Busted Halo

Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft tries to balance her traditional Mexican-American cultural heritage and Catholic identity, personified by her grandmother La Lupe, with her roles as a young wife and mother.

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August 9th, 2011

My Struggle with the 8-8-8 Split


Despite the popular sentiment found in Office Space, the 8-hour workday was a huge victory for laborers burdened with 12-16-hour workdays. 8 hours work, 8 hours recreation, 8 hours sleep seems very reasonable and makes sense. But after I moved to Austin to live in the same city as Brandon, I started to get the feeling that an 8-hour workday didn’t really work for me.

Before I moved to Austin, I never had a real 9-to-5 job. In college, I worked in the dean’s office with other people that lived in my dorm, and I had at least some classes with my roommates. After college I worked at a Catholic Worker house where I lived and worked with the same people. I liked life like this. Home and work were kind of one in the same.

Brandon and I had been dating long distance for a couple of years, and we decided that we needed to live in the same city to truly discern whether or not we wanted to get married. So I moved to Austin and got a regular 9-to-5 job. I didn’t see Brandon every day until 6 or 7 at night. We’d go for a run together, cook dinner, and eat. By then it was usually 9 or 10 p.m. and time to get ready for bed. I moved to Austin to better figure out my relationship with Brandon and I only got to see him 3 hours on weeknights. That did not seem like much. Especially when you further subtract driving time to and from each other’s apartments across town.

The “8 hours work, 8 hours recreation, 8 hours sleep” breakdown is pretty misleading. Say you work 8 hours and sleep 8 hours. 8 hours recreation = 1.5 hours getting ready in the morning and eating breakfast, 1-hour roundtrip commute to work (if you’re lucky), 1 hour to cook dinner. That leaves you 4.5 hours every day to spend with your family, do any chores that need to be done, workout (if you’re into that kind of thing), and get ready for bed. That is a lot to fit into 4.5 hours.

It was at this point that I thought an 8-hour workday to be, well, I guess, kind of silly. But I pushed it out of my head because that’s just the way the world works after all, and who was I to question it.

Then we had kids, and this 8-hour thing bothered me even more. To only have 4.5 quality hours to spend at home is one thing, but kids go to sleep early. You only get 1-2 hours with them, and since it’s the end of the day, they are usually cranky, tired, and hungry. This just makes me so sad. The only thing you can do with them is eat dinner and get ready for bed. No time to take a walk and play on some swings. No time to dress-up and have tea with some stuffed animals. No time to leisurely enjoy each other’s company, just the crazy, rushed circus that happens every night before bedtime. And after that you only have a couple hours to do laundry, wash dishes, pack lunches for the next day, check Facebook, watch Bones, etc.

I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for the last two years but I have just recently started a full-time job, which I love and is the most perfect job for me. But, man, is it hard to be away from my kids. Now that my time is so limited with the girls and with Brandon, we need to make changes to how we do things. We have really had to prioritize what is important to us. Weekends now are sacred and we are very choosy about what we commit to doing. No more random meetings, no more “I just need an hour to work on this.” Weekends are our only chance for uninterrupted family time and we are protective of it. Eating meals together is very important so we make that another priority. That’s about as far as we’ve gotten; we’re working on it.

Don’t get me wrong, I know I am lucky to have a job and a job that doesn’t require me to work lots of extra hours when it is tax season or when a project is due. I know a lot of people don’t have the luxury of only working 8 hours each day. So many people are tied to their BlackBerry because they’re waiting for some important e-mail or have to take 3 a.m. conference calls with Japan. I know we all have to work. It’s what keeps the world going ‘round. It’s what keeps food on the table and a roof over our heads but I can’t help but feel like our society got it wrong a little bit. I’m not advocating that we all rise up and fight for a 4-hour workday. But maybe spending time with family should be the norm and everything else the exception, not the other way around.

This work/family balance is such a hard thing. I know we have to make a lot of sacrifices in life, and working away from the family is one of them. We have to bend over backwards to never interrupt or derail our work life, and yet we cut into our home life as if it’s no big deal. I’m not really sure what the answer is. But at the end of the day, I just want to hang out with Brandon and the girls.

The 8-8-8 split is tricky. I know we, as individual employees, have to work this out but maybe businesses should think about it, too. Maybe they could offer in-office daycare. Maybe more opportunities to work from home. Or maybe we just need to get this community center up and running and then we can make our own rules.

The Author : Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft
Vanessa, a Notre Dame grad, loves the Catholic Worker Movement, Catholic education, and overbearing Mexican mothers, which she may or may not be. She lives in Austin with her husband and five daughters and is a freelance writer. You can find Vanessa at v.kraft.im or follow Vanessa on Twitter @laluped.
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  • Gaby

    Hey Vanessa!
    Great post. I’m just a college student yet, but in thinking ahead to the future, which I hope will include marriage and motherhood, I wonder a lot about the kinds of choices I’ll have to make when it comes to balancing work and family. I can’t give you advice like the other ladies who have commented, but as a kid who grew up eating dinner with her family nearly every single night, even through high school, make sure that you make meal time together a priority! It makes such a huge difference. Even if you’re eating takeout or frozen pizza, just eat dinner together. I really admire your commitment to your family and I hope I can do some of the same things one day.

  • Rachel

    Oh Vanessa! I know how hard that can be. With my little one, the first year was less than ideal. I was in the process of changing jobs for a first year teaching position, thinking if I HAD to work, at least I could have the summers off to spend with our son. I would leave the house before he woke up (it was a 45 minute commute), and wouldn’t get home until one and a half hours before bedtime. That precious hour and a half flew by as I would rush home to prepare dinner, and do our nighttime routine of bath, story, and prayers. My husband and I had similar schedules, so our son changed hands several times throughout the day before he got home to one of us. To say it was a difficult year is an understatement and my heart aches for parents who desire more time with their children but financial burdens prohibit them from doing so.
    During that year our mantra became quality over quantity. Our time together was intentional and precious, much like you describe your family time together.
    Last year, I found a gem of a job that is part-time, but offers free daycare for employees, so our income didn’t change much. I realize what a blessing this job is and offer thanksgiving each and every day. 
    As a mother, I know how difficult it is each morning to kiss that precious face goodbye, but I am struck by the blessing of having Brandon be such a familiar presence in their life right now. Especially with young girls, imagine what a blessing to have their father around so much! When I was growing up, my father worked long hours- and when he was home, he was in his office working. My early relationships with males were somewhat distorted and misguided because society was my primary example for several years. I just wanted to offer a different perspective, and perhaps a little consolation for those tough days. 
    You’re amazing and God is faithful! Push forward and trust that piece by piece God is revealing great things for you and yours :)

  • Susan

    AnitaH’s recommendation is right on. It’s hard to do, especially in this economy, and sometimes you just can’t because the only job you can get right now requires you to be “on call”. But make sure it’s your employer and not you that is really requiring it!

    Try not to worry about cleanliness or the fact that you may eat convenience foods more than is healthy. The important thing is, as you said, spending time with your family and doing your job well.

    Also, know that it will definitely get easier with time. My kids are now 9 & 13, and this summer has been the easiest one yet – once the kids are school age, summer can be a time of great stress trying to juggle camps, child care, etc. The kids can do more to help around the house, and the older one can even stay home alone a bit. This means less work when I get home and even cleaning is now time together.

    Don’t forget what you are giving your children while you are a work, too. Money to provide for them, a good example of work ethic, and more independence.

  • AnitaH

    I highly recommend setting boundaries with your job. And ironically, most of the boundaries are ones that I’ve set with myself. When I walk out the door I’m done for the day or the weekend. No checking email or VM. Unless there’s an emergency (my client’s site is down, or similar) I don’t work in my off time. And I especially don’t work on Sundays. Even around the house. I used to be one of those people who checked email and VM from vacation, but with the help of a friend, I learned to stop, disconnect and focus on my friends or other, more fulfilling activities once I left work.

  • Kim

    Since I was married 8 years ago, I have always worked about 6-7 hours a day as a K-12 tutor at a private school. When my husband and I decided to try for a child last year, I reduced it to 3 hours per day. We did get pregnant and this next school year I am offering those three kids tutoring spots at my home in the evenings so that I can be at home with the baby during the day and my husband can spend time alone with her at night (he volunteered to do this!). Since the birth of a child usually means spending less time alone with your mate, my work schedule may either be an extra burden on that, or it may be a miraculous breath of fresh air for me in the evenings and fun for dad and daughter. We’ll still have weekends together for family time, but M-Th evenings will be different than they have been for the last 8 years with just the two of us at home for those last 5-6 hours every evening after work. I don’t know what the future holds as far as my tutoring job goes, but it never hurts to try being all we can be as long as our kids are taken care of by people who care about them. Our little girl is due in November, so the challenge begins then! :)

  • Adam

    This is a great article Vanessa and touches on an important but overlooked aspect to our culture. The unfortunate truth is that Americans already work far more than their counterparts overseas and every year the situation becomes worse. It really comes down to how a company views its employees. Are they actual people with lives of their own or are they little more than production machines? In many cases the answer is clear.

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