Tradeoffs are ubiquitous in households with careers and kids. I’m okay with trade-offs. But a recent article in the New York Times brought up a whopper of a tradeoff–one that will define a generation, and one that our family has yet to fully grapple with: the impact of technology on family life.
My husband and I, like many of our peers, have squeezed and juggled our careers to make it possible for each of us to spend some weekday time at home with our daughter (and, not incidentally, reduce our daycare expenses). This flexibility is a blessing, and also a luxury. But it is not without cost. To compensate for lost daytime hours, we are constantly tempted to sneak work into family times, and we’re able to do that thanks to high-speed Internet.
Everyone is susceptible to techno-creep. A study by the University of Southern California Annenberg School found that nearly a third of respondents reported spending less time with family members since being connected to the Internet at home. That number has increased dramatically over the past several years, as has the percentage of people who report feeling ignored by a family member using the Internet.
Parents juggling the demands of work and family may feel the pull of that wireless connection more keenly than others. I need to clarify here that I am deeply grateful for the ability to telecommute with ease. It has allowed me to strike a more comfortable balance between career and parenting than I thought possible. When I was pregnant and contemplating these issues in the abstract, I imagined that the trade-offs between work and family would be dramatic and wrenching. They have mostly turned out to be incessant, minute, and mundane. Many of them have involved whether or not to do computer-based work during off-work hours.
And the thing is that checking email on a Saturday morning is not necessarily a terrible thing. I do it frequently, and am often glad that I did. But the question that worries me is where to draw the lines, and how to respect them once they’re drawn.
I don’t have any answers here, so I will close with an anecdote. It is 9:30 in the evening. My kid is asleep. My husband and I are sitting in the study with our backs to each other, typing furiously away at our separate machines. We haven’t spoken in over an hour. I think I will go say hello.