Baby boomers still struggle to balance work and family

Friday, October 24, 2003

NEW YORK -- Some baby boomers, who have struggled for years to try to balance work loads and family responsibilities, are advocating a new solution: working less.

Americans traditionally have sought to get better organized by buying day planners and personal digital assistants, or by hiring time management consultants. But there's a boomer-led movement now toward cutting work hours -- even if it means collecting a reduced salary -- to free more time for family, friends and volunteer activities.

John de Graaf, 57, a Seattle freelance television producer and writer, is among the organizers of Take Back Your Time day, observed today. He calls it "a national conscious-raising event" that will include teach-ins and other events around the country to discuss ways to balance work and life. Events are posted at

"The date comes nine weeks before the end of the year, and that symbolizes the fact that we Americans now work an average of nine full weeks more each year than do our peers in Western Europe."

Americans may be richer, de Graaf acknowledges, "but they're overworked, overscheduled and overwhelmed -- in short, just stressed out."

There are some baby boomers who have made big changes in their lives to try to create more balance.

Don Silver, 54, gave up his law practice in Los Angeles four years ago to become an author and freelance financial writer.

He and his wife, Susan, a 52-year-old management consultant, now work from home so they can concentrate on projects they enjoy, set their own hours and home-school their son, Charlie.

Tough trade-offs

"I thought we would take a big hit in income, but I was willing to take that chance," Silver said. "It may have been that I lucked out, getting dot-com work in 1999 and 2000 when I was starting out. Now I'm able to work in many venues -- online, hard copy, creating computer manuals, 'evergreen' content for financial sites."

After writing seven personal finance books, he recent wrote his first fiction book, "Cookin' the Book$."

Silver says that even people who work at home can get overwhelmed by it "unless you put up barriers."

He encourages others to try to understand that life is about choices. In "The Generation Y Money Book," for example, "I tried to make it clear that you're trading your life energy for money. ... So it's important, regardless of your age, to ask basic questions: 'Are you killing yourself doing this?' 'Are you enjoying this?' 'What's the trade-off?"'

For Diane Wood, 52, getting more time to spend with her teenage daughters meant cutting her work hours and earning less.

She moved earlier this year from a management position at a national environmental group that required long hours and a lot of travel to her current job as executive director of the Center for a New American Dream in Takoma Park, Md.

The center operates Monday through Thursday and pays its employees for a 32-hour work week. They may earn less, but they have Fridays off for walks in the woods or baking cookies with their children, Wood said.

"I made a conscious decision for a balanced life," Wood said.

Living a pleasant life

Others apparently are interested in the same thing. Traffic doubled this summer at the center's Web site at, which offers tips on lowering consumption and finding nonmaterial joys in life, Wood said.

"I think more and more people are stressed, especially boomers," she said. "I worry that they're so stressed they're not pausing at all -- and you have to pause if you want to redefine who you want to be."

Elizabeth Rhodes, 55, stopped practicing law in 1995 and became a librarian at the University of Baltimore law library. The move has reduced stress in her life and given her more time to read and write poetry, she said.

"I'm convinced that what I've done is to arrange my life to be as pleasant as I can make it," she said. "I have a congenial work environment, I'm working more things into my job that I like and I'm working at a place where, if I want to take a class, say in writing poetry, I just have to walk across the street."

She also takes advantage of the library's generous vacation policy, she said, "compared to practicing law, where there was hardly ever a down day, it's incredible."

Still, she said, the effort to get more balance in her life was an ongoing process.

"It's always a conscious decision," she said. "It's about focusing."

Benjamin Hunnicutt, a professor of leisure studies at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, agrees that many Americans are "time hungry." But he's not convinced most people will change their habits anytime soon.

"Work is the central value of our culture, and that's especially true for boomers," Hunnicutt said.

"Work has become something like a modern religion, a way we establish our identity and find meaning and purpose."

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