How Work and Leisure Affect Couples and Families
by David Gibson
Are couples today successfully balancing the demands of their life at home with the demands of their jobs outside the home?
That question is certain to be discussed during the next World Meeting of Families, scheduled to take place May 30-June 2, 2012, in the Archdiocese of Milan, Italy, under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for the Family.
“The Family: Work and Celebration” is the international meeting’s theme. The theme’s second element, “celebration,” is meant to stimulate reflection on the purpose of the time family members spend together away from work — their Sundays and holidays, their days of rest.
One hope is that participants in the Milan meeting will re-evaluate their concept of leisure. A day of rest is not just an opportunity to “escape” one’s paid employment in order to spend time in individualistic pursuits, the meeting planners stress. Rather, it is an opportunity to create a greater sense of community at home and with others.
Catholics, like everyone, find themselves challenged to balance the demands of family, work and free time, but they also have an obligation to show others there is a Christian approach to all three, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, who recently retired as Milan’s archbishop, said during a late-May 2011 Vatican press conference unveiling plans for the upcoming meeting.
Our work and the activities we pursue away from work are two essential ways of interacting with the world around us, according to the meeting planners. They point out that:
1. Both work and time off from work offer opportunities to influence our surrounding world.
2. But our jobs and leisure activities also influence us. Their effects reach beyond us as individuals, shaping our family’s lifestyle and relationships for better or worse.
Pope Benedict XVI discussed the Milan meeting’s two-pronged work-and-celebration theme in a letter a year ago to Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family. The meeting is an “opportunity to rethink work and celebration” from the “perspective of a family that is united and open to life,” as well as “thoroughly integrated in society and in the church,” he wrote.
The pope judged it unfortunate that “the organization of work, conceived of and implemented in terms of market competition and the greatest profit, and the conception of a holiday as an opportunity to escape and to consume commodities, contribute to dispersing the family and the community, and spreading an individualistic lifestyle.”
The Pontifical Council for the Family’s decision to devote attention in Milan to the effects of work on families seems timely to me. In the reporting I do for this marriage website, work is a frequent topic.
That’s because so many marriage researchers are trying to get a handle on the ways a changing workplace changes couples and family life. In fact, space is being occupied on my desk at the moment by two brand new reports on marriage and the workplace that I have not yet written about.
A story I had here two weeks ago was titled “Do Work and Married Life Fit Together?” Its focus was a report by three researchers who wanted to learn how heavy, on-the-job workloads affect wives and husbands at home, particularly when they are parents.
While some spouses seem to find their work energizing, others feel that their workloads deplete their energies, increasing the risk of conflicts on the home front, the researchers observed.
Again, I wrote June 24 about the work today’s father does not only on the job, but in the household. Researchers at Jesuit-run Boston College wanted to learn how fathers handle their increased responsibilities for child care at a time when more and more wives work outside the home.
Fathers often enjoy fulfilling greater roles at home, the Boston College researchers reported. Often, however, these men sense that the workplace itself has not yet adapted to the demands the “new dad” faces.
Experience the Home in a New Way
Auxiliary Bishop Franco Brambilla of Milan is one of the planners of the 2012 World Meeting of Families. He chairs the meeting’s theological-pastoral committee. A balanced understanding is needed of the blessings of work and the challenges it poses for home life, the bishop suggests.
He believes work should not “be regarded solely as a means of financial sustenance.” After all, work can play a role in the development of a person’s “personal identity,” and it builds social relationships. He wants people to realize that they can “transform the world through work.”
Yet, “nowadays, work leaves a deep mark on the family lifestyle.” the bishop comments. Thus, work needs to become “a normal part” of the conversation between husbands and wives at home. Bishop Brambilla thinks couples also should discuss their work with their children.
Bishop Brambilla insists the time has come to “experience the home in a new way.” The home should be a “welcoming” place where each family member is valued and the time family members spend together is safeguarded.
The bishop cautions couples not to shut themselves away from others in an “idealized” and “solitary” lifestyle that considers all other relationships – with the church, the broader social community or culture at large – “as secondary, to be developed later, and indeed often too late.”
Another of his concerns is that too often “homes are brimming with material things and poor in human presences, packed with engagements and unable to listen, overwhelmed by telephone calls and unable to give answers.” Bishop Brambilla concludes, therefore, that the first necessary step is to “experience the home in a new way.”
About the author
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.