

While she offers some suggestions for changes in the workplace, such as flex time, she seems very pessimistic about change. After all, workers aren’t protesting. There is no constituency for change, except for the children.

Her critique of childcare is a bit unsatisfactory. She never really says if she is against all childcare or just 50+ hours of childcare that her subjects use. Do kids throw less tantrums when parents are home full time? Since she is not a child development expert, her research doesn’t answer many of my questions. It seems that the impact of work on the kids was an unexpected finding, though an interesting one. I just would have liked to see it more fleshed out.

And her recommendations for change are inadequate, because the problems she identifies are so huge. For example, what should we do to help the workers who find their work relationships more permanent than their home relationship? Flex time at the office isn’t going to lessen the probability of divorce.

I haven’t read any reviews of the book, yet, but I’m curious about how others responded. She’s a pro-family liberal. Her proposals for change involve regulation of the workplace and egalitarian marriages, which offends many conservatives. And her indictment of childcare and ambition offends feminists. Her only allies might be the anti-market conservatives like Russell. I’m starting to find the liberal/conservative divisions on this subject problematic. Actually, I think that the liberal/conservative divisions on most subjects meaningless. This will be a long post sometime in the future.

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