Work-Family Balance Was Never Easy. Then the Pandemic Hit.

The pandemic-induced shutdown has showed us, among other lessons, how hard it really is to juggle work and family.

For example, one married couple, both academics, tracked a workday at home during quarantine. They recorded an average of 15 interruptions by their two children each hour; the typical uninterrupted stretch of work was a mere three minutes, 24 seconds. During this season, the idea of having a successful career and a flourishing family can seem impossible.

Another couple, Christians Jeff and André Shinabarger, started wondering about this tension long before the pandemic. They were living out these big questions under their own roof.

“We say oftentimes that if we change the world and lose our family, we lose,” Jeff said. “And that starts with my relationship with André, our individual relationship, and how that impacts the rest of our family.”

Over two years ago, the Shinabargers—husband Jeff, the founder of startup network Plywood People and wife André, a physician’s assistant—launched a podcast called Love or Work, interviewing couples and relationship experts about marriage, family, and purpose.

They road-tripped in an Airstream to hear from families prioritizing their vocations and their marriages. And they partnered with Christian research organization Barna Group to survey 1,500 couples about work-life balance.

Now Jeff and André have co-authored Love or Work: Is It Possible to Change the World, Stay in Love & Raise a Healthy Family? The book seeks to answer this question through personal anecdotes, lively debates between Jeff and André, and their research. (A detailed report of their survey findings can be downloaded here.)

The couple recently spoke from their home in Atlanta with author Dorcas Cheng-Tozun, who has also written about the unique dynamics around faith, calling, and marriage. The Shinabargers discussed how we as Christians might think through the tension around work, ambition, relationships, and parenting during these unusual times. The interview has been edited for length.

André, in the book you address head-on that managing work and family is much harder for women. Even now, I’ve seen several doomsday articles about how the pandemic could spell the end of the working mother. What would you say to women who are really struggling to have it all?

André: We wrote this book before COVID. And now, we’re like, “Oh, it’s even more important.” The tension was real before COVID, and now the tension is exponentially more real. If anyone feels it, it’s the working mom, and especially, especially the single working mom …. In our research, it was pretty evident that men did not sacrifice their work for their partner as much as women sacrificed for men. As we’re seeing with COVID, all of a sudden all the childcare responsibilities seem to automatically get delegated to the woman.

I get that we often birthed the child out of our bodies, but the kid belongs to both of us. The male, the person you’re partnering with, has just as much responsibility for the childcare and for what happens to these kids than the woman. It’s hard for me to see that women are the ones who are going to pull out of the workforce.

If it was a true partnership, men would be just as likely to pull out of the workforce as women. Jeff and I talk a lot about moving from patriarchy to partnership, and having the viewpoint that whatever works best for your family, that’s what should be done.

What statistic in your research most surprised you?

André: The first is that people are so optimistic: 95 percent of people believe that you can do it all. You can both work, have a healthy family, stay in love. 83 percent of couples say that working has made them better parents. I thought that was really interesting too because oftentimes I think I’m not the best parent because I’m out working, and I feel guilty or somewhat discouraged that I’m not with my kids more.

Yet there are also so many that say they’re exhausted, they’re tired, they feel overwhelmed. They aren’t able to really stay healthy. Only 29 percent say they’re satisfied with their physical health, 21 percent with their financial security. These are dual-income couples. It was interesting to see that the things that we are sacrificing are health—our physical, spiritual, mental, emotional health. We’re going after it, we’re doing it all, and then we’re needing to sacrifice. We’re sacrificing ourselves, really.

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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