Today, the term “family” is difficult to define. All families are unique, and they can range anywhere from single parent families to extended families. Most importantly though, it is in the family where the next generation is being built. Parents must provide security and support for their children, and they need to be prepared for the challenges of balancing work and family in today’s society. In traditional families, there was a mother, a father and their resulting children. The father would most often be the earner of the family, and the mother would stay at home and take care of the children. Things have changed considerably in the twenty-first century. Now there are more dual-income families, single-parent families, and there are many more women in the labour force. This poses a great change to family life, and many parents are working a “double day”. They have their regular full time jobs where they earn an income, and then they have to come home to more work such as cooking, cleaning and grocery shopping.
Like all systems and interactions, conflict arises between work and family issues. This issue causes conflict for every member of the family, and they need to discover ways to resolve this conflict. According to the feminist theory, “gender is basic to all social structures and organizations”. (Eshleman & Wilson, 2001:23). Obviously, it is also basic to the conflicts of work and family life. Today, both men and women must go to work to support their families, but it is usually the woman who has to come home and do the cooking, cleaning and grocery shopping, while her husband plays with the kids or watches television in the living room. This is definitely a concern that needs to be addressed, and although there have been some improvements in this area, much more can still be done. More improvements have also been made by employers, unions and the government to benefit families who have full time jobs. Although, they have made steps towards improving this dilemma, there are still many issues that need to be dealt with.
The social conflict theory states that “conflict is natural and inevitable in all human interaction” (Eshleman & Wilson, 2001:15). It is not seen as a negative theory, it just calls for people to be aware that conflict will arise, and that they need to come up with solutions to these struggles. This is no different in the family. Today’s families have to deal with tension on the macro level and the micro level. Work and employment affect both the macro and micro elements of the family. More and more varieties of families are coming about, such as dual-income families, single-parent families, and families who take care of their children as well as their parents. These people face tribulations everyday of their lives while trying to juggle work and their family. Mostly in dual-income families, and single-parent families, people are performing a “double day”. According to Eshleman and Wilson (2001), the double day, or second shift, refers to the combination of paid and unpaid work most people do.
The family member earning the income “often feels stress and encounters difficulties trying to meet their responsibilities as family members and as employees” (Coates, 1991:1). This affects their performance at work and at home. They are caught in the middle between having to work to support the family, and wanting to create a good environment for their family to grow in. Society tells these parents that “they are bad [parents] if they don’t go to the school play and bad employees if they do go and take time off from work” (Denholtz, 2000:91). The children or elderly people in the head of the household’s care also suffer from the work/family conflict. Children are often raised by other people other than their own parents, such as nannies, teachers, other relatives or day care workers.
Many children must learn to grow up a lot quicker than they would normally have to if their parents were always around which could be good in some cases, but not so good in others. Every member of the family must have a role, and know that role. Partners must discuss who will do the dishes that night, and who will take the children to baseball practice. Children must also help out with household chores, and take some responsibility for themselves. If all members of the family can come to a specific agreement, and implement a good plan to satisfy everyone, work and family can be managed. All that is needed are the right attitudes and resources. Several couples in Crysdale’s study of working class people in downtown Toronto said that they manage trouble at work by leaving it at the door when they come home (1991:103).
There was not always an issue between family life and work. Typically, the only women who would work were young, single females with no other obligations. Married women would stay home with their children, do all the housework and make sure supper was on the table for their husbands when they came home from work. The predicament between work and family arose when women began participating more in the labour force during and after World War I. Their involvement in the labour force has steadily increased since the beginning of the twentieth century, while men’s participation has decreased. According to Eshleman and Wilson (2001), 16.2 percent of women over the age of fifteen were employed in 1911, and approximately 60 percent of women are employed today. So in under a century the number of women working has almost quadrupled. There are many different reasons explaining why more and more women are joining the work force. It basically first started during World War II, because there was a great need for workers in factories, stores, etc., and the men were off fighting in the war.
Therefore, the women had to join the labour force, and after the war, when they could leave their jobs, many women chose to stay instead of becoming a housewife once again. In the 1960’s, there was a women’s liberation movement, and this time period was the most significant change in women’s roles. Wives and mothers wanted to be free from the constraints placed on them in the home, so many of them decided to go to work. Prior to this, mainly single women were working for pay, but since then the gap between single and married women has decreased. Also, there has been an increase in the number of blended families, common-law relationships, and single-parent families which forces most members of these families to find paid work in order to financially support their family. Most single parents must go to work to provide for the family because they have no help from the mother or father of their children. Altogether, many different circumstances have led to the increased problems between work and family life. As we can see, as women gained a more significant role in the labour force, and as different types of families arose such as single-parent families, the conflicts also increased.
When Eshleman and Wilson are explaining the feminist theory they ask the question, “What about women?” Their answers to this question are:
Based on the ideas that the experiences of women are different from those of men, are unequal (less privileged) to those of men, and are actively oppressed (restrained, subordinated, used and abused) by men. (p. 23)
This definition works perfectly into the dilemma between men and women’s roles in the family and in the work force. We must always consider women and gender when making assumptions about the family and work because they are inseparable issues. Even with the intense changes that have taken place in the family structure and the workforce, there is still the general idea that a woman’s first and foremost responsibility is in the home, even when she is engaged in work outside of the home. Women workers experience much more stress and difficulty in balancing work and home than men do, because they “tend to bear a disproportionate share of household tasks and family responsibilities” (Coates, 1991:8).
Coates (1991) listed some important statistics from a survey by the Conference of Canada in his article. He concluded that women reported spending an average of 16.5 hours per week on ‘home maintenance’ compared to 9.8 hours by men. Three-quarters of the women reported that they had the majority of responsibility for making child arrangements compared to 4.1 percent of men, and women were almost four times as likely to stay home with their children when they were sick.
Basically, the work and family issue has been viewed only as a woman issue, which creates problems between husband-wife families. This is a micro example of the social conflict theory. Work creates conflict within the family between the husband and the wife, in deciding who will perform what tasks within the family. More recently, men have been accepting larger responsibilities within the family “either through choice, or necessity in their role as a single parent in the paid workforce”. The gaps between men and women’s responsibilities in the home are decreasing, but there is much more to be done about this matter.
Child care is the largest concern parents have when it comes to their family and their work. There are many options available for parents when it comes to childcare, such as daycare, nannies, relatives, babysitters, and schools, although it is not that easy. Some families cannot afford daycare or nannies; some do not have families they can rely on for childcare and some parents’ work schedules do not accommodate babysitter’s hours. The age of the child is another factor that has to be considered when planning on childcare. If the child is an infant, one of the parents usually has to be with them all day, and not all employers offer maternity or paternity leave.
When the child is a toddler, they have not yet reached the age that would allow them to be in school from nine o’clock until three o’clock, so they still need someone in their care for the entire day. When the child reaches the school years, there are still a few hours before and after school that needs to be taken into account. After the child has reached an age in which he/she is able to take care of themselves, transportation between school, home and extracurricular activities comes into account. All of these factors contribute to the hardships parents face when trying to balance work and family life.
Aside from the family, corporations and employers need to address the problems of stress placed on their employees while trying to manage between work and home. This incorporates the macro level of the social conflict theory. Fernandez states that:
There is a high correlation not only between missed work and caring for a sick child, but also caring for a sick child and leaving work early, coming in late, dealing with family issues during working hours, and on-and-off-the-job-stress.
As the families continue to grow and change, the companies need to implement a vast range of improvements in order to reduce the great demands of parenting and work. This will not only help the parents out with their family, but it will create a less stressful environment for all of the employees, and therefore, it will improve the company. Many companies have already taken certain steps in doing this, but there is still much more that can be done. One suggestion is job-sharing, which is “a form of part-time working wherein two people choose to share the salary, benefits and responsibilities of one full-time job” (McRae, 1989:16). This benefits parents who want to maintain paid work and also want to be at home with their children. Homeworking is another example, and it is when a person takes on paid work from the home.
This has become increasingly easier to manage with new technologies such as the Internet. Shift work would also help to balance out the time between work and the family. The shifts could correspond with the hours that the children are in bed, or are at school, which allows the worker to spend more time with their family. More steps need to be taken in this area, such as on-site day care, paid leave to attend to a sick child or family issue, and included day-care costs. We have reached a point in society when it is time to come to a compromise between work and family life, and flexibility needs to be offered whenever it is needed.
In all, families have changed a great deal in the last century, and we need to keep up with these changes and offer new suggestions towards improving family life. Work places a great demand on all families, including dual-income families, single-parent families, blended families, and extended families. Parents are struggling everyday with the conflict between work and family life. It works in a viscous circle, because families need money to support their families, but at the same time they need a lot of extra time to spend with their families. The burden is placed more on women than it is on men, because taking care of the household is still seen as the “woman’s job”, even if she is engaged in paid work.
Men need to start doing their equal share around the house to make it easier on the demands of the woman. More steps need to be taken in child care facilities, because that is the main problem working parents face today. Companies must implement new plans in order to meet the needs of their workers. Altogether, it has been an ongoing battle for parents who are trying to balance between work and family life, and as the family continues to grow and change so must the laws behind flexible work hours, day care, and permissible absence for family issues.