Book Review

'Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time': Surviving our harried lifestyles


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With the advent of the birth control pill in 1960, women thought at last we'd have control over our lives. No longer would pregnancies, babies, soccer games, school plays and all the rest control our time, our work, our play. We thought we'd finally have time for leisure, love and life.

We were wrong.

As Washington Post reporter Brigid Schulte demonstrates in her book "Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time," more than ever, women live pressured, exhausting, overcommitted lives. Managing a constant whirl of busyness, women -- whether employed or not -- by and large feel that they have less time than ever.

And it is not only women. Employed parents combined put in 13 more hours of work on the job per week, on average, in 2000 than they did in 1970. That equates to roughly 28 more days of additional paid work per year -- without counting childcare and household maintenance.


"OVERWHELMED: WORK, LOVE AND PLAY WHEN NO ONE HAS THE TIME"
By Brigid Schulte
Sarah Crichton Books ($26)

If we feel we are working harder than ever, it's because that is true. Nearly 40 percent of American men and 20 percent of American women with a college education put in more than 50 hours a week on the job, she writes.

Ms. Schulte should know. As a journalist and mother of two young children, Ms. Schulte writes from the perspective of the individuals she describes. She describes how we spend our time, how we cram too much in, and how we live exhausted lives.

Apparently, things haven't changed much since June Cleaver showed us how to raise children, keep our homes clean and stay happily married. But a 21st-century June goes to her paid employment while still carrying out her 1950s duties in the home.

Based on research, Ms. Schulte maintains that the highly gendered division of labor in the home has barely budged since the 1950s. She describes how the Great American Lifestyle has taken its toll particularly on women and mothers, who can't live up to the models of the Ideal Mother and the Ideal Worker, who is always available and always willing to work long hours.

Yet for everyone to have time for work, play and love, societal norms about the ways that people do these things will need to change. Ms. Schulte presents many real-life examples of businesses that have re-conceived work policies, such as allowing a parent to bring a baby to work, or permitting work at home to make up for days out of the office.

Unfortunately, these models might seem unachievable to those of us who are the cogs in the machine rather than the captains of industry. Ms. Schulte describes what she has learned personally from her pilgrimage from the University of Maryland to Denmark (the world's happiest country and one structured to support leisure) to a meditation center in Washington, D.C.

After nearly 300 pages documenting and describing how we spend our time, she offers pointed suggestions for living better lives. We need to get enough rest; work "in pulses" (shorter segments of time with breaks in between); and "get a grip" -- figure out what is important and give up what's not, such as a hyper-clean home. She draws on the current mindfulness movement to emphasize iving in the moment.

If we are not too overwhelmed by "Overwhelmed" upon finishing the book, we can sign up on her website (brigidschulte.com) for newsletters and "resources." That is, if we have the time.


Beth Doriani is the former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Eastern University.

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