Making time for children

Michael Clark, March 2004

There is no doubting the scale of parental dissatisfaction with work–life balance. Survey after survey has shown that what people want in these days of near-full employment is not money, but time – and more choice on how to spend it.[1]

It is unusual for a week to go by without reading an article in the press about some aspect of work–life balance. As a nation, we are in danger of becoming obsessed with this, as finding the right work–life balance joins dieting and regular exercise as middle-class preoccupations. However, one aspect which does not feature enough in this on-going debate is the impact of the world of work on our children.

Many of us as parents, both men and women, feel somewhat guilty about the amount of time we can give to our children even at weekends. An increasing number of us are locked into a culture – whether in the professions, public sector or in business – where through the requirements of the organisation, peer pressure or the unrelenting demands of our workload, long hours are endemic. This includes not only hours spent at the workplace, but travelling time in an age of delayed trains and congested roads; and for many, travelling on business and staying away from home on a regular basis.

In a recent report, Dr Alan Storkey comments that although the government and more enlightened employers make much of the flexible working now on offer to parents, flexibility for many employers – whether in business, education, or other parts of the public service – means they have freedom to expect you to complete work at home to meet tight deadlines, prepare lessons or courses for the next day, or be available to deal with problems or issues at any hour.

Of course, the Bible writers would have had no concept of the demands of the modern working environment, but I believe we can apply a number of key principles.

  • We need to give time to our families, to our spouse and our children. ‘These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.’ (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7). We ought to aim for an integrated lifestyle in making God’s word central in all we do. This can’t be achieved without giving time, both in shared activities and in talking together as a family.
  • Many of us find it difficult to avoid the stress of too many competing demands on our time – our employment, church activities, family and friends. How easily we can become frustrated and irritable with our spouse and children, or with our colleagues, and then our spiritual life suffers. There are no easy answers and for each one the way will be different. The timeless principle which Jesus gave in his famous discourse on the worries of daily life is that we should, ‘seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’ (Matthew 6:33). Surely putting God’s kingdom first includes our primary responsibility for our spouse and children.
  • In the course of a busy life and ministry, Jesus made time for children, even when ‘more important’ people wanted to engage with him. He encourages us to welcome and make space for children: ‘whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.’ (Matthew 18:5). Our own children and those we have regular contact with should know they have priority in our schedule.

Our sister organisation, the Relationships Foundation, has felt a call to address these issues through a new initiative, Keep Time for Children, which seeks to enable parents to spend more time with their children, particularly at weekends. It will have three key priorities:

Parental choices

We want to help parents review the time they spend with their children and as a family. We will be launching shortly a Family Time Audit Questionnaire to help parents get started and we want to collect from them as many practical ideas and tips as possible on how to create more time or spend time more effectively.

Employment practices

We are talking to employers about ways in which they could ensure that their staff who are parents have the flexibility not to work on both Saturday and Sunday.

Legal framework

We have already started to promote changes in the law, so that aside from essential services, employers cannot require parents to work on both Saturday and Sunday in one weekend if they choose not to.

To find out more about the Keep Time for Children initiative and how you can be involved please visit the website at www.keeptimeforchildren.org.uk

As we prepare to go public later in the year, your prayers and financial support to help kick-start the campaign would be greatly appreciated – join our mailing list and get involved!

[1]    The Times, 10 January 2004.

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Category: News and Reviews

March, 2004

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