This blog originally appeared on February 25, 2014 as part of the Religious Action Center’s blog series “Double Booked: A Conversation about Working Families in the 21st Century.” Double Booked deals with the many issues that affect working families, and features everything from personal stories to policy analysis. Visit the Double Booked portal to read more posts and subscribe for updates, or join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #doublebooked.
I was invited recently to a conference organized by the Obama Administration on combating child trafficking – an issue that as a dad, I care a ton about.
Excited, I called my wife to see how we could make it work. I learned she had important funding and board meetings that day that would mean she was leaving the house early and getting home after bedtime. None of our family’s baby-sitters were available. Oy.
I said no, citing the family difficulties in an email back to the organizers, copying my colleague.
My colleague called later that day to say she was surprised – pleasantly, I think – that I was so explicit about my family responsibilities keeping me home. She even said a woman in my position wouldn’t want to have anyone think her maternal commitments were holding her back professionally.
That’s when I realized that my candid email was my intentional effort to advocate for a different way of understanding work.
Since I’ve begun to engage the work and family balance question with my young children and my wife – whose career as a Rabbi and Jewish innovator is deeply important to both of us – I’ve realized that soulfully balancing work, life, and children means we have to go deeper than the “lean in” framework or just looking to policy solutions.
Yes, we will need good policies like paid family sick leave, longer school days (kids learn more, too), flexible work-from-home arrangements, and universal pre-K. We will need to fight to get more women to positions of power and influence in our organizations.
We also need to take a long, hard look at the way we work. Are we creating workplaces that value children and our own humanity not only because it makes us turn out better work, but simply because we were created in the image of God?
Our souls need feeding with laughter, music, dancing, and joy with our colleagues – and also real rest, and honest downtime. What would it look like if our workplaces intervened when someone was working too much to lighten their load, rather than rewarding overwork with recognition? Or expected us all to take every day of our vacation time every year? And had a policy against rapid-fire email chains before 9am, after 6pm, and on the weekends?
Of course many of us love our work – and thank G-d, I do. Aligning my work with my deepest understanding of my life purpose is a gift I am grateful for each day. We need to focus on helping people align with purpose in their work in a deep, spiritual way. Yet when love becomes obsession, it is no longer really love. We need to prioritize our lives – not just our work – with a balance of family, rest, hard work, learning, worship, and leisure.
For me, working to hand off a better world to the next generation requires that I am spending quality time with my community and with my children. I can’t just advocate for family friendly policies in the government; I have to do so in my workplace and I have to live my life, day-to-day, in line with what I think work should look like if we are going to truly value the next generation.
This means publicly citing family obligations in front of staff and supervisors to model healthy work and to strengthen those struggling with the same commitments. These models have given me enormous strength to follow my own path. It also means being genuinely ready to cheer a staff member’s pregnancy and tell a staff person to go home to care for a sick kid even if that means they have to push back important deadlines.
We should also re-examine the language we use. The term “family-friendly” could be replaced with “human-friendly” – human-friendly policies and human-friendly workplaces. Reimagining work – reducing hours, taking more breaks, working smarter, attending to our spirits – won’t just benefit parents, but all of us and the causes we serve.
Isaac Luria is the Vice President for Auburn Action at Auburn Theological Seminary in NYC. At Auburn, Isaac leads the Seminary’s training programs on faith-rooted social action and storytelling for social change. He also directs Auburn’s multifaith social action network Groundswell. Originally from Amherst, MA, Isaac now lives in Brooklyn with his wife Rabbi Sara Luria and two lovely children, Caleb, 4, and Eva, 2.