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.
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 anymore.
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?
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 facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.