A riveting look at the real reasons Americans feel inadequate in the face of their dreams, and a call to celebrate how we support one another in the service of family and work in our daily life.
Jay's days are filled with back-to-back meetings, but he always leaves work in time to pick his daughter up from swimming at 7pm, knowing he'll be back on his laptop later that night. Linda thinks wistfully of the treadmill in her garage as she finishes folding the laundry that's been in the dryer for the last week. Rebecca sits with one child in front of a packet of math homework, while three others clamor for her attention. In Dreams of the Overworked, Christine M. Beckman and Melissa Mazmanian offer vivid sketches of daily life for nine families, capturing what it means to live, work, and parent in a world of impossible expectations, now amplified unlike ever before by smart devices.
We are invited into homes and offices, where we recognize the crushing pressure of unraveling plans, and the healing warmth of being together. Moreover, we witness the constant planning that goes into a "good" day, often with the aid of phones and apps. Yet, as technologies empower us to do more, they also promise limitless availability and connection. Checking email on the weekend, monitoring screen time, and counting steps are all part of the daily routine. The stories in this book challenge the seductive myth of the phone-clad individual, by showing that beneath the plastic veneer of technology is a complex, hidden system of support—our dreams being scaffolded by retired in-laws, friendly neighbors, spouses, and paid help.
This book makes a compelling case for celebrating the structures that allow us to strive for our dreams, by supporting public policies and community organizations, challenging workplace norms, reimagining family, and valuing the joy of human connection.
About the authors
Christine M. Beckman is Professor and Price Family Chair in Social Innovation at the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy.
Melissa Mazmanian is Associate Professor in Informatics at the School of Information and Computer Science at the University of California, Irvine.
"This marvelous book captures the contemporary experience of nine families, allowing them to speak for themselves about their dreams and how they cope with everyday life. Uniquely, it celebrates the fact that it is the dense web of social connections or scaffolding that enables family life to thrive in the digital age."
—Judy Wajcman, London School of Economics
"What makes this book unique is its tough love message. Left to its own devices, technology makes us more likely to buy into myths of our perfectibility. The way out begins with our deep understanding of our vulnerability. From there, these savvy and humanistic researchers can help you design a customized plan for individuals and organizations. But it's going to be a plan, not a gimmick."
—Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other
"Christine Beckman and Melissa Mazmanian embarked on an ambitious project to understand how technology shapes our lives and wound up producing an intimate and urgent portrait of American families stretched to the breaking point. An important work, Dreams of the Overworked busts some potent myths and makes a compelling argument for large-scale changes necessary in public policy and our overworked workplace cultures to allow American families time to breathe, and thrive at work and at home."
—Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love & Play when No One Has the Time, director, The Better Life Lab at New America
"Work-life balance might be a myth, but the evidence that better rhythm is possible is very real. In this thoughtful, readable book, two experts share what they've learned about how to prioritize work, family, health, and relationships without making yourself insane."
—Adam Grant, New York Times-bestselling author of Originals and Give and Take
"Beckman and Mazmanian show the stakes in everyday life as we pursue perfection. Whether being the best parent and worker or having a perfect body, we try achieving the unattainable by working hard and efficiently to do more and do it better. Dreams of the Overworked explores the internal work that fills our days—and our minds—as we navigate life, simultaneously alone and in a crowd."
—Chuck Darrah, San Jose State University
"Beckman and Mazmanian capture timeless and essential truths about blending parenting and employment. Their study of nine upper-middle-class families exposes the independent 'choice' narrative as an idealized fiction and reveals the power of interdependencies in well-run organizations and in loving families. This is a book about cooperation and dependence—dependence on both earning an income and being an involved parent; dependence on our children for their cooperation in the shared endeavor; dependence on our partners, extended family, and friends for their engagement and care; dependence on caregivers who, as Beckman and Mazmanian explain, provide the scaffolding that makes each unique work-family blend possible."
—Kathleen L. McGinn, Harvard Business School
"This wonderfully intriguing book vividly portrays the lives of nine California-based professional families with young children at home as they try to meet the competing demands of work, parenting, and being fit and healthy. By observing and participating in the home life of these families over extended periods of time, Beckman and Mazmanian reveal how invisible and undervalued support from extended family members, friends, neighbors, and communities is the scaffolding that makes survival and success possible; and they show how smartphones and other personal devices, which are supposed to help, may actually increase the stress of overwork. The example-rich writing is delightful and the informative endnotes fully cover a wide range of literature. By making vivid the everyday details of family work necessary to deal with the competing demands created by the myths of the ideal worker, perfect parent, and ultimate body, this book is eye-opening and a must-read for all."
—Lotte Bailyn, author of Breaking the Mold: Redesigning Work for Productive and Satisfying Lives
"In their excellent new book, Beckman and Mazmanian explore the Herculean task today's families face as they strive to live up to the unrealistic expectation of doing everything perfectly while also being bombarded by 'helpful technologies.' Their in-depth look at different family configurations frames the challenges—but, more importantly, potential solutions—that today's unique families need to understand in order to thrive in these changing times."
—Brad Harrington, Executive Director, Boston College Center for Work & Family
"We cannot see what we cannot name. Beckman and Mazmanian cover the familiar terrain of work-family pressures by following real families and telling their stories. In the process, they make much that is invisible visible, naming and defining different kinds of work and introducing the important new concept of scaffolding. They allow us to see society not as individuals making choices and decisions, but as webs of vital but under-appreciated and under-nourished relationships. I learned a great deal from this book; it's an easy read with a lot to say."
—Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO, New America
"How might the myths of the ideal worker, perfect parent/caregiver, and ultimate body play out as we live and work longer? Are there new myths that also need to be explored for overwork as we age and care for others over the life course? Beckman and Mazmanian have started us strongly on the path to answer such deep questions that remain in our struggles to thrive in our lives on and off the job."
—Ellen Ernst Kossek, Administrative Science Quarterly
"Dreams of the Overworked is a text that succeeds in rendering the textures and feelings of the everyday struggles of middle- to upper-class American working parents... a beautiful piece of ethnography."
—Anne Antoni, Organization Studies