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The Gift of Time

By Tracey L. Hurd, Ph.D.

It is Thanksgiving. The family is huddled in the kitchen confirming the timing of dinner. The relatives will be arriving shortly. It isn't surprising that the cooking estimates are a bit off. But when they calculate that the turkey will actually take two hours longer than planned, they are stunned. "Let's microwave it," the young daughter suggests. Of course there is the issue of size. They pause. They don't know what to do. The non-cooking parent mumbles something about efficiency and suggests, "Well, if we chop it up, it will cook faster." There is silence, the start of giggles, and then laughter, as they imagine both the process and, even worse, the product. They close the oven door, resigned. And they wait.

"There is more to life than increasing its speed," said Mahatma Ghandi. But in the whirlwind of the everyday, few of us have time to reflect on his words—we drive too quickly by the UU wayside pulpits on which they are posted. We're not trying to go fast, we're just trying to keep up. Some of us are enmeshed in a life of privilege where children have sports practices and parents take conference calls on cell phones as they drive them there, tossing water bottles and cereal bars into the back of the car as they race out the door. Others of us are less privileged but even more busy—trying work jobs that have little flexibility, long hours, and more expected overtime than ever while trying to make sure our children are cared for, safe, and hopefully not watching too much TV.

Americans are working harder and longer than ever. The Families and Work Institute's recently released report, "Overwork in America: When the Way we Work Becomes Too Much" (PDF, 13 pages) finds that over one third of all employed adults feel overworked and that:

  • 56% of US employees say their jobs demand too many tasks
  • 89% say they experience job pressure consistently
  • 29% say they spend a lot of time doing things that are a waste of time as part of their jobs
  • 33% say that they are contacted via emails, cell phones, or other technology about work outside of work
  • 55% of workers who consider themselves overworked work while on vacation, but only 79% of all US employees have access to paid vacation
  • 66% of employed parents say they do not have enough time for their children

Care-taking and household responsibilities augment the already expanded pace of American working life. And women, who are still paid seventy-seven cents per every male earned dollar, do more laundry, childcare, aging-parents care etc. than their partners or spouses. Meanwhile, most families require two-breadwinners.

We are busier than ever—and not just adults. Children spend significantly more time doing homework/studying and playing sports than did their counterparts two decades ago. Family meals are less regular. We are simply on the go. We have less time for relationships, marriages and families; less time for our health and our communities; and less time to grow our souls. Rev. Kim Crawford Harvie, senior minister of the Arlington Street Church says, "Introspection, reflection, connection—everything that deeply nourishes us—takes time. A spiritual life takes time. The challenge is to work to live, rather than live to work..."

We are called to take back our time, for ourselves and for our families. Perhaps, ponders John de Graaf, the author of the book, Take Back Your Time, we need to claim time as our most central, most precious, family value. And if we want true change, for all of us, then we must work both within our own families and as advocates in a wider public arena. Reclaiming time as a family value requires a cultural shift. So what can we do as families? And what can we do to work towards more pervasive change?

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