October 31, 2013
More on Balancing the Demands of Work and Family
I've recently come across two new helpful resources for those recurring conversations with students and friends about the holy grail of 'balance' between professional and private demands. Dr. Denise Hunnell's essay on Truth and Charity Forum, an online publication of Human Life International, Distinguishing Vocations from Occupations, suggests that we keep clear the distinction between the 'vocations' (as priest, consecrated religious, parent, spouse, or single person) within which we live out our 'professions' (as taeacher, doctor, lawyer). She concedes "There is no doubt that the way we conduct our occupations will impact our vocations. Our challenge is to keep our occupations in perspective so that they never overshadow our vocations."
Dr. Hunnell offers this as a "tweak" to the approach I took in my book chapter, Dueling Vocations, where I offer some suggestions from Catholic teachings on navigating the tensions between what I called our public vocations ("our responsibilities to live and witness as Christians in and to the various social institutions to which we belong--the Church, our local communities, our places of employment, our country, and our world") and our private vocations ("our calling to live according to a Christian understanding of the web of relationships into which we are all personally imbedded"). Dr. Hunnell objects to the fact that I seem to give the two equal weight in my balancing, which is true. My argument is that both vocations should be viewed as responses to God's call, and that striving to honestly responding to that call rather than our own ambitions, insecurities, preferences, or weaknesses ought to help us make good decisions when conflicts arise.
Dr. Hunnell's essay also discusses another recent essay which I found very intriguing: No Happy Harmony (First Things, Oct. 2013), by Elizabeth Corey, associate professor of political science in the Honors College at Baylor University. Corey argues that something important is missing from the whole work/life balance debate of Anne-Marie Slaughter, Sheryl Sandberg, et al. It's this: "Work and family evoke from us two distinct modes of being and of relation to others. The conflicts between these modes cannot, if we are honest with ourselves, be wished away or ignored." Drawing on Aristotle & Josef Pieper, Corey points out that professional excellence demands an Aristotlean dedication to the pursuit of "moral and intellectual perfection." In contrast, motherhood demands Peiper's notion of leisure: "the condition of attention and activity that isn't striving." She concludes: " these two endeavors require different orientations of the self, and we simply cannot approach marriage and family in the spirit of achievement at all. If we try to do so, we will find ourselves frustrated and conflicted. For well-behaved or smart children are not markers of our success; children are ends in themselves, to be loved and cared for as individuals. They need from us something other than our talents; they need us, full stop." She argues that attempts to offer solutions to these sorts of conflict are illusory, simply "evasions." I suppose I'm a bit more positive than she is about how we can attempt to make peace with those tensions, but her analysis of the situation stikes me as insightful and helpful.