Families: Isn’t It About Time?

December 17, 2003 | 6 comments
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Many of you will recognize the title of this post as the tag line for the Church’s latest ad campaign. A previous campaign proclaimed, “Time? I’ve got as much as anybody!” We in the Church are obsessed with time. In a post below, Ady discusses the challenges of being an LDS woman and a scientist. Like all of us, Ady feels the pull of various responsibilities, and the constraints imposed by the scarce resource, time. In my view, time management is one of the most important tasks we face in this life.

Please don’t get me wrong. I do not sell Franklin Day Planners or Palms. (Indeed, I once taught an Elder’s Quorum lesson in which I argued that such things were “Satanic,” but that is a topic for another post.) When I talk about time management, therefore, I am not talking about productivity in a worldly sense. Actually, I am talking about what may be the opposite: productivity in a spiritual sense.

In the final accounting (yes, THAT accounting), I believe that we will not be asked to account for our time in any quantitative way. Instead, we will be judged by the quality of our spirits, and the quality of our spirits will reflect the choices we make. As we use our time here wisely, we become more like God. Pretty simple.

Here is the problem: Mormons receive very confusing messages about the proper use of time. What uses of our time will mold us in the image of God? On the one hand, we are told, “No success can compensate for failure in the home.” I believe that, and I am driven to ensure that I do not look back on my family life with regret. On the other hand, we see young fathers and mothers called to significant positions of responsibility in the Church (e.g., bishops and R.S. presidents). In addition, Mormons praise other members who are highly accomplished in their professions (Steve Young, Dallin Oaks, Rex Lee, Russell Nelson, Jon Huntsman, Jane Clayson, etc.). Students at BYU are admonished to become “the best” at whatever they do, and we assume that excellence in any (moral) pursuit must be somewhat Godlike. But, of course, being one’s professional best — as opposed to being merely competent — requires some sacrifice (perhaps substantial) of family time.

So, I wonder, how do we resolve these conflicts on the ground? My approach is pretty ad hoc. My life goes from intense work to intense family interaction, with some periods of “normality” sprinkled in. I cannot do my job in eight hours a day. Most days, I work about 12 hours, and often I work more, though I am fortunate to be able to do some of that at home. I usually eat dinner with my family, and I try to play with or talk to each of my children every day. Despite my efforts, guilt is a constant companion. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Or am I just obsessing?

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6 Responses to Families: Isn’t It About Time?

  1. cooper on December 17, 2003 at 2:00 pm

    I’d comment, but I don’t have time right now…

  2. Kristine on December 17, 2003 at 2:15 pm

    I don’t necessarily want to lead the discussion down a tangential path, but I’ll toss in the following: time management is largely the prerogative of fathers and/or mothers whose children are cared for by others. For a stay-at-home parent, at least one of small children, there is no such thing as “managing” anything, especially something so precious as time. As a mom with three kids under six, I am on-duty ALL the time and my children’s needs cannot be scheduled. This is not to say I can’t plan, only that all plans are subject to change and ruin without notice. I believe I am learning useful things about sacrifice and patience, but it worries me a little that my husband is learning such different lessons about time, family, and excellence in other pursuits. It also concerns me that in the church, while we talk about how holding the priesthood is good for men because it teaches them to serve, the kinds of service they offer are often highly visible, highly praised, and “schedulable.” The bishop is praised for spending an evening or two a week at church, while his wife is left with the never-ending task of picking up the pieces at home. The home teacher is publicly praised for running over to the hospital after work or on his lunch hour to give a blessing, while the mother, who was there all day and all night, receives quieter satisfaction. I’m not arguing for the superiority of one kind of service or another, only wondering whether it’s dangerous for men and women to learn separate lessons. (One notes that Satan made a lot of headway in the garden when he managed to get Adam and Eve to act separately.)

  3. brayden on December 17, 2003 at 2:40 pm

    In defense of the lessons, I assumed the Relief Society and the Elder’s Quorum were learning about of the same lesson manuals. Of course, even if the words are the same, the experiences brought to the table by men are radically different than those discussed by women. This is probably the distinction that Kristine is making.

    I find that my wife and I have equal time pressures, many of which are due to church obligations. My wife and I both work (our kids spend part of the week in a preschool) and when we’re not working it seems that one of us has some sort of church service going on. Last week, between Young Womens and the Elder’s Quorum, Karrie and I managed to not spend one single night together in the home. Tis the season after all.

    I love the service and fellowship that comes from church activity, but is there a way to reasonably reduce the total time spent away from the family due to church without cutting too much quality church time out?

  4. Gordon on December 17, 2003 at 2:43 pm

    Funny, cooper.

    Kristine, that was truly insightful. While the differences between men and women in the Church are often discussed and debated, I had never thought about the different circumstances teaching different lessons about service. Now that you have described the issue, it seems obvious!

    One possible response: I believe that individuals are constrained in their ability to become like God. We see, for example, that the gifts of the Spirit are given to various people so that together a congregation as a whole can have all of the gifts. Isn’t it also true that “God” is not just Heavenly Father, but also Heavenly Mother. In other words, perhaps we should think of “God” as a collective (at least a man and wife, but also the Son, who is one with God?). If this is true, then perhaps we learn different lessons so that we can all contribute something meaningful to the whole.

    And you were worried about a tangent!

  5. clark on December 17, 2003 at 2:53 pm

    Man, I agree completely. Life was so much easier when I was single. I had tons of activities I could do. Since I got married finding time to schedule things has been brutal. And this is without kids or intrusive callings. (We’re in nursery) I used to do about 2-3 hours a day at various gyms doing various activities. Now it is very hard to do, partially because it is harder to do things alone. Probably a lot of this is just the adjustments during the first year of marriage. But my middle certainly has changed! I’m definitely not the thin atheletic person I was a year and a half ago!

    Computer stuff is easier to do, as I can run to the computer room every now and then. But more involved things are very hard.

    I probably will have to go the DayPlanner way and get much more formalized in my organization. Is there any other way?

  6. Renee on December 23, 2003 at 11:58 am

    During the 2003 Relief Society General Conference, Bonnie D. Parkin spoke about Martha and Mary and the struggles of “choosing that good part”. http://www.lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-401-33,00.html

    She says, “Wouldn’t it be easy if we were choosing between visiting teaching or robbing a bank? Instead, our choices are often more subtle. We must choose between many worthy options.”

    During her talk and President Hinckley’s, I was surrounded by crying women who felt awful for the things they could not accomplish. Here was the RS president and the Prophet telling us we don’t have to be super women. But where is that impression coming from in the first place? I have read that Utah has the highest number of women per capita on anti-depressants. Clearly, the demands placed on people need to be examined.

    Even though we have no children, I still feel the pressures of time. I have learned by experience that I need to be fiercely protective of my time everytime I get a phone call or meet with the bishop. Perhaps it’s because I’m a convert, but I have no qualms to sometimes answering with a resolute “no”. I know my schedule better than anyone except the Lord. To be frank, I have no guarantee that anyone checked with Him before asking me. So all I can do is keep close to the Spirit and hope for the guidance to choose “that good part”.