In Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, journalist Schulte investigates the forces governing the turbo pace of modern life.
What led you to investigate the “Overwhelm” as a cultural phenomenon rather than just a personal crisis?
At first I thought it was just me trying to fit three lives into 24 hours a day. But after I wrote the magazine story in 2010 [“The Test of Time,” featured in the Washington Post Magazine], I started getting these unbelievable e-mails from people who felt the same way. When I started doing the research and talking to people, I was struck by the larger forces at play.
What are some of these forces?
Our workplaces are still for the most part governed by laws set in 1938, when dad went off to work while mom stayed home. Our tax policy favors families that look like that. We have been so influenced by this breadwinner/homemaker ideal, yet of all married couples with children under 18, maybe 20% fit that model. The workplace is not accommodating to anything else. Our family leave policies seem so punishing. Really? Four months of paid leave out of a 40-year-career? Today, the expectation is all work, all the time, almost like a religion. We tend to think of leisure as unimportant. We don’t value that space that the Greeks said would nourish our souls, a place to be most fully human.
You make the point that the Overwhelm isn’t particularly gendered, but hits working mothers the hardest.
We’ve got a workplace and culture that values workers who can jump on a plane at the drop of a hat. So the workplace is, in effect, very masculine. Well, when women entered that very masculine world, it didn’t change much at home. On average, time-studies show that women do twice the housework, twice the childcare. At the same time, there’s this crazy ratcheting up of what we expect a good mother to do and be. Working mothers today spend more time with their children that stay-at-home mothers did in the 1960s and ’70s.
So what do we do, short of moving to Denmark?
We need an injection of reality in our national policies and conversations. I don’t want people to look at these as soft, unimportant mommy issues—I want people to understand the depth of what’s going on. Let’s recapture the term “family values” to really value the families we do have. Change our workplaces.
At the end of book, you don’t seem to feel so time-starved anymore. Is that still the case?
I’ve made a conscious effort to create time in my life—“chair time.” Even if it’s just five breaths, five minutes, I make time to connect with what’s important to me. I’ve made time to play. I find myself laughing more.