Written by: Cally Worden
A recent survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) revealed that around 56% of educators believe working parents are spending less time with their children¬†today compared with 20 years ago. More than 90% of respondents attribute this change to the rise in demands of work on family life, with a similar percentage stating their belief that the distraction of technology is in part to blame.
Have we Lost the Work:Life Balance?
It sometimes feels like we never had it but, looking back, I can remember a time when life wasn’t all about work. Maybe this is an age/career thing, but I’m not so sure. Living costs are always on the rise, but in the last two decades the cost of living has rocketed beyond the reach of many ordinary single salaries. This has placed increasing pressure on both parents to work just to pay the bills, taking both Mum and Dad away from the home for extended periods of time each day.
Out of Hours Care and Education
It is not uncommon for even young children to be placed in childcare facilities from 8am until 6pm outside of school hours. This rise in the use of pre and post school care facilities is primarily the result of a need to accommodate parental working hours. It is perhaps the increasing visibility of children in these environments that has driven the survey respondents to express their views.
And yet the value of extra-curricular school care is not to be overlooked – it can provide opportunities for youngsters to engage in sports and creative activities that may otherwise not fit in with the family’s busy schedule. In addition, some 39% of those participating in the survey noted that many children use this post-school-pre-home time to completed homework and gain valuable study support. At the other end of the day 19% of respondents flagged the importance of pre-school clubs in ensuring that children have the time and space to enjoy a proper breakfast.
The Effects on our Children
Every child is different, but a number of ATL members were moved to comment that young children in particular don’t always cope too well with such long days out of the home. Some teachers described some primary kids as walking around like ghosts, and expressed concerns over youngsters that simply fall asleep in lessons because they are so fatigued.
Even those children who seem unaffected by tiredness may be losing out on valuable family time. A balance of interactions is healthy for children, and the value of time spent with parents, siblings and friends should not be underestimated.
Several respondents went further and flagged the differences between the UK and some other European countries, where children start school later and attended for fewer hours. Cynics may say this is just a teacher’s way of attempting to reduce their own workload, but evidence does suggest that boys in particular are often not ready to start school at the age or 4 or 5, due to underdeveloped fine motor skills at this age.
Where Do we Go from Here?
The survey is interesting in the light of possible government proposals to extend the UK school day to 10 or 12 hours for all pupils. Where is the time for a Work:Life balance in that model? And what does it teach our children about the value of life outside work?
The harsh reality of life often means that parents simply have no choice but to place their children in childcare for extended periods outside of school hours. For other parents this is an active choice. There are no absolutes here, and what works for one family may not suit another.
For me, the important message from this survey is that we need to acknowledge and recognise the fact that work demands are creating a societal shift towards less family time. If we don’t like it then only we as a society can change it. Easy to say, not so easy to do when you feel trapped in a cycle of work-to-live. Taking a step back can help – it is often possible to make a change to your life, to live on less (provided you are not already on the poverty line), and to reassess your priorities.
We are so often bombarded with media images and messages about how our lives could/should be, and in the face of that it’s easy to forget what we actually want. Life is often about compromise, and a simpler, less material life may be the answer to achieving more quality family time. What do you think?