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.