No Place Like Work

It was the end of another exhausting day for Michael and Carrie. Both had long commutes home from work. That evening, while Carrie shopped for groceries, Michael ran errands and picked up their two toddlers from daycare. By the time they got home, it was too late to start dinner, so they ordered pizza -- again. Why, Michael and Carrie asked themselves, is it so hard to balance work and family? The fact that this couple believes they must perform this balancing act reveals a fundamental change in the way Americans view work. In his new book, There's No Place Like Work, Brian Robertson says that for most of our history Americans viewed work primarily as a means of serving the family. But today, work is viewed primarily as a route to self-fulfillment, money, and power. This change came about through the economic, cultural, and political upheavals of the twentieth century. In the early sixties, cultural elites began celebrating liberation from traditional cultural norms. Feminists argued that all women should enjoy complete economic independence. That meant holding down a job, even when women had young children. But not to worry, they were told, daycare's just as good, if not better, than home care. So women moved into the workforce, and homemakers -- now viewed as "freeloaders" -- lost prestige because they didn't bring home the bacon. Adding to these pressures, no-fault divorce laws meant that women could no longer depend on economic support from ex-husbands. As a result, many mothers no longer had the option of staying home with the kids. Tax codes also got into the act: They began rewarding two-career families that opted for daycare, and punishing those that kept mom at home. In short, the feminist agenda made work outside the home an emotional and economic necessity for women. Robertson argues that this philosophy wouldn't have had such a tremendous impact if the domestic ideals of the postwar years hadn't become so shallow and materialistic. Self-directed ideals like self-fulfillment and achieving one's potential were suddenly valued more highly than notions of self-sacrifice and public service, valued by previous generations. The result is that our culture no longer views work as a means of making home life better or producing goods of worth. Rather, we've come to believe that work is the way to achieve material fulfillment -- something that allows us to have wealth, more and more possessions, and -- oh yes -- personal autonomy. Is it any wonder, in this environment, that the family is under such tremendous strain? The cultural elites continue to measure fulfillment in terms of advancement in a career. And despite all the evidence to the contrary, for women they insist that full-time employment and mothering young children are completely compatible. As we enter this new century, we can except to see battles waged over whether or not the two-parent home is even normative anymore. Many would have you believe heterosexual marriage is no more "normal" than any other relationship. Which means that you and I need to educate ourselves and our neighbors about how today's distorted views of work damage the most crucial institution in society: the family. And a good place to start is Brian Robertson's book, There's No Place Like Work. It will help restore a biblical vision of work -- both inside and outside the home.


Chuck Colson


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