The School-Life Balance Needs Better Balance

By Lisa Sugarman

When I was first out of college I worked for a family-owned publishing company about three miles from my front door. At the time, there were about thirty of us, not including the owner’s Portuguese Water Dogs who lived under everyone’s desks, and the company vibe was akin to Google in the early days. It was a sweet little gig and I loved it.

Owned and run by a husband and wife team who were ardent believers that everyone should have a healthy work/life balance, this company was a dream for me as a newlywed who craved as much time as possible with my man. As far as my bosses were concerned, nothing came before family time. Nothing. They believed that a person’s work ethic was only as strong as the foundation they laid at home. And that if their staff had the latitude to be one hundred percent dedicated to their family that, in turn, they’d show the same dedication to their jobs from 9 to 5 every day. And they were right.worklife_300

Most of us were in flip flops and shorts four out of five days a week and we were all expected and encouraged to be in our cars and heading home by 5:01 every night. Yet even in spite of the relaxed atmosphere, it was an incredibly dynamic work environment. Every one of us consistently busted our asses every day. And we did it because the owners respected the importance of having a work/life balance. They felt so strongly that family time and downtime should be everyone’s top priority that they never allowed us to take our work home with us.

As a result, people respected them back and showed that respect through a strong work ethic. And no one took advantage of the flexibility they offered. Ever. In fact, it only motivated people to perform better because our lives outside work were valued so highly by our bosses.

Which brings me to my actual point.

Since my girls hit high school, I’ve thought a lot over the last several years about how ridiculous it is that the same philosophy isn’t accepted in, of all places, our schools. I mean, I don’t know about your kids, but my girls have consistently had homework over holiday breaks and summer vacations and on weekends and I just don’t get it. I thought the idea of having a break was to be able to take one.

And the same is true with varsity sports and the rigidity of most team’s policies on missing practices and games. Gone are the days of events being relegated to during the week so kids are free to go away for the weekend or over vacation with family. It’s frowned on now, sadly. And while I absolutely get the importance of committing to a team and honoring that commitment by faithfully going to practices and being at games, I don’t understand why these commitments have been allowed to bleed into family time like weekends and vacations. Because those times are supposed to be sacred and they’re just not

Now I’m no athletic director, so I can only imagine the challenges they face trying to fit in all the games and all the practices of all the teams in all the schools they oversee. But I just can’t help but think that maybe, just maybe, if we reduced the number of games we play by a smidge, then it might help balance the scales a little bit and leave some room for kids to have their family time too.

I just don’t understand why, when down time is proven to be so beneficial to children, maintaining that balance doesn’t extend to our school systems.

I mean, think of it this way, every decent health science professional knows that we can’t effectively build stronger, healthier muscles if we tax the same ones religiously every single day without a break. Any physical trainer worth their weight in kettlebells will tell you that the best way to condition your body is to give the parts that you work out an appropriate amount of time to break down, to rest, and to ultimately regenerate. And we all know that the brain functions the same way. So why then are our kids no longer allowed to step away from their academics and their sports and be given the chance to decompress without being penalized?BrainWeightLifting-e1336096829913

I know that even now, as a grown woman, I have very distinct intake limits in terms of processing power. And when I hit my own personal threshold for taking in information, I need to shut down. Just ask Dave. When it happens, it’s not pretty. I need to process. And I need to decompress. We all do. Especially our kids.

So it’s shocking to me that schools across the board haven’t adopted a school/life balance policy. Because I think that if they did, they’d ultimately get a lot more out of their students during those five days a week that they’re sitting at their desks.

But what do I know, right?

Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on and at select Whole Foods Market stores.



5 thoughts on “The School-Life Balance Needs Better Balance

  1. Thank you for writing about this! My son (10) and I were just talking about this last night! The amount of homework is insane. He suggested an extra hour of school and only the occasional project to do at home. At 10, he feels overwhelmed – forget my 13 year old who is up until 11:00 every night doing homework (12:30 last night!!!)…Granted, our children are learning a lot, and the teachers are amazing here. Sadly though, unless there is a major paradigm shift nationally, our children will need to keep up this crazy pace to compete at the college level… I’m pretty sure that in Scandinavian countries, where work/life balance is paramount, there are some pretty smart folks running around. Oh Lisa – don’t even get me started : )

    • You’re absolutely welcome, Karen! I so appreciate the feedback.

      It’s a loaded issue for sure. And it’s unfortunate that administrators don’t see how counter productive all the extra work is in the long run.

      I totally get and appreciate homework and projects because they reinforce what’s being taught and learned in the classroom, but once kids hit that saturation point they just shut down and the absorption stops. Then everything just gets jumbled. That’s why I think there needs to be a better balance between time on learning and downtime and more of a focus on the quality of what and how kids are learning versus the raw amount of information they’re taking in.

      People need time to process and assimilate what they’re exposed to, whether it’s information or skills. And when there’s no time to digest what’s being taken in, stuff just usually collects in one big glob of useless junk and doesn’t benefit anyone in the end.

  2. You had me at “portuguese water dog.” (we used to have one and I love dogs, especially in the work place!). But yes, to your actual point, I get CRAZY with the high school sports and how we are expected to be here over vacations because they have practices and games…it’s so not right in my opinion. And, my son’s high school apparently (and I emphasize the apparently here) put into effect a ‘no homework’ policy over Christmas break but when I asked my son about it this past Christmas, he said that some of the teachers are “sneaky” and manage to still assign things which are due after the break and can’t possibly be completed unless work is done over vacation. Glad to have found your blog after you followed me on Twitter!

    • Thanks for reaching out, Emily! I think the majority of us with school-age kids are in the same situation and it’s just a shame to see them having to sacrifice their downtime and family time for ur sake of banging out another 50 math problems. Above anyone else, schools should understand the value and importance of maintaining a healthy work/life balance. Because they’re going to breed a generation of kids who are burnt out before they ever even make it to the work force.

      Feel free to share my column on Facebook to help spread the message and affect some real change. Thanks!


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