By Corinne Purtill
1 September 2020
In 2012, scholars Christine M. Beckman and Melissa Mazmanian set out to examine the lives of overstretched middle- to upper-middle-class working parents. Prior studies on so-called work-life balance, they noticed, tended to treat working families’ days as if they could be neatly disassembled into tidy blocks of time: family time here, work hours there, a few minutes of household chores or personal care scattered in between.
But the more time they spent with their research subjects — nine Southern California families, all with children under 12 and at least one parent employed full-time — it was clear the average day didn’t operate like that at all.
Equipped with devices that allowed them to be accessible to all of the people in their lives, all the time, working parents toggled constantly between competing commitments: discreetly texting the babysitter during work meetings, reading over spreadsheets on the sidelines of soccer games, ordering dinner on the rushed commute home. Women — and to a lesser degree, men — did everything, all at once, in ever-increasing amounts, and were exhausted from the stress of chasing an unattainable ideal of perfection.
Beckman and Mazmanian examine the beliefs that fuel these efforts in their book, “Dreams of the Overworked,” published in June. Their thesis is framed around three core myths that tend to influence parents’ choices: the myth of the ideal worker, the myth of the perfect parent, and the myth of the ultimate body, which in this context refers less to the pursuit of Barbie-type proportions than to attentive stewardship of one’s own health. (If you’ve ever been exhausted, yet also convinced that you “should” use a moment of downtime to fit in a run or another form of exercise, you have dallied with this myth.)
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