In Search of Family Time

By Amber Lapp

July 30, 2018

Read the full story in the Institute for Family Studies

I sit sunken in the green hide-a-bed in my living room—the one my grandparents’ bought in the 1960s when they were young parents with young children—and now I am the one flanked by my six-year-old and four-year-old boys, The Little Prince open in my lap. The deteriorated foam cushions are original and so the incline caused by the weight of my pregnant body pulls my kids so close it’s like we’re nestled into a bean bag. My uncle, who graciously U-hauled this hulk of a sofa from Iowa to Ohio for us, can’t see why I love it so much. He tells me of multiple moves when they almost threw it out to burn. My grandma knew it was out of fashion, but my grandpa, to his dying day, claimed that it had the most comfortable mattress in the world.

* * *

Six years ago, when my husband David and I drove a different, couch-less U-Haul from New York City to a small town in Ohio, we had many thoughts about how marriage and family life ought to be, and we were concerned by the trends we saw among our soon-to-be neighbors: low marriage rates, high divorce rates, and high rates of children born outside of marriage.

We were thinking a lot in those days about how beliefs shape behavior. For example, we noticed how flawed notions of love contributed to tenuous relationships and a merry-go-round of marriage and divorce. (“Love is effortless,” one woman told me, citing the hard work of their marriage as the reason she was divorcing her husband.)

What was not on our radar initially were the stressors our working-class interviewees face as they tend to both work and family responsibilities in an economy of low-wage, service sector jobs in which many employees have irregular schedules and no paid leave to care for sick family members or recover after childbirth and the transition to a new baby. After hearing stories from women like Tonya —who returned to work at a chain restaurant two days after giving birth and then worked through subsequent cancer treatments out of financial necessity—we were challenged to think about marriage and family in terms of a broader human ecology , which includes everything from cultural messages about marriage to policy proposals like paid family leave.

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Chelsea Maxwell