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Fast-Forward Family: Home, Work, and Relationships in Middle-Class America

Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Fast-Forward Family
    Book Description:

    Called "the most unusually voyeuristic anthropology study ever conducted" by theNew York Times,this groundbreaking book provides an unprecedented glimpse into modern-day American families. In a study by the UCLA Sloan Center on Everyday Lives and Families, researchers tracked the daily lives of 32 dualworker middle class Los Angeles families between 2001 and 2004. The results are startling, and enlightening.Fast-Forward Familyshines light on a variety of issues that face American families: the differing stress levels among parents; the problem of excessive clutter in the American home; the importance (and decline) of the family meal; the vanishing boundaries that once separated work and home life; and the challenges for parents as they try to reconcile ideals regarding what it means to be a good parent, a good worker, and a good spouse. Though there are also moments of connection, affection, and care, it's evident that life for 21st century working parents is frenetic, with extended work hours, children's activities, chores, meals to prepare, errands to run, and bills to pay.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95509-7
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Note to the Reader
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    In spring 2000 Kathleen Christensen, program director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, traveled to Los Angeles on business. On a Friday afternoon, before returning to the airport, she called Elinor’s home number to see if she could stop by. Elinor was at UCLA, and her husband, Sandro, took the call. On arriving at home Elinor was surprised to see a town car parked in front of the house and then to find Kathleen in the living room chatting with Sandro about Sloan endeavors. Kathleen’s impromptu visit was occasioned by an exciting research project on American dual-earner middle-class families. The...

  7. 1 Coming Home
    (pp. 13-26)

    This chapter is the first of several in this volume to document parents and children coming home from work and school and their challenges and triumphs in forging connections as a family. The concept “coming home” is filled with sentimentality in American society, and adages that capture these feelings abound: home is where the heart is; home is where one belongs; homeward bound. Yet these adages are misleading in assuming that familiarity and belonging are rewards that naturally await home-bound working adults and children. Rather, such rewards are the result of an interactional endeavor that begins the instant that family...

  8. 2 At Home
    (pp. 27-47)

    Family counselors, newspaper columnists, academic researchers—even bloggers—all agree on a core problem of contemporary American families: there is too much to do and too little time to get it done. One of the most salient findings documented by the broader CELF study is that young, dual-earner families are extraordinarily busy. A typical week for parents and their children includes at least five consecutive days of work and school, each so jam-packed with appointments, meetings, classes, after-school activities, and commutes that many families spend more waking hours apart than together. Although broader survey-level studies of time use suggest that...

  9. 3 Dinner
    (pp. 48-66)

    On the eve of Thanksgiving 2010,USA Todaygave celebratory prominence to a recent Pew Research Center survey finding that 89 percent of Americans reported that they will gather to have Thanksgiving dinner with their families, as if, after all, at this quintessential family moment, eating together continues to matter to American society. It reported, for example, that “Barry Antonelli, 37, of Baileyton, Tenn., says he, his wife, and four young kids will drive to Baltimore this Thanksgiving because being with his father for the holiday has always been ‘real important’ to him.”¹

    Meanwhile, the French publicationPhilosophie Magazinededicated...

  10. 4 Mountains of Things
    (pp. 67-93)

    American families have more material goods per household than any society in history. Even middle-class families with modest incomes have for decades enjoyed the ability to acquire a dizzying variety of inexpensive goods from every corner of the world. During the early 2000s, U.S. incomes were generally robust, unemployment was low, credit was easy to obtain, and persuasive marketing stimulated Americans to accumulate objects at startling rates. These trends characterized much of the later twentieth century as well.

    The levels of material affluence that families attain, whatever the culture or status, are most clearly expressedwithinin the home. This...

  11. 5 Housework
    (pp. 94-110)

    After working all day at their respective jobs, how did the couples in the CELF study manage and divide household chores? In the United States, ambiguity in division of household responsibilities between working couples often results in ongoing negotiations, resentment, and tension between them. According to a 2007 Pew Research Poll, sharing household chores was in the top three highest-ranking issues associated with a successful marriage—third only to faithfulness and good sex. In this poll, 62 percent of adults said that sharing household chores is very important to marital success. There were no differences of opinion reported between men...

  12. 6 Chores
    (pp. 111-129)

    Children in societies around the world acquire skills through their routine participation in household work activities, and mastering these tasks prepares them to become competent members of their communities.¹ Not long ago, American family life was organized in a similar manner, with all family members, even small children, taking on a set of domestic responsibilities. According to the sociologist Viviana Zelizer,² the shift in attitudes to children’s work in the United States began toward the end of the nineteenth century and continued into the twentieth. Historical examinations of children’s lives emphasize the changes that occurred along with industrialization and the...

  13. 7 Homework and Recreation
    (pp. 130-150)

    The afternoons and evenings of all the CELF families were filled with children’s homework and extracurricular and other activities that dominated parents’ after-work schedules and lives. Parents could not help but be heavily involved in their children’s lives. Most of the children had to be driven to extracurricular activities several afternoons a week. They also needed help completing homework assignments due the following day. Children needed a “parent-manager” who kept tabs on where they had to be, when they had to be there, what they needed to bring with them, what homework assignment to prioritize, and how to pace one’s...

  14. 8 Nurturing
    (pp. 151-173)

    Despite the busyness¹ of the Los Angeles families we studied, the interactions many family members experienced during shared leisure activities as well as while doing everyday chores and children’s work (homework) were characterized by caring, supportiveness, playfulness, and pleasure, just the sorts of experiences psychologists² and psychological anthropologists³ have said are necessary in order for individuals to thrive. In the midst of mundane, largely unstructured activity such as taking a walk, riding in the car, or cleaning a piano keyboard, children and parents could cultivate active and joyful engagement in imaginative inquiry about the world, often colored by language play...

  15. 9 Stress
    (pp. 174-191)

    We may all wonder how the ups and downs of life outside the home affect what goes on inside the family. Do stressful experiences permeate the domestic sphere? If a father has a bad day at work, will he treat his wife and children differently that evening? When we examined the behavior and physiology of CELF family members after work, we did find evidence that job stressors influenced life at home. However, the effects were not “one-size-fits-all.” First, the nature of work-to-home spillover differed for mothers and fathers. Among fathers job stress appeared to have a visible effect on their...

  16. 10 Health as a Family Matter
    (pp. 192-216)

    What is involved in considering health as a family matter? To start, it bears noting that a different orientation to health is far more pervasive in research and everyday life contexts. In both, health is typically construed as a largely individual-level concern—a framing of health as “personal well-being.”¹ In the United States, for example, the commonplace greeting in daily life, “How are you?,” provides an opening for individuals to reflect upon their personal state of health (or well-being). There are manifold sources offering guidelines concerning actions individuals can take to improve their health and well-being and/or to minimize risks...

  17. 11 Time for Family
    (pp. 217-231)

    The cover story of the first 2010 issue of theEconomistwas dedicated to the fact that during the coming months women’s participation in the workforce would exceed men’s. While women’s increased economic capital and independence is and should be celebrated, the prevalence of dual-earner families is frequently viewed as one of the major social changes contributing to the modern family experience of time shortage and hurriedness in everyday life.¹ Parents often complain that they have too much to do and not enough time to do it. Juggling longer working hours,² increased scheduling of children’s activities,³ and greater pressure to...

  18. 12 The Good Enough Family
    (pp. 232-252)

    When working parents slide into bed after a long day, they often feel quite exhausted without exactly knowing why. This volume lays bare the fleeting but consequential moments in which working parents dedicate themselves to the family as an enterprise. Ethnographic video recordings captured the myriad efforts they exerted to achieve daily routines; photographs documented the ever-needing-to-be-tidied-up intimate spaces; in-depth interviews exposed parental desires and frustrations; and cortisol sampling revealed the hidden story of individual family members’ stress levels over the course of their day.

    CELF parents were constantly responding to situational exigencies that arise in the course of a...

  19. APPENDIX: The CELF Study
    (pp. 253-266)
  20. References
    (pp. 267-288)
  21. List of Contributors
    (pp. 289-292)
  22. Index
    (pp. 293-297)