If you are like many Americans, you spend more time working than ever. You’re also more likely to work weekends than in years past. We can blame decades-long efforts by companies to boost productivity (ending a century of declines in work hours) and the evolution of work-at-home arrangements for some of the extra hours. But if we’re honest, there’s more going on here.
Home was once a respite from work. But today it’s often the other way around. We marry later, overschedule our kids, and buy ever-larger homes further away from where we work. To avoid these new stresses, we spend more hours at the keyboard. Hard as it can be, work is easier than family for some of us.
But more work hours will never be a long-term solution. Those inevitable periods of turmoil on the job will only bring more stress to the home. The cycle can leave us feeling trapped, while both our work and home life suffer. What’s the answer? Here are three steps you can take to make home a respite again.
1. Admit things at home are not okay
As Bob Dylan would say, “The times, they are a-changin’.” We marry later, put children into more activities, and have bigger homes than ever. Which means your home life is more-stressful than ever.
Americans marry three to four years older than people did in 1990. Go back further and the gap increases. As a result, we come into our marriages stuck in our ways, making for harder transitions into the togetherness of married life. Later marriage also means later childbearing and related complications. This doesn’t even include the usual ups and downs that come with every marriage.
We who are more affluent also put our children into more extracurricular activities than our parents did a generation ago. This means you are chauffeuring kids from soccer practice to piano lessons, and even helping to coach one of them. Little wonder why 22 percent of parents with kids in three or more activities say their schedules are hectic, compared to just eight percent of parents whose kids partake in one extracurricular or less, according to a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center.
Then there are the household chores, which have grown with our homes. The average home size increased by 1,000 square feet between 1973 and 2015. This means more bathrooms to clean, bigger yards to mow, and more furniture and stuff to clutter the rooms. In short, more anxiety. Especially for women, who still have the traditional housekeeping roles even as they work outside the home, chores have become just another burden on top of being wives and mothers.
You can’t avoid a problem with silence or avoidance. This includes all the stresses at home that can make work seem a respite from family life. Turning it around, starts with talking to your spouse about feeling overwhelmed. They probably feel it too. You should also write down what’s bothering you and why, as well as how you want life to be different.
But don’t stop there. You need to intentionally change how you are living your life.
2. Live your life differently
Only you and your spouse can address all of the issues in your marriage in frank and honest ways. But let me suggest one way to make marriage easier: Spend more time with each other without children (or the technology) and decompress. Grab lunch or skip out for a movie on a weekday while the children are in school, and have a night out once a month just for good measure.
It’s also worth reconsidering the heavy extracurricular schedule. After all, the purpose of those soccer and ballet practices are for them to build their character and help them learn important soft-skills such as teamwork and persistence, not for them to become the next Tom Brady or Misty Copeland.
As for household chores? Let some things go. We should have pride of place, certainly. But that doesn’t mean you should buy it at the price of burnout, or even have to do it all yourself. If your spouse and kids aren’t pitching in, fix that. Another option, depending on your resources, is outsourcing some of the work. And decluttering the house and buying less stuff is also key to reducing your chores; the less you have, the less there is to stress about.
Finally, take some time for yourself. A little rest does the body and mind good. Reading more books can help you relax as well as build your knowledge. You can also take up a hobby that doesn’t involve anything you do for work. Not only do you gain respite from home and work, it can even open up new opportunities for your life long after retirement and the empty nest.
3. Stop using work as your sanctuary
As you make intentional changes to make your home a proper sanctuary, you must also be deliberate in putting work into its proper place.
This starts by spending less time at work. This starts the end of your workday or weekend by organizing a list of priorities for the next as well as thinking through how much time it will really to complete the items on your agenda. Not only does this step help you say no to extraneous tasks that can come during the work day, it even helps you set a limit on how much time you spend on the job.
You should also recognize how stressful work itself can be. From the longer commutes in and out of the office to the long meetings that waste time, recognizing the workplace stresses for what they are will make you want to make home a place of peace.